Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Stained glass as museum art

Behringer-Crawford gets three windows from Wolfgang Ritschel

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - Internationally known artist Wolfgang A. Ritschel's foray into stained glass began about 10 years ago when he remodeled a bathroom in his Clifton home.

Dr. Wolfgang A. Ritschel fits together pieces of a stained glass window he is creating for the Behringer-Crawford Museum.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
To break up a monotonous teal green tile wall, Ritschel decided a large, leaded-glass window was in order. The only problem was, Ritschel, an accomplished painter and sculptor with degrees in pharmacy and medicine, had never tried that medium.

So the Austrian native took a couple of glass-staining classes from Cliff Kennedy, the owner of Kaleidoscope Stained Glass Studios in Covington's MainStrasse Village. After making a large leaded-glass window for his home, Ritschel went on to create whimsical sculptures that combined elements of stained glass with outdated, stainless steel medical instruments.

Some of those sculptures caught the eye of Laurie Risch, executive director of the Behringer-Crawford Museum, during a visit to Ritschel's studio in Cincinnati's Pendleton Art Center last year.

Risch had visited Ritschel to ask if the 11-year participant in the museum's annual FRESHart event would contribute some acrylic paintings of Northern Kentucky scenes to display in the museum, as it undergoes a $2.8 million expansion. But when Risch saw Ritschel's work in stained glass, she asked if he'd create three large stained glass windows instead.

"When we talked and I saw his stained glass, I thought it would be wonderful if we could get some of that work for our collection,'' Risch said.

Ritschel offered to create three stained glass windows depicting scenes in Northern Kentucky's history. He is donating the labor, which has totaled about 200 hours so far, and Kennedy is contributing the materials.

If purchased, the three windows "would be in excess of $45,000,'' Kennedy said. "They're all premium glass, and they're more valuable because Dr. Ritschel designed them,'' he said.

The windows will be installed next fall in the hallway linking Behringer-Crawford's original building to its addition. The 6 by 6 foot archaeology window will depict a bison, a mammoth and other animals climbing out of a marshy area that was typical of Northern Kentucky during the Ice Age. It will be flanked on each side by two 6 by 3 foot stained glass windows . The left panel, "People,'' will depict an Indian, slave, frontiersman and Civil War soldier, while "Transportation'' will trace the evolution of local transportation from the era of flatboats, steamboats and railroads to airplanes.

"It's just fantastic that there's so much support behind this (expansion),'' Risch said. "The whole building's been built like this, with surprise contributions from people.''

Raised in Vienna, Austria, Ritschel's first love was art. He sold his first painting at 16, and after graduation from Junior College, one of his paintings was acquired by the Board of Education of Vienna. However, to escape the poverty that gripped many in post World War II-Austria, Ritschel studied pharmacy and medicine. He never practiced either, instead devoting his career to research in Pharmacokinetics, or the study of how different people metabolize drugs, initially in Europe and later at the University of Cincinnati.

Throughout his university studies, Ritschel continued to paint and sketch in his spare time. When visiting professorships and lectures took him to dozens of cities from Europe to Asia to South America, he carried his sketch pad and a set of watercolors.

Today, the hundreds of sketches created during his worldwide travels form the basis of award-winning artwork that can be found in galleries from New York to Las Vegas.


E-mail cschroeder@enquirer.com

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