A collaboration between Bainbridge Arts & Crafts and West Sound Wildlife Shelter
How do a wildlife shelter and a gallery come together? In our case, through the art of the late Henry J. Dietrich.
In 2011, Bainbridge residents Tom Lonner and Elizabeth Ward generously gave West Sound Wildlife Shelter a series of paintings by Henry J. Dietrich to support the Shelter’s operations. The Shelter turned to BAC as a collegial nonprofit partner for help with the sale of the work. Together with the donors, we have created an ongoing exhibition and sale of Dietrich paintings which will last far into the future, benefiting both Bainbridge Island nonprofit organizations.
For information about amazing work of West Sound Wildlife Shelter, a center for rehabilitation and education, please see www.westsoundwildlife.org.
About the artist
Henry J. Dietrich (1908-2000) was born Heinz Otto Joseph Lewin, in Berlin. At sixteen, he enrolled in art school. In the pre-war years of the Third Reich, Dietrich immersed himself in his painting and drawing. He would have remained at the art school, but, because he was half-Jewish, he was told that he could not continue.
Shanghai was the only place he could enter as a Jewish refugee with an exit visa only. Once there, he was supported by the Jewish Refugee Committee and lived in communal camps and barracks, selling his clothing piece-by-piece to live. Dietrich met his future wife there in 1944, and they were married after the war was over.
Dietrich loved America, even before he arrived, for its quality and range of freedom in the arts and for the high quality and abundance of its artists, cartoonists, graphic and design styles, and advertising. In 1948, he and his wife left for San Francisco, where Dietrich already had nabbed the promise of his first exhibition at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum.
Dietrich painted in a highly recognizable mid-twentieth century style, brightly-colored, graphic, and obviously influenced by Matisse and Picasso. His imagery, including birds, insects, dogs, music, portraiture, and domestic life, is very much his own.
Dietrich’s first and last job was as a cartoonist and illustrator in the San Francisco Chronicle art department. Concerned that his newspaper cartoon illustrations would conflict with or influence his paintings, Dietrich kept them as separate and distinct as possible. All his work reflected his composition and drafting skills, his ingenuity, and his sense of balance and simplicity.
After unhappy business experiences in galleries, Dietrich had little interest in showing his paintings or selling them. He kept most of them, selling or giving a handful to his close friends and associates. He continued to work for the newspaper until he retired in 1983.
Dietrich’s productivity rose dramatically as he threw himself exclusively into painting. From the mid-1940s until his death he produced about 500 paintings. Dietrich kept no inventory of his works, so the exact number, sequence, and location of his products cannot be determined. Those paintings he disliked or considered unfinished, he destroyed.
His existing body of work makes one wonder what accomplishments Dietrich might have made had he not been a refugee, lacking in art supplies for the entire decade of his 20s and then distant from the art marketplace during the subsequent 35 years. Dietrich had to cease painting in 1997, due to a long physical decline. He died on March 27, 2000.
How to purchase
Henry Dietrich’s bright, vibrant paintings are for sale year-round at BAC. If you don’t see work on the walls in our front room, ask any staff member to show you what we have on hand.
Periodically we also highlight Dietrich’s work through special exhibitions. In 2011, we ran a pop-up gallery, BAC Too, to exhibit a selection of Dietrich’s paintings. In March 2013 we installed a special exhibition in the gallery. In March 2016, we are showing a fresh collection of paintings along with Henry’s Tweets, a witty assortment of the drawings created circa 1962 while Dietrich was on the job at the San Francisco Chronicle.
Bainbridge Arts & Crafts and West Sound Wildlife Shelter sincerely thank Tom Lonner and Elizabeth Ward for their enduring gift.
On this page, from top:
Henry J. Dietrich, untitled works from 1986 (detail), 1976, 1997, and 1970. Images courtesy of Tom Lonner and Elizabeth Ward.