By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Last February Schmitz told a reporter with the monthly LoDo News that he studied art in Odenwald, Germany, and learned still more under the tutelage of respected Austrian painter Gottfried Helnwein. (Arnold Schwarzenegger is a collector of Helnwein's art, which has been exhibited in museums throughout the world.)
Arguably, Helnwein's most famous painting is a takeoff of Edward Hopper's "Night Hawks," which is a photorealist picture of a late-night diner. In Helnwein's rendering, Hopper's nondescript cafe patrons have been replaced by James Dean and Marilyn Monroe.
But Schmitz has told friends that he--rather than Helnwein --is responsible for the majority of that work. "Peter told me he painted two-thirds of that," says John McGuigan, who owns LoDo's Enoteca bar and is a close friend of Schmitz's.
Most of Schmitz's solo works, however, portray more fanciful imagery: fairy-tale castles, for instance, which are something of an obsession with him. It may have been his stint with Helnwein that fed his preoccupation; Helnwein, says Kranzbuhler, lives in a castle in Rhineland, and Schmitz might have stayed with him there.
Schmitz himself told LoDo News that he once owned, and lived in, a castle. "When I first moved in," he told the reporter, "I had 64 rooms to myself. I ended up with thirteen rooms because I tore down so many walls."
Kranzbuhler, however, dismisses with a laugh his grandson's visions of grandeur. Peter, says his grandfather, has definitely never owned a castle.
Wherever he was living in Germany, Schmitz obviously was ready for a change. He arrived in the United States in 1988 and married Denverite Carrie Lynn Farland the following year in a ceremony in Santa Barbara, California. Their union was solemnized by a minister of Scientology, a religion that friends of the couple say both Schmitz and his wife then followed.
A day after Schmitz and Farland were married, Schmitz applied for conditional residency in this country based on his new status as the spouse of a U.S. citizen. The couple set up housekeeping with Carrie's parents in her childhood home, which looks out on Cheesman Park in Capitol Hill. Schmitz established an artist's studio in the Farlands' carriage house, and Carrie Schmitz gave birth to a daughter five months after taking her wedding vows.
Carrie Schmitz worked as an art consultant at the time, selling paintings and other works to businesses and collectors for a living. Those who know her say she had a wonderful way with people and was an excellent saleswoman. "And I know that she thought a lot of her husband's work," says another art consultant.
Frau Schmitz proved very good at marketing her Herr. Late in 1989, Schmitz hosted a showing of his work in downtown Denver. According to the LoDo News, the showing was organized by LoDo developer Dana Crawford, who was once a neighbor of the Farlands. Peter told the newspaper the show was a rousing success--"We expected about 200 people...1,800 showed up," he was quoted as saying. "We had police out there directing traffic."
The show, however, wasn't such a smash that Crawford can recall it with much clarity. And what she does remember doesn't jibe with Peter Schmitz's version. "I did not organize the show," Crawford says. "He and his wife put the whole thing together." Crawford says her only role was to allow the Schmitzes to host the event in an empty space in her then-new Edbrooke Lofts project.
And though Crawford attended the show and remembers a "good-sized" crowd, she doesn't recall a police presence. "If they were there," she says, "it might have been because [the Schmitzes] arranged for it."
Carrie and Peter moved to LoDo within months of the 1989 show, taking one of the first units in the Edbrooke, which was among the city's earliest loft developments. "We were the pioneers," says Gary Gilliard, a onetime Edbrooke resident and principal owner of the Art of Coffee in LoDo. "Peter leased his unit, and several of us were owners."
Gilliard had lived in Germany for a time, and he quickly "struck up a bond, language-wise" with his new neighbor. "He is from Dusseldorf," Gilliard says of Schmitz, "and I lived in a neighboring city, in Cologne." The two of them socialized often, attending barbecues with other Edbrooke tenants and making the circuit of new restaurants.
"Peter, it seemed to me, was just taking off, art-wise," Gilliard says. "It was my impression that he was trying to get established in the LoDo area, to get a market with the people who buy expensive lofts and who are glad to invest in the arts."
Gilliard himself began collecting Schmitz's works and now owns a handful of his pieces. "He does watercolors--beautiful stuff," Gilliard says. He also owns some of Schmitz's pencil etchings, which Gilliard commissioned for his cafe. "One particular piece I invested in is called 'Beethoven's Birthday,'" Gilliard says. "I went to his studio, and back in a closet he had this half-finished painting of a castle on a mountain. I told him, 'Put some life into this, and I'd be interested.' And so he put some fireworks in it."