Historical Highlights: Albert Schaaf and Robert Feustel, Honorable Men of the Fort Wayne Art School and Museum

Sue Slick, Collection Information Specialist

Longevity is on our minds lately — the longevity of the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, whose roots planted over a century ago, flourished because of the notable longevity of service of many Fort Wayne leaders. These devoted men and women were involved with the museum in one way or another year after year, in spite of their other immense responsibilities and very full lives. Theirs are remarkable stories!

FWMoA Archive Image.

It all started in the late 1880s when a group of Fort Wayne friends were inspired to learn to paint. The sketching and painting classes began in 1888, and it wasn’t too long before the excitement and popularity of the classes spurred the momentum that transformed them from individual classes into a small school. The little school became incorporated, elected officers, and formed a board of devoted stewards who were already established business folks and community leaders. They ensured the school flourished; but they also saw it struggle, and willingly passed the baton when it was time. These were very busy men and women who diligently attended meetings, hashed out policies, secured funding, solved a myriad of problems, addressed crises, and always kept their eyes on the future, understanding the great value of the arts to our community; and they did so quietly and humbly.  Here are a couple of their stories.

There were two school chums, in particular, who I have often wondered about: Bob Feustel and Al Schaaf. Both were born in 1884 — Albert Schaaf on March 14 and Robert Feustel on August 5. In addition, both were first generation American children of German immigrants; both attended public schools and excelled academically (Al was the valedictorian and Bob the salutatorian of the Fort Wayne High School class of 1902); and, both boys suffered losses and endured hardships: both lost their fathers early (Bob was 9 and Al was 12) and both lost a sibling (Bob’s youngest brother died of nephritis at 5 when Bob was 11 and Al’s brother Carl, a Civil War veteran, died of yellow fever when Al was 21). Their hardships did not prevent them from success, perhaps even acting as motivating forces. Finally, both Al and Bob earned engineering degrees — Al studied at Stanford, Cornell, and the University of Michigan; Bob was a Purdue Boilermaker.

They were both in their early 30s when they joined the leadership team of the Fort Wayne Art School and Museum. Possibly hand-picked by Theodore Thieme, about 30 years their senior, Thieme had very firm ideas about the structure and operation of the organization. Albert Schaaf was named president of the Art School and Museum upon its reincorporation in 1921 and Bob Feustel succeeded him as president. Both were members of the board of governors for several years following their presidential terms.

Albert Schaaf, 1925. FWMoA Archive Image.

After a successful academic career and experiences on each coast, young Al Schaaf returned to Fort Wayne where he investigated the manufacturing realm, but found that career did not suit him. When he turned to real estate development he excelled. We can thank him today for many of the beautiful  neighborhoods and features of the city from Arcadia Court (my parents’ first home in Fort Wayne was on this street!), Oakdale Place, Harrison Hill, Southwood Park, and Forest Park to the ornate Chamber of Commerce building (now part of the downtown University of Saint Francis campus), expansion of the parks, and the beautification of our river banks. He valued natural topography, established trees, spacious lots, and attractive, quality construction. It is a testament to Mr. Schaaf that so many of his beautiful neighborhoods still thrive. Many accolades were written about him in 1928 when he was awarded the Chamber’s Optimist civic trophy. Among them were these words from H. Francis James, Director of the Fort Wayne Art School and Museum, 1926-1929:

“From the very first inception of enlarging the scope of the local art school Mr. Schaaf has lent his whole-hearted support and influence. He was chosen by reason of his broad vision and striking personality, his magnetism and directing ability, as the first president of the Fort Wayne Art School and Museum Association in its new quarters, corner of West Berry and Rockhill streets. For two years he served in a most efficient and remarkable manner, continuing his interest just as strongly after that two-year period. Without his sympathetic influence and cool judgment it is doubtful if the school could have lived through its recent struggles.”

“At the time Mr. Schaaf was elected president, a great experiment was to be carried out to maintain an art school – bring out inherent talent in those feeling the desire to create; to train high-school graduates to become art teachers, to eventually work hand in hand with the public school children in giving them advantages to study fine works of art, and to place this necessary privilege before all the citizens of Fort Wayne.”

Students of the Fort Wayne Art School and Museum watercolor painting in the West Central neighborhood, 1928. FWMoA Archive Image.

The Fort Wayne Art School class of 1925 dedicated its yearbook, Art Lights, to Mr. Schaaf: “To Albert H. Schaaf, retired president of the Fort Wayne Art School and Museum, whose untiring energy and service have aided so substantially in the development of our school, we, the class of 1925, dedicate this second volume of Art Lights. May it serve as our appreciation of his efforts to bring more and better art to the people of Fort Wayne.”

Students of the Fort Wayne Art School and Museum painting from a model, 1929. FWMoA Archive Image.

Robert Feustel’s name is also there consistently in the early history. He served as president, vice president, and as a member of the board of governors of the Fort Wayne Art School and Museum in the 1920s and 30s until his premature death in 1932.

Robert Feustel, 1926. FWMoA Archive Image.

It’s incredible that Robert Feustel found time to give so much to the Art School! He was a national expert on public utilities and commissioner of several municipal railway systems. He was president of the Indiana Service Corporation, which operated the Fort Wayne city rail, light, and power company system and four interurban lines, and he was also president of the Chicago, South Shore & South Bend Railroad.

Feustel was involved with or led numerous other charitable institutions and efforts, including the forming of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, the development of municipal air travel in the area, negotiations to bring International Harvester to Fort Wayne, the Quest Club, University Club, Y.M.C.A., Izaak Walton League, Hoosier Auto Association, and the Scottish Rite – many organizations that both Thieme and Schaaf were involved with.

Robert Feustel, like Albert Schaaf, must have possessed immense character and strength (and a supportive family) to have accomplished all that he did after becoming fatherless at the age of nine. His father, August Feustel, who worked as a gardener, clerk, bar keeper, and mail carrier, passed in 1893 at the age of 50, leaving behind his wife and eight children. Just two years later, Robert’s youngest brother, Oscar, died at the age of five. How did this young man finish high school with top honors and go on to accomplish what he did in the short time he was given and give so much of himself? We know he had older siblings who were also achievers and we know that he married a young lady who was also accomplished; Esther Feustel was an artist and graduate of the Fort Wayne Art School, member of the class of 1926.

Esther Griffith Feustel, Fort Wayne Art School graduate, 1926 FWMoA Archive Image

“The first part of September is the time set for the marriage of Miss Esther Griffith and Mr. Robert Feustel of Cedar Rapids, Ia. The bride elect is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William E. Griffith of Washington Blvd. west and has spent her entire life in Fort Wayne. After graduating from the Fort Wayne high and manual training school Miss Griffith studied at the School of Art in this city and at the Art Institute of Chicago. While decidedly talented along artistic lines the bride elect is an accomplished housewife and needlewoman, and is withal most charming in appearance and manner.” –Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, August 7,1909

“A quiet home wedding was that of Miss Gertrude Esther Griffiths and Mr. Robert Feustel, a former Fort Wayne young man who is now located in Cedar Rapids, Ia. The bride is a talented artist and has pursued her studies along the most thorough lines, but she combines enough of the practical to be well fitted in various housewifely ways as well.” –Fort Wayne News Sentinel, September 8, 1909

From the 1926 Art Lights dedication, “Mr. Feustel has been one of our biggest boosters since the Art School was organized four years ago. He succeeded Mr. Schaaf last year as President and since that time has done his utmost toward the advancement of the school. His good sportsmanship and enthusiasm have made him very popular with the students. The splendid attitude which he has shown is deeply appreciated by all those connected with the Fort Wayne Art School and Museum.”

Mr. Feustel’s life ended only a couple of years short of his 50th birthday. He was an active member of the board of the school and museum when he died of nephritis, in 1932. One wonders what more he could have accomplished had he lived a longer life.

These are some of young Bob Feustel’s words upon his graduation from the Fort Wayne High School in 1902:

“Kind Friends: — We, the members of the class of 1902 extend to you our heartiest welcome to these, our graduation exercises. We deem your presence here tonight an indication of the interest you feel in us and we are glad to have you share with us, this, the crowning pleasure of four happy years of work and pleasant anticipation. Some of us have further proof of your interest in the way of material help which has enabled us to complete our course at high school. We are all grateful for the kindly interest you have shown in us and in what you have done, and it is with pleasure that we welcome you here tonight. Loving parents, brothers and sisters, to you we extend a special welcome, for to you we owe a special debt. In most every case it has been through you alone that we have been able to attend school. We cannot be too grateful for the many kind words of encouragement and advice that you have given us and for the countless sacrifices that you have made for us. Doubtless in some cases it has cost you much extra work, but you have done your part faithfully, and you see in our graduation tonight the first fruits of your efforts. All the rest remains with us, and I trust that we may repay you by becoming honorable men and women and that you may see your most cherished hopes realized in us.”

Salutary address, Commencement Exercises Fort Wayne High School, by Robert Max Feustel, June 19, 1902

Honorable men and women – we stand on their shoulders.

FWMoA Archive Image.

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