Robert Kleinschmidt came to Lake Charles as a child and grew up to be the community’s visual archivist. He was an architect by profession, but his hobby was painting, primarily watercolors, and he preserved many scenes that residents cherish as vintage Lake Charles.
Kleinschmidt’s work is featured in the 2013 American Press calendar. The annual calendar is a gift with purchase of new or renewal subscriptions to the American Press. Kleinschmidt was born in New Orleans and moved to Lake Charles with his family when he was 10 years old. He graduated from Landry High School (now St. Louis Catholic) and did undergraduate work at McNeese State University. He received his bachelor’s degree in architecture from Louisiana State University and returned to practice with Paul Thompson in the firm Thompson and Kleinschmidt and later his own firm.
“Bob was always interested in art,” his wife Cathy C. Kleinschmidt said in an interview with the American Press. “Even as a child he was always drawing.”
His skills in watercolors were entirely self-taught, she said.
“I don’t know of him ever taking a class. He learned from books, and he watched how-to shows on Public Broadcasting,” she said. He did a little work in oils and acrylics, but most of his fine art was in watercolors.
When at LSU, he helped pay for his education by doing renderings for architects in Baton Rouge.
“He loved painting and he loved Lake Charles,” Cathy said. He said he did the paintings for the couple’s seven children.
“My kids needed a graphic record, a point of reference of how life was before, at an earlier time,” she said.
One example was at the Borden’s store and Ryan Street and Park Avenue. The store’s ice cream parlor was a popular place to go for a treat, but it closed and was being torn down in 1989 when Kleinschmidt painted it. It became his second publicly released print.
Kleinschmidt’s father was head of sales for the Borden’s plant at the time. A photo of his dad standing in front of a Borden’s truck outside the plant was the image Kleinschmidt painted from.
The nostalgia attached to the place and the fact that it was being demolished resulted in a sellout of the 200 limited edition prints, Cathy said. In turn, it sparked a renewed interest in his first print, Tom & Mac’s Drive In on Broad Street. Its 200 prints sold out.
Tom & Mac’s was a hangout for young people in Lake Charles.
“I used to go there,” Cathy said. “When he painted it in 1988, we decided that it would go to print. Sales helped supplement our income during the recession at the time.”
Kleinschmidt was shy and didn’t care for the public spotlight, so he didn’t make a big commercial effort to promote his art, Cathy said.
“It was nice that we made a few dollars, but that wasn’t the reason he did it,” she said.
The only interior painting Kleinschmidt did was of the Borden’s counter with three of the women who worked there.
Most of the prints were pulled before Kleinschmidt’s death in 2002. Cathy had the Kilties in front of Wildcat Stadium and Central School printed after he died.
Cathy has most of the originals. A number of the prints were destroyed in Hurricane Rita.
Kleinschmidt’s remaining prints are available at Bridgepointe Framing and Trophy at 3403 Ernest St. in Lake Charles.
Prints available are the interior at Borden’s, a second painting he did of Borden’s exterior, a second painting of Tom & Mac’s, Wildcat Stadium and Kilties, Maplewood 1943, Central School, a small print of Joseph’s Drive-in, the Lake Charles High School Memorial (designed by Kleinschmidt) in Lock Park, St. Charles Academy, Landry High School, Calcasieu Parish Courthouse, the original LaGrange Senior High School at School and Ryan streets and the New Moon Drive-in.
For information on the calendar and subscribing to the American Press, call 494-4040.