Walking through Schenectady it’s hard to miss the mark left by Werner Feibes.
The architect and longtime Stockade resident, who championed modernism and helped preserve the historic district, died of Alzheimer’s disease at 92 on September 16 at the Baptist Hospital in Louisville, Ky. .
Feibes, along with his late wife James D. Schmitt, helped design the Schenectady Central Police Station and Fire Headquarters, as well as the Karen B. Johnson Library, among many other local buildings.
Nowhere is Feibes’ influence perhaps more felt than the Palisade, where he and Schmitt lived on North Ferry Street for more than 50 years. They were largely responsible for founding the Stockade Association, the Schenectady Heritage Foundation, and the Stockade Spy, whose header still features a drawing by Feibes.
âWerner was an upbeat personality in this small communityâ¦ He inspired a lot of us,â said Bruce Jordan, who has been a neighbor of Feibes for 31 years.
Feibes was born in Aachen, Germany, in 1929, and he and his family fled the country shortly before the outbreak of World War II, settling first in New York and then later in Schenectady, according to his obituary. Feibes attended the University of Cincinnati, where he graduated as an architect and met Schmitt.
The two went on to create Feibes & Schmitt Architects, located in a converted shed on Union Street. While their architectural style was influenced by the Bauhaus and American Modernism, they were strong supporters of historic preservation and helped make the Stockade a historic district in New York State, the first neighborhood to be labeled as such in 1962. They pushed for the neighborhood to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places, where it has been located since 1973.
They have also had a major impact on the art community, donating their significant collection of 169 pieces of modern / contemporary art to the Hyde, including works by Andy Warhol, Josef Albers, Grace Hartigan, Ellsworth Kelly, Sol LeWitt, Man Ray, Robert Motherwell and Louise Nevelson among others. They also donated funds to establish the Feibes and Schmitt Gallery in Hyde, which opened in 2017 and is dedicated to showcasing modern and contemporary art.
Feibes and Schmitt, both accomplished artists in their own right, collected mostly non-figurative art for decades, just for the purpose of selecting pieces they loved. Feibes knew the stories behind each piece and, more often than not, also knew the artist.
“They knew quite a few very well-known artists,” said Gloria Kishton, a longtime friend, who is also president of the Schenectady Heritage Foundation. “They’d done things like working in their studiosâ¦ and sometimes they’d get a piece of art in return.”
The donation of their collection took place in stages, starting in 2015 and ending in 2019. When Feibes moved to Louisville to be with her family members, the rest of the collection was donated. According to Kishton, the Hyde’s also took the title of Feibes’ Stockade and sold it, profiting from the proceeds of the sale.
Feibes and Schmitt’s collection had an incredible impact on Hyde, who previously did not have a strong representation of modern abstract art.
âThe Hyde is, I think, really unusual for a museum of its size to be able to show the whole of European and American art history from the late Middle Ages to contemporary art,â said Jonathan. Canning, Director of Curatorial Affairs and Programming. at the Hyde. It is thanks to Feibes and Schmitt that the museum can exhibit the latter.
âWe really try to display all of this sweep so visitors to the Hyde can see the breadth of our collection, but there is always something for everyone. If you are not that interested in Old Masters we can give you an abstraction to look at and we were only really able to do that due to the size and nature of Werner and Jim’s collection â, Canning said.
The fact that they decided to donate their entire collection rather than dividing it among larger art institutions is also quite remarkable.
âThey wanted their collection to come to us intact because they saw it would have a real impact on what Hyde could offer,â said Canning. âThey were really doing this as an investment in the community and its knowledge of art history, especially abstractionâ¦ They wanted their collection and the artists it represents to be available to inspire future artists and creators of our region. â
Canning went on to say that Feibes “was just a very warm and friendly, very gracious personality.”
Neighbors like Kishton can attest to this.
âFor me, the most distinctive feature of their personalities was that they were so interested in meeting new people and talking about new ideas,â Kishton said, adding that Feibes was a great storyteller.
Jordan has Feibes to thank in part for having made him discover the Stockade district.
âWhen I moved into the Stockade, Werner and his partner Jim threw a wonderful party they called an ‘In Between’ party, between Christmas and New Years. It was my first social event in the Palisade. and that introduced me to all the people who lived in this historic district then, some of whom have become lifelong friends, âJordan said. Over the years, the two have become linked to the arts, especially theater and opera, the latter being another passion of Feibes.
A burial service at Feibes cemetery is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Sunday, November 21 at Vale cemetery in Schenectady. An opera singer will perform an aria to conclude the service.
âI think it will be beautiful and something he would have loved,â Kishton said.
There will be no reception after service due to the persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Memorial donations can be made to the Schenectady Heritage Foundation (PO Box 1173, Schenectady, NY 12305), or online at the Foundation’s website.
Kishton and others plan to celebrate Feibes life with an event in May 2022. For updates on the event, visit schenectadyheritage.org as the date approaches.
Contact reporter Indiana Nash at [emailÂ protected] and @Indijnash on Twitter.
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Categories: Life and Arts