Well-known artist Ursula Neuberg remembered through her paintings

Charlotte W. Sprawls
Special to The Black Mountain News

If you have dined in the Berliner Kindl restaurant in Black Mountain in the last few years, you have seen many of Ursula Neuberg’s paintings on the walls.

Hanging in the front dining room behind the “Stammtisch,” a table reserved for regular customers, are two paintings of the German town of Rothenberg. Sharon Trube, the owner of the restaurant, bought them from Ursula several years ago so she would have them to remember the painter by.

Ursula, a well-known artist in Black Mountain and Asheville, as well as in Texas and Kansas where she lived before moving to North Carolina in 1990 with husband Frank, died May 4. On March 22, she celebrated her 91st birthday. She became ill about this time. Her memorial service was at Black Mountain Presbyterian Church on May 8. Her ashes were interred in the Columbarium in the courtyard of the church.

Ursula, as she signed all her paintings, was born in Ansbach, Germany, on March 22, 1924. The town, in the Rhineland area near Krefeld, Dusseldorf, and Cologne, is only about 90 minutes by bicycle to the Dutch border. Her father, Philipp Karl Kurscher, had been poisoned and blinded by mustard gas during World War I and was receiving a pension from the German government. Tragically, he died when Ursula was about 13 or 14, and her mother, Alma Antonie Westerwiek, was forced to go to work as a bookkeeper to support Ursula and her sister Erika.

Ursula had to suspend her Lyceum education for a while, but later she was able to get a full scholarship at the Meisterschule des Deutschen Handwerks, which was somewhat like Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, except that is was related to the arts professions.

“The school offered graphic design, and fashion and textile design, which became my course of study,” Ursula said in memoirs she wrote recently about her war years. “There was a thriving silk and cloth industry in Germany at that time (mid-1930s), providing the possibility of my finding a job in this field. The college is located in Krefeld and is well-known in Germany and beyond. (The fabric for the wedding gown of the current Queen Elizabeth of England was produced in Krefeld.)

“In order to get a full scholarship, I attended five days a week, eight hours a day filled with subjects such as graphics, fabric design, life drawing, etc.,” Ursula noted in her memoirs. “Much to my joy, on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., I attended lectures about art history, such as the Italian Renaissance. There were three semesters a year: fall, winter and spring. However, in summer, we painted in the Botanical Gardens on Saturday mornings, drawing and sketching in the zoo. My training at the college was so intense I graduated at the age of 19 1/2.

Ursula had been laboriously writing these memoirs (more accurately in German, her Erinnerungen persönlichen, or personal memories) by hand in English, her second language, for about two years before she died. During her last few years, memories of her war years in Germany from 1938 to 1946 began to weigh heavily on her mind. She enlisted the help of local novelist Jill Jones to smooth her broken English. Jones gave an electronic version of Ursula’s memoirs to Black Mountain Presbyterian Churchas a memorial to Ursula, an active church member for the past 25 years. You can read it in printed form at the church library.

Jones used portions of the memoirs in her eulogy at Ursula’s memorial service on May 8. The memoir is a powerful story of her personal experiences during the war as she was trying to get an education and then beginning a new and exciting job after her graduation. One marvels at her strength and tenacity as she had to deal with numerous times of being bombed out of her homes, one by one, through the years of during 1944-45.

“Around my graduation,” Ursula wrote, “I perused the Sunday paper for job opportunities. There was one ad which caught my eye, somewhat unusual. This company was searching for professional artists whom they would be training in drafting. However, this job notice came from across the country, all the way from Leipzig. They mentioned they would pay for the trip, including all travel expenses, including hotel, and also if not hired, would pay for the return trip home.

“Normally this type of job was mainly held by men, but since the war demanded young men for the army, it was now also available to women. Mother and I found it promising, so I responded and got an offer to come. I went with a stomach full of butterflies because I had never traveled far from home. But I went with a lot of advice and encouragement from my mother. The result of the interview with the Engineer was a success, so my future boss hired me with a monthly salary and enough time to find a place to rent. At that time, especially during the war, people rented a furnished room.”

She writes of her dismay at finding out that all employees of the company were members of the Nazi party. She goes on to tell of her dismay when the director of the company, Leipzig Aluminum, told her the company was now completely one with a 100 percent Nazi membership and said, “You are a party member too?” the director asked her. Her mother hadn’t thought about this possibility, so Ursula, not a member, had no idea how to respond. Her family was Protestant and certainly never members of the Nazi party. Somehow, as she puts it, “an angel must have been sitting on my shoulder,” and the question of party membership was never mentioned again.

The narrative continues with many harrowing stories of near escapes from death from the daily bombings over the next few years. She had to move numerous times to different living quarters after the houses where she had been living were bombed. out, one by one.

After a few years her boss, Mr. Keil, went on loan to a defense production company in Dusseldorf, 45 minutes from her hometown, and she was moved to this new location too. She found a nice room in a nicer part of town as the upstairs tenant in a house with a ground floor apartment and a basement. The basement contained all kinds of tools such as hammers, candles and matches and bandages in case the house was bombed and the occupants had to break out. Ursula was later forced to use the equipment when a bomb fell on the house, nearly destroying her room.

Later on the building housing her company in Dusseldorf was bombed, as well as another home she had been moved to. “Truly God wanted me to live,” she says at the end of her narrative. “I was overcome with tears, and I thanked God for the miracle of my life.”

After the company building was destroyed and while they were searching for new quarters for it, she was given a much-needed few days of vacation time, during which she traveled by train to Metz, France, near Strasbourg, where her mother was now living with her new husband. Life in France was much calmer toward the end of the war than in Germany, and Ursula enjoyed her vacation time there. Her mother packed a delicious lunch for her train ride back to Germany, where she found that her boss, Mr. Keil, was moving them all to Vienna. “Oh yes, up to the city of my dreams,” are Ursula’s concluding words. She never was able to write any further about her Vienna years, so here ends her memoir.

In a brief bio that Berliner Kindl included with her exhibits at the restaurant, Ursula wrote that she was able to create many oil paintings during the later war years which are in collections in Germany, Austria and Holland. In 1951, she escaped from the Nazis and immigrated to the United States as a young wife, moving to Kansas and then to , where she married Arlis Scholl, and later to Arlington, Texas. While raising her family she participated in juried shows and continued to win awards. Her skill as a technical illustrator and commercial artist provided the means of educating her two children. Ursula began each painting with a charcoal study, planning each painting as a unit, giving attention to values, composition, texture, and luminosity. She clearly stated the characteristics of the flowers and landscapes she so beautifully depicted.

Ursula achieved a lifelong dream when she moved to the mountains of Western North Carolina in 1990. Here she painted landscapes on location whenever possible and created still life and floral images from the nature around her. After her second husband died, she moved from her home on Woodland Drive to the Blue Ridge Apartments, where she lived for about 20 years. She was the recipient of numerous awards given by the Swannanoa Fine Arts League, of which she was a long-time member. Ursula was also a faithful member of the Asheville Lyric Opera Guild and always attended all the opera performances. In years past she always ushered for the Dress Rehearsal performances.

Ursula Neuberg is survived by her daughter and son-in-law, Linda and Leonard Willis, of Cedarhill, N.J.; her son, James Scholl, of Golden, Colo.; and two grandchildren. Leonard Willis and Shawn Jenkins.