Thomas Nygard Gallery - 19th and 20th Century American Art



Hans Egon

Hans Egon Reiss, known to his Blackfeet brothers as Netapata, or "Lone Eagle," was one of a long line of artists in a family that handed its talent down from father to son, generation after generation.  Hans's father was a painter of romantic landscapes, and he moved the family from Karlsruhe, Germany, where Hans was born to the more picturesque area of the Black Forest in Bavaria.  It was here that Hans, his younger brother Winold, and their sisters grew up.  It was no wonder that the two boys followed family tradition and entered the Royal Academy of Art in Munich as soon as they were able - Winold to study paining and Hans, sculpture.


In 1913, with the first rumblings of World War I, Hans, who was strongly pacifist, fled to neutral Scandinavia.  Winold, for the same reason, immigrated to America.  Like many people who have been sickly as a child, as he grew to manhood, Hans strove to overcome whatever physical shortcomings he felt he had.  He became an avid outdoors-man, hiking, mountain-climbing, exploring - always pushing his capabilities to their limits.  In Scandinavia he traveled with backpack and hiking boots into the most remote regions of Norway and northern Sweden.  He was fascinated by indigenous peoples of the North, especially the reindeer-herding Lapps, with whom he lived for several years.  From their wise men he learned the ancient practice of healing through massage and hypnotism, eventually acquired a degree of skill that made him famous among the people he treated.  This brought him to the attention of the King of Sweden, who made him a Swedish citizen as a way of thanking and honoring a man who had done much to help the people of that country.


After the war, a visit from Winold started Hans, too, thinking about immigrating to America; several years later, in 1926, Hans Egon Reiss stepped off the boat in New York, dressed in a suit of Swedish homespun, with his blond hair in a Prince Valiant bob.  Even for Greenwich Village, where Winold had a studio and a school on Christopher Street, the new arrival from the backwoods of northern Sweden was quite an apparition!  Hans's healing art was not quite appreciated in America, so he took up his original profession, going to work teaching sculpture at the Winold Reiss Art School.


In the summers, to relieve his chronic hay fever, Hans went out west where he climbed the Rocky Mountain peaks of Montana's Glacier National Park.  On one of the excursions, Louis Hill, president of the Great Northern Railroad, suggested that Winold come out to the Blackfeet Reservation at Browning, Montana, and paint some Indian portraits to adorn the railroad calendars.  He felt that this would be not only be good public relations but also would bring tourists to the company-owned hotel in Glacier National Park.  After several years of painting portraits for the Great Northern, Winold opened a summer annex to his school in nearby Saint Mary's Lake, Montana.  Once again, Hans was invited to teach sculpture.


Just as Hans had felt most at home with the Lapps of northern Sweden, so, too, did he feel a special kinship with the native peoples of America.  During his summers at Saint Mary's Lake in the 1930's, Hans carved and modeled portraits of the Blackfeet tribe, forming bonds of close friendship the process.


With the advent of World War II, Hans decided that he would like to live permanently in the West.  He settled in Lake Tahoe, California, where he built first a studio and then a house.  During the war, to augment his income, this model of a free thinking non-conformist actually became a civil servant, serving as a postmaster for the town of Tahoe.  That was the only "regular job" he ever held.  To the day he died, in 1968, in his 83rd year, Hans Egon Reiss went his own way, vigorously and with the clear-eyed, all-seeing gaze of the "Lone Eagle" for which he was so aptly named.

(1885 - 1968)

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