While in his late teens Lester enjoyed cartooning and received a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago to study commercial art; even though his true passion was for the fine arts. He attended classes for about two years until he became disillusioned with the teaching, he returned home to work for his father.
Before long he realized he really wanted to be an artist, possibly the “Gauguin of Manitowoc” so he returned to the Art Institute of Chicago. This time he studied under Boris Anisfelt, a Russian-Jewish instructor, and applied himself so well that by his fourth year he qualified for a fellowship to travel around the world for two and a half years including study in Paris where he met Pablo Picasso.
At twenty-two, Schwartz was very influenced by Paul Gauguin and decided to travel to Bali where he painted for the next ten months; a country of contrasts it was considered to be the “paradise of the world” but in reality was very poverty stricken. Schwartz later worked for the WPA in both Illinois and Wisconsin, and served in the U.S. Army, at Fort Leonardwood, where the Chaplain assigned him to do paintings for the chapel. One notable painting he did was the “Resurrection of Christ” being Jewish Schwartz had no knowledge of the New Testament, and depicted the risen Christ above a modern tomb with two American soldiers guarding the tomb holding an American flag. After teaching at the Art Institute and studying in the Far East on a fellowship, Schwartz became Artist – in - Residence at Ripon College in 1944.
The school allowed him to renovate a fraternity house; this gave him the opportunity to paint without any restrictions except teaching, for four hours a day. He married one of his students, Gloria, a woman who loved the outdoors, animals and building things. She built his studio and their fireplaces, brick by brick, while Lester held the level to try to make himself useful. Gloria died at home in 1987 and after her death he named their farm “Gloria Hills”.
SOURCES: Schwartz Family documentation, Museum of Wisconsin Art, AskArt.com
PHOTO CREDIT: Milwaukee Journal Press Photo by James Auer - Propert of Gallery of Wisconsin Art Collection