Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Emil Schnellock - A Biography

"You're the one person back home I always kept in mind. I thought of you more than you will ever realize." (Henry Miller to Emil Schnellock, Letters To Emil, p. 158)

Emil R. Schnellock was only a year older than Henry Miller, but served as his mentor at crucial moments in his life. Schnellock taught Miller to paint, enriched his understanding of Art, helped inspire him about Paris, acted as a critic of his writing technique and encouraged him to loosen it up, solicited articles on his behalf, acted as his "literary executor," and was generally the sounding board off of which Miller develped his style. Although Miller shamefully neglected to give him his proper due in his Books Of Friends, Schnellock is passively immortalized (we never see his letters) in Miller's Letters To Emil. Schnellock did manage to get his own words in about Henry with Just A Brooklyn Boy, published in Happy Rock (1945).

Born in New York [?] in 1890, to German parents. At some point, brother Ned Schnellock was born. In 1905, Emil attended P.S. 85 in Brooklyn where he already showed skills as an artist. Miller--as a fellow student--remembered being impressed with Schnellock's blackboard drawings. As a young man, Schnellock travelled to and studied art in Europe for several years. By 1920, he was back in New York, where he quickly established himself as a commercial artist. In the 1920s, he kept a studio on Bedford Avenue, then moved it to a third floor suite at 60 W. 50th Street (later replaced by the Rockefeller Center?). In 1932, he was living at 5 E. 9th Street in Manhattan.

ABOVE: Schnellock in 1943 (UCLA Special Collections)

Schnellock and a friend were in Lake George, NY one year, and apparently saved a girl from drowning. She was the daughter of Leslie Gray of Orange, Virginia. Schnellock was invited to their estate home in Montebello (Virginia) and became a family friend. In 1935, the wealthy Grays commissioned Emil to paint murals at their ancestral home. He took the job, stayed in a cottage on the former plantation grounds, and decided not to return to New York. He took a part time teaching job at a boys prep school called Woodberry Forest School, in Madison County, VA. In 1938, he was asked to lecture on Art Appreciation at the all-female Mary Washington College (U. Of Virginia) in Fredericksburg, VA. He is hired as an Instructor that year (this city directory says so). He eventually becomes a member of its faculty until he died in 1958. Today, Schnellock's legacy is continued by a pair of Art scholarships offered in his name at what is now called Mary Washington University (they also hold some of his artwork in their permanent collection [ref. only]).

[Although I will highlight a couple of points, my purpose here is to summarize their relationship. Please refer to Letters To Emil for more detail.]
1905 - Miller and Schnellock meet as students at P.S. 85 .

1909 - They fall out of each other's lives when they attend different high schools.

1921 - Shortly after returning from art study in Europe, Schnellock bumps into Miller at Sixth Avenue and 49th Street in New York. Miller: "That chance meeting decided my fate. From then on my gaze was fixed." [Remember to Remember, p.319]. Emil talked about "Mt. Aetna and Vesuvius and Capri and Pompeii and Morocco and Paris" and told Henry "I'm sure you'd like it! I'm sure it's just the place for you." This meeting in recounted in Tropic Of Capricorn, p.47-49 (Schnellock is referred to as 'Ulric'). Their friendship re-kindled immediately. Many an evening is spent in Prospect Park together, Emil filling Henry's head with visions of Paris.

ABOVE: Grafonola magazine ad painted by Schnellock in 1920.

Emil encourages Henry to paint when he sees how thrilled his friend is when seeing a Turner paiting in a window (ref). Besides the Italian masters, Emil also turns Henry onto Walter Pater's Studies in the History of the Renaissance.

1922 - Miller begins writing letters to Emil, describing his writing efforts and influences.

- Schnellock teaches Miller to paint, teaches him about Art, lets him observe as he paints in his studio. They play chess, they go on double-dates.

1923 - Henry and June stay at Emil's studio when they are caught in an affair by Henry's wife.

1930 - When Miller finally leaves to live in Paris, Schnellock sees him off at the dock. Emil gives Henry the $10 in his pocket, which is all he will have when he arrives in Paris. Schnellock becomes the recipient of a barrage of correspondence from Miller while in France; these letters are often rough drafts of ideas that will end up in future books. The letters to 1934 will be published as Letters To Emil, but they will continue to some degree for the rest of Emil's life.

1932 - Miller sends Schnellock the very first draft of Tropic Of Cancer, to be held for safe-keeping.

1932-34 - Miller makes sure that his Paris friends (i.e. Michael Fraenkel, Anais Nin) hook up with Schnellock when they are in New York.

1940 - During the Air-Conditioned Nightmare tour, Miller and Abe Rattner visit and stay with Schnellock, who now lives in Fredericksburg, VA.

1944 - Miller and Janina Lepska stay with Emil during a visit to Virginia. While there, Miller asks her to be Wife #3.

- An old letter to Emil called "Death Letter to Emil" is published in Sunday After The War.
ABOVE RIGHT: Letters To Emil, with a 1929 portrait of Henry Miller, sketched by Schnellock.

1945 - Schnellock writes the short Miller memoir Just A Brooklyn Boy, published in Happy Rock (1945).

- Excerpts from Miller's letters to Emil (mostly art-related) are published as Semblance of a Devoted Past.

1946 - Schnellock drives to Big Sur to visit Miller.

1950 - A long letter to Emil from 1939 is published in The Waters Reglitterized. [full title includes: The Subject of Water Color in Some of its More Liquid Phases. From Henry to Emil in moments of inspiration or perplexity, with gratitude for having put me on the right Path.]

1950s - Schnellock continues to receive letters from Miller. He shares these with his classes at Mary Washington College.

1958 - Schnellock dies.

1975 - Schnellock watercolours are found on the 5th and 7th pages of the printing of Miller's Nightmare Notebook.
BELOW: An actual envelope for a letter to Emil in 1932, in Miller's handwriting.(see PBA Galleries for more images of the actual letters)


Schnellock is referred to as "Ulric" in Tropic Of Capricorn (briefly, as quoted above) and in forty pages in Plexus.


The vast collection of Miller items mailed to Emil Schnellock are now stored at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur. According to their website, this includes "manuscripts; typescripts of literary sketches; Miller's first known letter of appeal; letters written to Emil Schnellock; watercolors; postcards and several items previously unknown to Miller's biographers and bibliographers. Perhaps the single most meaningful document is the over one-hundred pages from the first draft of Tropic of Cancer that chronologically precedes what has heretofore been known as the 'first' draft."

The Emil Schnellock Archive was donated by an anonymous seller in 2000. In this article from the Monterey County Weekly, they further describe the collection: "There are also hundreds of letters to and from Miller, including some that he wrote on the backs of Paris cafe menus and on stationery from Western Union."

PHOTO ABOVE: Schnellock teaches his female students in 1941 [full image here].


Some biographical sources:
[1] Letter To Emil (1989) edited by George Wickes.
[2] The Happiest Man Alive (1991) by Mary V Dearborn.
[3] Classmates at PS 85 (2004) by Thomas Mann.
[4] Henry Miller: A Life (1991) by Robert Ferguson.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That 100 pages of pre-Tropic that has never seen the light of day fascinates me. I hope that the library does something with that some day!

2:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantastic! Keep posting.

10:57 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i love the stuff you're doing on henry, like emil schnellock. i was wondering where he got the impetus to paint. i am interested in art of writers, such as that of henry miller.

i would like to link you to my blog for in depth reference on henry miller.


3:25 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i love the stuff you're doing on henry, like emil schnellock. i was wondering where he got the impetus to paint. i am interested in art of writers, such as that of henry miller.

i would like to link you to my blog for in depth reference on henry miller.


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