Artist Has Passion For The Byzantine

PAYSON PEOPLE

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Christina Kreutzer was 19 years old when the Americans bombed her hometown, Nuremberg, Germany Jan. 2, 1945.

"I was a telephone operator at that time," Kreutzer said. "Our supervisor told us to go to the bunker. Planes were flying over the English Channel and headed our way. After the bombing, I walked out of the building and everything was burning."

Kreutzer recalled her large, Catholic family of nine children struggling to survive like everyone else during that sliver of time, in that corner of the world.

"I never thought about making history," Kreutzer, now 79, said. "Nuremberg was one of Hitler's favorite towns. I saw him many times. He had rallies.

"We had a Jewish section in town. We didn't live there because they were in a more expensive area. We had a Jewish doctor when I was little. All of a sudden I saw people with stars on their sleeves that said ‘Jude' or Jew."

Kreutzer lived in Nuremberg during the war-crime trials staged at the Palace of Trials in the late '40s.

A tribunal, comprised of the United States and other European countries, tried German war criminals like Nazi Party leader Rudolf Hess; chief of the Luftwaffe or air force, Herman Goering; and Hans Frank, known as the "Jew Butcher of Krakow" for their crimes against humanity.

"I went to the Palace of Justice the last time I was in Germany and it was very emotional because I remember when the trials were going on," Kreutzer said. "We couldn't go within a mile of the Palace of Justice during the trials."

After the war, in the early '50s, Kreutzer landed a job with the credit card company American Express in Nuremberg. That's where she met her husband, Elmer.

They married in 1953 and moved to his hometown, Libertyville, Ill. Kreutzer said she was unhappy and homesick; she labored to grasp English.

The couple returned to Germany. He accepted a civilian job with the Department of Defense. She took up painting.

"Wives were expected to do volunteer work and it just got to me," Kreutzer said. "To get out of it, I started taking painting classes. I like to work with my hands. That might have been something to do with it."

Kreutzer's work harks back to the Old World: German folk art. Bright flowers, birds and scrolls painted on bright backgrounds adorn just about everything.

"I call it primitive folk art," Kreutzer said. "You find it all over Bavaria. It's on the front doors of many farm houses."

In honoring her roots, Kreutzer garnished the threshold of her home, which she and Elmer bought in 1988, with an apt phrase: "The one who brings happiness to others lives the best life."

"I saw it on a door in Bavaria, and I liked it," Kreutzer said.

Kreutzer's handiwork includes oil paintings, woodcarvings and pencil drawings; however, Byzantine Icons are her passion.

"The teacher I had in Germany introduced me to icons," Kreutzer said. "I had seen them in other families because different families have different icons. Almost all farmers have their favorite saint."

The art of iconography started in the early centuries of the first millennium after the seat of the Roman Empire moved from Rome to Constantinople, now Istanbul, Turkey. The Byzantine Empire dictated the art, culture and religion of the Mediterranean Sea region for centuries. Its influences are still exhibited in the Eastern Orthodox Christianity of Greece, Russia and Germany.

Icons typically depict olive-skinned images of Jesus, Mary and a number of saints, oftentimes accented with gold foil.

"I have to prepare the wood," Kreutzer said. "I have to sand it, put red paint on it, and sand it again. I paint the image, and then fill in the icon. The last thing I do is add the gold leaf."

Kreutzer applies 14-karat gold leaf to her paintings and creates her icons on century-old wood she acquired from the rafters of a German farmhouse in Garmisch.

"The wood still has worm holes," Kreutzer said. "Putting it on (new) wood wouldn't have the same meaning to me."

Profile

Name: Christina Kreutzer

Occupation: Retired

Age: 79

Birthplace: Nuremberg, Germany

Family: Married, two children.

Personal motto: The one who brings happiness to others lives the best life.

Inspiration: My mother.

Greatest feat: Surviving World War II.

Favorite hobby or leisure activity: Hiking, painting.

Three words that describe me best are: Firm, but fair.

I don't want to brag, but ... I enjoy each day of my life.

The person in history I'd most like to meet is: Winston Churchill.

Luxury defined: Cruising, cruising.

Dream vacation spot: Cruising the world.

Why Payson? Reminds me of Bavaria.

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