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Fritzke: Man of passion and purpose

An exhibit at the Depot Gallery will show the transition of Herb Fritzke’s printmaking art from monochromatic intaglio copperplate etchings to vividly colorful works that he “colored” on a computer. (Photo by Ruth Nerhaugen, contributor)1 / 3
Prints by the late Herb Fritzke will be displayed during April at the Red Wing Arts Association Depot Gallery. (Photo courtesy of the Red Wing Arts Association)2 / 3
The works on display include “The Red Fox.”3 / 3

By Ruth Nerhaugen, contributor

Inventive as well as creative, Herb Fritzke spent his lifetime developing new techniques, materials and methods as he honed his own skills as a printmaker.

But the art of printmaking was just one of myriad interests that Fritzke pursued with a passion and a purpose.

Longtime friend Art Kenyon has organized an exhibition at the Red Wing Arts Association Depot Gallery in celebration of Fritzke’s many facets.

“He truly was a Renaissance man,” Kenyon said. “He was a remarkable man who had many interests and talents.”

Such as flying remote-control airplanes, which Fritzke designed and built from scratch.

And growing grapes, which included creating new hybrids that could survive the Minnesota winter.

And racing on long-blade ice skates, which he made for himself.

And researching genealogy so he could create personal history books for family and friends.

“He loved problems,” explained Kenyon, who also is a printmaker and artist. “He loved to find the answers.”

Kenyon plans to display those homemade skates, wine made from Fritzke’s grapes, and one of the model aircraft to complement the exhibition of his prints.

Fritzke, who died in September 2013, never stopped exploring the art of printmaking. Some of his last prints were images that he drew on paper, scanned, then “painted” using computer tools.

Kenyon didn’t know Fritzke as a boy who came to Red Wing during the summers to play with his cousins on Trenton Island.

They met in 2001, after Kenyon retired from Red Wing Shoe Co. and decided to reconnect with Professor Malcolm Meyers, the University of Minnesota artist who had gotten him “hooked” on printmaking back in the 1960s.

Meyers invited him to come up to the U of M print studio where a group of artist met on Wednesday nights.

“That’s where I met Herb,” who was Meyers’ master printer, Kenyon said. “I got hooked on it all over again.

“I wanted to learn some of the nuances of printmaking.”

So Kenyon became a Wednesday night regular. Fritzke became his teacher and mentor — a relationship that continued after Meyers died, and after the weekly gathering moved to Fritzke’s home in St. Paul.

“He had an old roller press he had made,” Kenyon said, describing Fritzke as “half artist, half engineer.”

Educated at the U of M, Fritzke was a respected teacher and mentor, but he also had a career as a laborer.

“He laid linoleum for a living,” Kenyon explained. “He looked at it as an art form.”

Boundless curiosity characterized Fritzke’s printmaking, which was primarily intaglio copperplate etching.

“He loved to find a way to do something,” Kenyon said, and would experiment with acids and pigments when conventional materials did not give him the results he wanted.

“(He) spent his life finding and inventing the means, methods and materials to create new and evocative images.”

Fritzke’s health began failing when he was in his 70s. He slowed down as a printmaker but continued creating — as a breadmaker. The Wednesday night gatherings turned into evenings of conversation over wine and bread.

For the Red Wing exhibition, Kenyon has gathered a collection of Fritzke’s artwork that illustrates his transition as an artist.

A few prints will be for sale, but most are family pieces provided by his wife, Emily, son, David, and daughters, Laura and Julie. They are expected to attend the April 5 opening.

Included in the show will be early works that were simple etchings, later prints that were more accurate renderings of his subjects, and recent works that Kenyon described as “realism, but in an abstract frame of mind.”

Also evident will be Fritzke’s movement into dynamic color and interesting textures he called “beauty marks.” A limited number of booklets containing a selection of his computerized images will be available.

“I’d like to have people come away from this show realizing what a great artist he was,” Kenyon said, along with “a sense of the man he was.”

Fritzke’s work will be on display until late April.

If you go …

What: “The Work of Herb Fritzke” exhibit opening

When: 6:30-9 p.m. April 5

Where: Red Wing Depot Gallery, 418 Levee St.

More info: 651-388-7569