For Künstler, war is swell

Posted: November 26, 2012

The Winchester Star

Artist Mort Künstler of Oyster Bay, N.Y., signs a print for Kay Nelms on Saturday at the King James Galleries in Kernstown. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Künstler, 81, smiles as he talks with customers. He is doing a final series of paintings on the Civil War, then retiring from the genre.

KERNSTOWN — Colorado resident Lisa Vining thought it was fate that brought her to Winchester on the same weekend that noted artist Mort Künstler was in town.

On Saturday, Künstler signed prints, ornaments and books at King James Galleries at 161 Prosperity Drive and unveiled “Shenandoah Strategy” — the first painting in his last Civil War series.

Vining, 44, has been a fan of Künstler ever since her sister-in-law from West Virginia sent her an ornament of his in 2000. She was in high spirits and admitted getting goose bumps after meeting him on Saturday.

“I love the Civil War, and I love the emotion he portrays in his pictures,” she said.

Künstler, 81, of Oyster Bay, N.Y., has announced he will do a series of eight Civil War paintings — titled “A Tribute to the Legend” — over the next three years before retiring from the genre altogether.

The first painting in the series, “Shenandoah Strategy,” will also be the last of Künstler’s annual snow scenes, he said. The print was the main draw on Saturday.

Künstler has produced more than 350 paintings on the Civil War.

“I bring history to people who didn’t really pay attention to it before,” the artist said between signings. “That’s gratifying.”

As of 11:45 a.m. Saturday, more than 100 people had made their way into the gallery to have Künstler sign something of theirs. Between 250 and 300 were expected to show.

“These are the people who put my kids through school and who helped me pay for the old homestead,” he said. “I really appreciate them.

“After all these years, I feel at home in Winchester completely.”

Shelly Tavenner, 37, of Berryville, had a print of “Shenandoah Strategy” in tow on Saturday.

“The lure for us is all the local scenes and places you can recognize,” she said about why she likes the artist’s work.

Lisa and Chris Renner of Winchester have at least 60 Künstler prints at home.

“He’s extremely detailed,” Lisa Renner said. “It’s life-like.”

Her husband, Chris, was bummed to hear it will soon be the end of the Civil War prints.

“I kinda hate it myself,” he said. “It sucks. It’s upsetting.”

But as everyone agreed, meeting Künstler was a great experience because of his kindness toward everyone he met.

“It was the first time I met him, and it was absolutely thrilling,” said Susan Goode, Vining’s sister-in-law from Capon Bridge, W.Va.

On Friday, a fundraising event was held at The George Washington Hotel for the Mort Künstler Endowment Fund for the Timber Ridge School. On Sunday, Künstler signed his new book “For Us the Living” at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.

Though Künstler is stepping away from the Civil War, he is not leaving the war genre altogether, he said. He is shifting his focus to the Revolutionary War with several commissioned paintings and a book planned on the subject.

— Contact Rebecca Layne at rlayne@winchesterstar.com