Artist for the ages
Kansas Arts Commission to recognize artist Ernst Ulmer for years of work
A Bonner Springs artist will be one of four individuals recognized next week by the Kansas Arts Commission with a Governor's Arts Award. Ernst Ulmer has worked for 53 years as a professional artist, and some of his most famous works depict historical scenes in Kansas.
Gary Blitsch, the owner of the Southwind Gallery at Framewoods of Topeka, has known Ulmer for 10 years and nominated him for the award, which will be presented next Thursday.
"He's best living artist in the state of Kansas," Blitsch said.
Blitsch said he has five or six of Ulmer's works in his gallery now.
Ulmer creates and sells his art out of his home in rural Bonner Springs. His wife, Mary Ulmer, is the "business end" of his art, he said.
Besides historical scenes, Ulmer works in a variety of media, including watercolor, pastels, oils, and acrylic, with subjects ranging from portraits and landscape scenes to nudes. He also does "lost wax" sculpture.
Ulmer describes his style as "loose realism."
"Some artists want to become famous and some want to make a living," Ulmer said.
He chose to make a living, but he has also achieved a degree of fame. His work has appeared on the covers of a Doubleday book, North and South magazine, and the Kansas History Journal. He has three paintings hanging in Topeka in the office of Melissa Gregory, the appointment secretary for Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. His works are also in the collections the world over, including those of Bob Dole and Colin Powell.
Ulmer also works in a wide variety of sizes, ranging from small paintings to 34-foot murals.
After serving in the Navy in World War II, Ulmer received college degrees -- both a bachelor's and a master's of fine arts -- from the Kansas City Art Institute with the help of the G.I Bill. He began working for General Motors as an aircraft illustrator before moving on to architectural renderings. He did that for 20 years as he worked more and more on his own drawings and paintings.
Ulmer said "drawing was always easy for me."
As a child, his parents ran a grocery store in Kansas City, Kan., and even through the Depression he always had drawing supplies, with cardboard and butcher paper from the store.
Mary Ulmer recalled that when Ernst was a child, he'd win prizes for his cousins by entering in box-top drawing contests.
"Whatever it is, he can do it," she said.
Ulmer's creative energies don't stop with art.
"I'm kind of a frustrated builder," he said. He built most of his and his wife's home, including the wiring, plumbing and interior work. When they bought it in 1970, it was about one-third its present size.
Blitsch said of Ulmer's award, "I just think he's long overdue. I mean the historic works he's done, they're all in the state of Kansas. He represents the state of Kansas in a wonderful light," Blitsch said.
He added, "On top of that he's a great guy -- one of the real human beings in the world, absolutely untouched by his fame."