Moffat County History: P.F. Kremer: artist, homesteader
Pete Kremer was never a rich and famous artist. His paintings were common pictures by a common man, but he could make you feel like you were beside him when he painted the scene.
When I was a youngster, my parents had a painting of an old castle on a mountain with a river shimmering in the distance.
Pete had grown up in Luxembourg and spent many days as a child playing along the walls of the old castle. He must have had an amazing memory of detail, even throughout a long period of time. The painting of the old castle was made a good many years after he left Luxembourg. Someone later found a picture of the castle in a magazine. The similarity was almost perfect.
I doubt that Pete Kremer ever owned a camera. He either painted the picture at the site or stored it in his mind until winter, when he had more time for painting.
Pete was a farmer and needed most of the daylight hours through the summer to make a living. The kerosene lamps that were used at that time didn’t provide enough light to paint at night.
Pete, his mother Katherine and his half-brother, John Kremer, came to America in April 1909.
In August of the same year, they went to Iowa to buy land, but learned that the man selling out was going to Northwest Colorado to obtain free land. They secured a copy of the Craig newspaper and decided to come to the area.
Their house was seven and a half miles north of Craig to Dowden Bridge on Fortification Creek, a mile east on County Road 20, and then a mile up a long hill to the northeast.
Pete was born in 1886 and John in 1878, so they both were young men when they came to this area.
They had been barbers in the old country and continued to cut hair in Craig for years, at least for friends and neighbors.
My dad’s cabin was a couple of miles south of Kremer’s and, like a lot of bachelors of the time, cut his own hair.
The Kremers never had heard of such a thing, and thought it was a terrible practice, even offered to cut it free of charge. Homesteaders usually were pretty short on money, and at the time, Dad didn’t have anything to trade for their services, so it was some time before he got a store-bought haircut.
John Kremer was a friendly fellow and liked to socialize with people when he had the opportunity.
He also did a fair amount of drinking, much to the concern of Pete and Mrs. Kremer. They worried that he would freeze to death some night while walking home. His tracks were sometimes none too straight, but he always made it home.
One fall, when money was scarce – which it usually was – Pete had gathered up three dollars and sent John to town for their winter staples. John’s mind may have been somewhat clouded, but in the negotiations, he spent the money on a 100-pound sack of onions.
When Pete told my folks about this event, he never said a word against John. He just said he had never liked onions and by spring he still didn’t like onions.
Mrs. Kremer was a cheerful and enthusiastic woman, well-liked by everyone in the neighborhood.
She didn’t speak English but always sat at the kitchen table with everyone and joined in the conversation with amazing ability.
She undoubtedly understood a lot of the words that were similar in English and German languages, and her sons would throw us a few words of translation when they thought it necessary. She even was able to recount some of her own experiences with gestures and some help. She was very pleased when they laughed at her stories.
To the best of my knowledge, Pete never painted a snow scene. He may have just plain hated the white stuff in general, or just preferred the quiet beauty of mountain summers. He spent a good deal of his spare time walking through Northwest Colorado storing up memories for his pictures.
His mother told me you always could tell when Pete got a new tube of paint. His current picture would be full of that color.
Once, when the folks went over there, Pete apparently had acquired some new red paint. His latest painting was of a forest fire.
The background was filled with different shades of red, and the foreground was all huge tree trunks.
Mom had traveled quite a lot and had the opportunity to view many paintings in universities and museums. She said this was the most intense picture she had ever seen. Mom tried to buy the painting, but didn’t have the dollar and a half to pay for it.
Apparently that was a fairly common price, fifty cents for the canvas and one dollar for his work. Pete would have gladly given her the picture and taken the pay later, but that wasn’t the way things were done in those days.
Mom was terribly disappointed when she went back in a couple of weeks to get the picture. Pete had run out of canvas and not having any money to buy more, he painted another picture over the top of the forest fire. A beautiful piece of art was gone forever.
Pete never let the lack of money interfere with his plans; he liked to visit with the neighbors and naturally there was more time in the winter. He walked over to my folks’ one day when there was about a foot of snow on the ground. He didn’t have any overshoes, so he wrapped his feet in strips of burlap. By the time he got to our place, the burlap was frozen solid and sounded like wooden shoes on the floor.
Some people may get the idea that Pete’s art didn’t amount to much, considering he sold pictures for about what a cup of coffee costs today, but he brought a lot of color into some not so colorful times.
The economic conditions of the 1920s and 1930s were bad. The amazing thing was, through all of this, the people mostly were happy and content.
Along in the later years of the 1930s, someone persuaded Pete to give an art lesson at Dowden Bridge School, a one-room country school with eight or nine children attending.
Pete wasn’t normally very talkative, but when you got him started on art, he could keep going all day. He suggested when learning to paint to set up a mirror and paint the scene from the mirror. It puts the view in two dimensions instead of three and puts a frame around it.
Another idea, if you were having trouble painting a particular object such as a tree or mountain, bend over and look at it upside down. It usually will become clear instantly.
Mrs. Kremer died in 1933 after a long illness. John died in 1942, after which Pete leased out the ranch and moved to California, where he died in 1951. Mrs. Kremer, John and Pete all were buried in the Craig cemetery.
Some of Pete Kremer’s work will be featured in the Museum’s upcoming “Passing of the Old West” Art & Artifacts Exhibit that opens May 24. The Museum also would be interested in seeing any other pieces of his work that may be in the community. Please call the Museum at 824-6360.
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