A visitor to the Winold Reiss Studio
in 1931 describes the master himself and life in the studio.
Following are excerpts from P.W. Sampson, "A Modern CelliniWinold
Reiss," originally published in The Du Pont Magazine
in March 1931, Vol. XXV, No. 3. The magazine graciously states
that publishers "may reprint, with credit, all articles
and illustrations except those carrying special copyright..."
Winold Reiss will not be classified. Name
him one of the foremost interior decorators and you discover
that he has gone to the Southwest to paint American Indians.
Name him painter, and you find him designing a piece of furniture
that you will live with later. Call him designer, and you
find him busily illustrating a story for one of the quality
magazines. If you look for him at his easel, you'll probably
find him with his pupils.
His studio is on the ground floor on West 16th
Street, New York City, and is painted an ultramarine bluethe
name of which is probably known to Reiss alone. His name is
boldly lettered above the door in vermilion.
Inside, work is everywhere. In one of the studio
rooms a group of students stand, palettes in hand, before
their easels, working under the guidance of Winold Reiss and
his brother. It is another world from the one of automobiles,
concrete, adding machines, and nervous people that the door
has just closed on. It is a small firmament, revolving about
Winold Reiss, who seems untroubled by the avalanche of work
that threatens to engulf the studio.
Winold Reiss working
Steuben Tavern murals, 1934
Winold Reiss is a product of the Kunstgewerbeschule
[School of Applied Art, Munich, Germany], in which the
young Continental art student is given a thorough training
in all the fields of artistic endeavor. This is unlike the
American art schools, in which the student receives specialized
As we talk, there are half a dozen finished
illustrations for the Crowell Publishing Company, fresh from
Reiss's hand, waiting to be picked up. Before him on the desk
of his own design is a specification chart he is making up
which will show the subtle range of colors going into the
Muralart-covered walls of a new show place in New York.
This inner room is given over to finished studies
of Mexicans, Negroes and Indians. The range of his work is
bewildering, until the Kunstgewerbeschule is remembered,
and its aim to make each pupil Benvenuto Cellini-like in his
grasp of all the tools of his art.
From the Kunstgewerbeschule and his father's
studio, young Reiss went to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts
in Munich, where he studied under Franz von Stuck.
It had always been his ambition to paint the
American Indian on his native heath; so it seems logical to
see the young artist hopefully disembarking in New York in
1913. But the West was a long way from the seaboard and Indians
were not to be painted with oils, palette and easel alone.
It was some years before he could satisfy his original ambition.
In 1915 we meet him in the columns of the Modern
Art Collector, a magazine of the new art edited by O.W.
Wentz. This was the voice of the small but vigorous group
of designers and artists who interpreted the new age in a
new manner in their art.
The movement was born with the century in the
studios of Vienna. During the World War its rising clamor
was muted, until the mob horror of anything with a German
accent had died away. But there was merit in the art and design
of these people, and when the United States could look tolerantly
on what they were doing, the public saw how thoroughly they
had caught the new spirit and had set the rhythms of their
hands in the same breathless tempo.
Winold Reiss was one of the prime movers, and
he still remains in the forefront of the contemporary school
of interior architecture and design.
His dream of painting American Indians was delayed,
but not abandoned...
To ask Winold Reiss what he has done brings
a helpless light to his eyes. At random he plucks interesting
things out of his crowded memory. There is so much done-so
much to be done. Another expedition to the West. Unfinished
illustrating commissions from the art editors of magazines.
There are color schemes, fabrics, paints, original designs
for the public rooms of a new hotel.
Mrs. ... is on the wire. Reiss answers it. He
explains laughingly when he is through that a woman had come
to him for a design for a restaurant. "I gave it to her,"
he says, "lovely pastel tones, delicate, fine. Now she
says: 'Mr. Reiss, I didn't want it in pastel tones, I want
it blue, like Mrs. .. dining room'."
He looks at his work, shrugs, turns his palms
outward. So much to dotwo hands to do it with only.
As I go out, the students are still at their
easels, working. The spirit of the studio is work.
Before leaving, I turn to look at the lettering
on the door. There are a few particles of dust caught in the
hardened vermilion paint of the name. Winold Reiss must have
painted that himself on a windy Sunday morning when everybody
else was at church.