by Len Lear
So many people in Philadelphia and other major cities have died of complications of the coronavirus that many outstanding individuals are being overlooked by newspapers that simply do not have enough space for all of the obituaries, especially now that so many businesses which normally advertise are closed, resulting in less space for articles and photos.
One of those individuals was artist Reinhold Edelschein, who died at age 94 on April 19 while living with his wife, Henrietta (“Heni”), 90, at the Phoebe Nursing Home in Wyncote. Before moving there in 2014, the artistic couple lived on Sedgwick Street in West Mt. Airy for 54 years. (Heni is an acclaimed sculptor, poet, human rights activist and violinist in her own right.)
“I wish I could have held him and felt him at the end, but I was not allowed to,” Heni said last week with powerful emotion. “He had great difficulty swallowing, and he could no longer eat. His left side was paralyzed from a second stroke. It was such a horrible ordeal, but I feel he is now at peace.
“I recall a few years ago when we would just sit here for a long time and watch the snow fall. He would be drawing in his mind, and he responded to classical music … He was such a great father to our two sons. He built a tree house for them at our house across from Carpenter’s Woods. He would take them fishing, and we would all play volleyball together and go camping.”
For 35 years, from 1979 to 2014, the Edelscheins had a bed-and-breakfast in their Mt. Airy home, hosting guests from all over the country and making many long-lasting friends. One woman, Carol Howard, who stayed there for an entire year while working on her Ph.D, wrote after Reinhold’s death, “He had the soul and temperament of a great artist. He loved music, food, deep conversations and had a quick wit. It was a privilege to know him. His spirit can now soar like it did when he played the violin. I hope someday to meet him again.”
Both Edelscheins belonged to the prestigious Plastic Club, and Reinhold also belonged to the Philadelphia Sketch Club. They held a widely acclaimed joint exhibition at Allens Lane Art Center in 1999. Reinhold had works in the permanent collections of Woodmere Art Museum and the Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia, as well as in numerous private collections. He received numerous awards such as the Violet Oakley Prize (2006), the Hugh and Marian Scott Prize (2005) and the Elizabeth Coyne Memorial Prize (2000) at Woodmere exhibitions.
The Edelsheins were in such intellectual harmony with each other, they quite literally finished one another’s sentences. Reinhold himself was a superb colorist, citing his mentor Hans Hofmann’s “always talking about the ‘push and pull’ of color in his German accent.”
Henrietta told us that “Rein” was “just as passionate about music as art,” noting that he began playing chamber music on the violin at the age of 10 and that he played “morning, noon and night.” Reinhold once told us, “I want my pictures to be analogous expressions of musical tonalities.”
Regarding their relationship, Reinhold explained, “I spotted Heni in the registration line at Tyler Art School, and I said to myself: ‘That’s the woman for me.’” On their first date, he took her to a photography exhibition of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work at Gimbel’s Department Store, 8th and Market Streets, and when she loved it, “I knew I’d made the right choice.”
After art school, the two lived in Levittown for a few years. “That was B.C.,” Henrietta put it, “before children.” Subsequently, they returned to Philadelphia, where both grew up. “We are not suburbanites,” Reinhold insisted, stating that they returned to the city for cultural stimulation.
One art critic wrote in 2009, “The monochromatic nature and elongated line of Henrietta’s work is the perfect complement to Reinhold’s orchestrations of hue on canvas. One wanders through their home as though museum galleries. The color in Reinhold’s work is unbelievable, and her work puts you in mind of Brancusi. I look at a lot of art, and by any standard you can apply, the Edelscheins are very fine artists. Their craftsmanship and technique are simply magnificent!”
Rein and Heni have two sons, Todd and Rich, and two granddaughters.
Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Marie Fowler contributed to this article.