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Scharmer takes his time to create "the impossible"

Maggie Gordo, Darien News-Review
Published 12:44 pm, Thursday, February 25, 2010

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  • Fred Scharmer pionts out some of the miniature stage models he's created over the years. Photo: Maggie Gordon / Darien News
    Fred Scharmer pionts out some of the miniature stage models he's created over the years. Photo: Maggie Gordon

 

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The interior of Fred Scharmer's home on Noroton Avenue looks like the home of a collector. And in a way it is. Scharmer's spent 97 years collecting stories and memories to tell. But the ensemble of paintings, carvings and models that occupies his living room is more than a cluster of artifacts he's sought and purchased during his lifetime; he made them all.

From the medieval helmet perched in the corner of his living room, to the guns he created from pipes and wood, encased in his hand-made display cabinet in the next room, to the gong sitting on the floor, there are scores of props that he's designed and created in the last several decade.

Perhaps the most telling piece of art is the coat of arms that sits above his mantle in the living room. The badge, which he created from a piece of wood and painted by hand, features a crest split into quadrants. The upper right portion shows a painter's pallet, the upper right shows drama masks, below that is a fish, and to the left of the fish is a beautiful mermaid, checking her reflection in a hand mirror.

"I'm an artist, an actor, an avid fisherman, and a woman chaser," he says with a laugh as he points to the four portions of the badge.

But Scharmer had one great love, his late wife Ida, with whom he spent more than 50 years. The portrait he painted of her when they were in their 20's still hangs above the piano in his living room.

"She and I were involved in Little Theater [in Noroton]," he said. "I told her I wanted to get involved with professional acting, and she took a rather dim view of that. She probably didn't want to live by her suitcase, packing up to travel all over the country."

So Scharmer went to work as a printer for Conde Nast, where he stayed for 52 years. During that time, he and his wife participated in community theater, and even founded the Troupers Light Opera Company in 1946, after he returned from his service in World War II.

The Troupers, based in New Canaan, performed Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Over the course of the next 20 years, Scharmer had a principal role in 12 of Gilbert and Sullivan's 14 shows. He's currently working on learning the lyrics to the duo's opera "The Gondoleirs."

"It's my first time singing in the chorus," he said, flipping through his copy of the sheet music for the production, which is decorated with colored paper clips, marking the songs he has to learn.

In addition to his role in the chorus, he's also working on set design and prop projects for that and other shows in the area. And though some of the props may be a tall order, it's not stopping him.

Several years ago, Scharmer was enlisted to craft a coat of armor for a production. The American Can Company sent him an entire sheet of tin to use for the project, and he created the armed suit.

But it's not only the large props that can prove to be a challenge. In fact, Scharmer spends a lot of his time working on smaller, intricately detailed projects, like creating models of what the sets will look like for the directors' use.

There are dozens of these models in his house in Darien, from those pictured above, to those tucked away in the attic, and he's working on creating another model right now.

"It takes quite a while when you're working in miniature," he said while looking at the collection of models on the first floor of his home. Then with a laugh, he added, "My niece heard I was making one of these, and she wanted me to make her a doll house. And she got a doll house."

He's careful to accurately create the details of his models, crafting and painting different entryways and larger props that will alter the terrain of the stage for his productions. His eye for details translates from the miniature models to the paintings he creates for the stage.

"Everything has significance. The reason a detail is there is because it needs to be," he said. "And then there's my ego. I have to put myself into all of these things."

He's created Mattisse look-alikes for the stage, as well as Picasso's and other portraits and paintings.

"They're not exact copies. I use them as a model," he said.

Regardless of how daunting a task may seem when it's first brought to his attention, Scharmer loves working with his art, just as he loves working on the stage.

"If I don't have a prop, I'll make it. I'm capable of doing anything," he said. "My motto is the impossible takes a little longer."