Kirsch Comes Home

Estes Park Trail-Plus

Martha Ledward remembers her first trip to Estes Park when she was just 12 years old — "I hated it! "All my friends were going to the lake for the summer and I had to go to Colorado."

Her father, John Kirsch, was already an established artist when he purchased

his cabin/studio off High Drive in 1944.  During the next 32 summers, he painted various scenes of the area and was one of Estes Park's most popular artist, Bringing father's work home

Martha was quickly won over by Estes Park's charms.

Her first summers were spent working as a wrangler at the former Fall River Lodge in Rocky Mountain National Park.

When she married Allan in 1946, the couple honeymooned in the cabin, and in 1985 they purchased their own summer home in the area.

Recently, Martha came into possession of numerous original John Kirsch paintings and brought them back to Estes Park.

The various images of Estes environs were painted between the late 1940s and early 1970s.

Seven works are now on display at Impressions Ltd., a local art gallery, and many more are housed in Martha’s private collection.

A family tradition

John Kirsch was born in 1894 at Neukirchen, Austria, into a family of artists.

By the time he was 12, he had completed an apprenticeship with a local art guild.

He followed that training with studies funded b y government scholarships at art academies in Austria and Munich, Germany.

He married Frances—“Fanny” for short—on July 13, 1921; the couple moved to the United States the following year.

The Kirsches settled in Elm Grove, Wis., and had two children—John Jr. and Martha.

Following in his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps, John Kirsch established a career decorating churches—he quickly became renown [sic] nationwide.

In at least 15 states, about 400 churches were adorned with Kirch’s murals, stained glass windows and other decorations (Trail-Gazette, Aug. 6, 1971).

glass and mural paintings for churches located in Fort Leavenworth, Topeka, Victoria, Parsons, Kansas City and other communities" wrote John P. Simoni in 1971. Simoni, professor of art at Wichita State University, wrote several article's about Kirsch in the 1970s that were reprinted in the Trail-Gazette.

Simoni had high regard for the artist and his work, describing Kirsch as “a skilled and imaginative painter.”

"Light is a central compositional as well as expressive quality of form which gives to (Kirsch's) painting a unique brilliance and gold leaf-like structure," wrote Simoni in 1974.

Kirsch painted on a variety of surfaces including aluminum and copper panels — when light hits these paintings in a certain way, dimension and color is enhanced.

At a time when abstract painting was the forefront of popular art, Kirsch's work reflected "emotive realism than many collectors enjoy [sic]."

Almost all of his paintings are of mountain landscapes.

Kirsch loved the Estes area — "the colors and terrain of the Rockies make the world's most beautiful and desirable mountain paintings," he said in 1971.

Allan Ledward remembers Kirsch loved to paint on location.

"John was a great hiker, his idea of a big time was to go out (and paint on site)," said Ledward.

Kirsch tried to teach his son-in-law painting, but Ledward was inattentive — "I curse myself for that now," he said.

Like father, like son

Another follower of the Kirsch family tradition, John Jr. also decorated churches.

He "practiced architectural deco­ration in the Milwaukee area of Wisconsin," stated an article in the Trail-Gazette on Aug. 10, 1977.

That summer Kirsch was unable to return to the cabin due to illness.

"Even at home in Wisconsin, my father lives with the spirit of the Rockies in his heart," said John Jr.

On Aug. 16, 1977 Kirsch died in Waukesha (Wis.) Memorial Hospital.

Fanny summered in Estes Park' for two additional years, said Martha, but died in 1979 — "of a broken heart.

"When they both came from Europe, they were all alone, they didn't have any family," Martha explained,

The Kirsches were very close in all aspects of their lives — Fanny helped to manage John's career.

After the death of their parents, John Jr. and Martha alternated summers at the cabin.

When the Ledwards purchased their own home, John Jr. bought his parents' property and usually spends summers as his father did.

Hidden treasures discovered

Last winter, John Jr. was clearing out one of his father's old storage units in Wisconsin.

He came upon many original paintings — most of which were of the Estes area.

Since John Jr. was unable to make the trip to Estes this summer due to illness, Martha has brought her father's works home.

John Jr., Martha and their families plan to continue the Kirsch tradition by summering in Estes Park for many years to come.