Rosemarie Huggenberger is a Swiss amateur painter; she was born in Romania and lived as a child in Sibiu with her Swiss family. Her father built and managed a factory nearby that city.
Presently Rosemarie Huggenberger is retired. Among many activities in which she is engaged, she contributed substantially to the foundation and running of an orphanage in Panatau Village, Buzau County, Romania. One series of the paintings in the exhibition are being sold with the mention that the founds will be used to support the orphanage. With the same purpose the author is providing numerous hand painted cards.
The works of Rosemarie Huggenberger are exclusively abstract. Explosions of colours and energy, they inspire force, optimism and a joy of living whose secret should be unveiled to the whole world.
We present, below, an interview with the painter, interview made by Alina Mondini.
Last year I started a yoga course in the village where I live, in Canton Zurich. We are only five women and we did not know each other before. In spite of our age differences we call each other by first names. The atmosphere is relaxed and before or after the course we engage in short conversations. One day my colleague Rosemarie Huggenberger asked me where I am from. When I answered she replied smiling „I was born in Romania“. Little by little I learned that Rosemarie is quite an active retired person: she is raising funds for an orphanage in Romania and is also a hobby painter. In November 2004 Rosemarie invited all of us to her exhibition, in a cultural centre near by. One series of her works was sold to support the orphanage. I liked Rosemarie‘s paintings, which were exclusively abstract. The colours seem to burst out inspiring energy, force, optimism and joy of living. I thought that behind them I could find interesting stories, so I decided to interview her.
Why did your father go to Romania?
In the ’20s Switzerland had a poor economic situation, while Romania was enjoying a better one. My father was working in the weaving industry. I do not know details. I only know that the Swiss director of a silk weaving mill in Romania, was looking for Swiss qualified people. My father decided to go and work for this weaving mill. He lived there alone for three years. Afterwards he came back to Switzerland, got married to my mother - who was also Swiss - and they came together to live in Romania.
In Sighisoara. My brother was born there in 1932 and five years later I was born. This summer, while travelling in Romania I found the registration of my name in a church in Sighisoara. In 1939 Romanian authorities did not allow my father to work in Romania anylonger and therefore we were obliged to return to Switzerland. Shortly after, the Second World War started so we were lucky to be back before the beginning of such troubled times. I do not remember anything about Romania, I was only two years old when I left. But my parents could bring everything they had with them. Therefore, through the objects in my childhood home, Romania meant for me a constant presence.
What kind of objects were these?
There was for instance the furniture in our guestroom, a bit strange: it was black. My father ordered the carpenter mahogany wood. It was not very clear what happened, clear is that he made a black furniture for us, not very usual, but anyway it was in a room where we did not enter often. There was also a big basin where my mother was washing dishes. As a kid I did not know where Romania was but through some objects and stories it represented a part of my family life. After they left Romania my parents kept connection only through correspondence with some people there. Only in 1983, when my mother celebrated her 80th birthday my brother and my husband organised a trip to Romania for all of us. We visited Sighisoara. My mother was sadly impressed to see the streets and buildings in bad condition. She remembered them in a better state. For me though, Romania represented a true discovery and love at first sight. Many years later I read in our local newspaper that someone is raising funds for an orphanage in Romania. I decided to support this project and founded an association with a few other people. I realised that for me, since I am born in Romania, such a commitment has a deeper meaning. We try to keep everything as simple as possible. We send letters to collect funds to a circle of donors consisting in friends and acquaintances. We keep on looking for new donors because life costs in Romania go up and the children grow, which also rises the costs.
Did you visit this children‘s home?
Yes. I visited it for the first time seven years ago and was deeply impressed. All children there have troubles and a life behind them we hardly know about. I noticed in time how they started to relax, to grow, to smile. I know that compared to the needs of all orphan children in Romania what we do represents maybe just a drop of water on a hot stone. However, I wish and hope that at least for these children - whom I personally know and care for - we will manage to offer a good chance for their future. We do everything we can to give them love and a home.
Do you go there every year?
We take turns, each of the three women in the presidium of the association goes there from time to time. As I mentioned, I was there this summer.
How was it?
Wonderful. I went with two other women friends. The children were on vacation. We visited first the home and later we went to another place a few km farther from the home. There, we bought another house with a big piece of land. We renovated and made there a holiday place for the children. They have a big lawn, garden, fruit trees and lot of things are grown there: potatoes, carrots, and so on. Someone takes care of fruits and vegetables and has the right to take a part of the harvest. When we went, the children were there and they organised a show for us. They are used to visits of people from abroad sustaining the home. When they have a visit, often they organise a show. My friends and I stayed in a hotel nearby. After some rehearsals, one a Sunday evening the children decorated the premises with fairy lights and candles and performed their show. It was magnificent. We laughed and had so much fun, I cannot even tell you. The theatrical and musical talent of these children is amazing. For my friends and I this performance marked a very important moment. We relate to Romania in a different way now, more profound, more significant. Besides, I convinced myself once again that it is worth while to support this home. The money is very well used.
If you allow me now, before we run out of time, I would like to change our subject: after your earlier retirement, among other things, you started painting. How did this happen?
I think without being aware of it, my passion for painting has been always inside of me. I might have never mentioned to you that I have a son who is mentally and physically handicapped. Even though he spent a lot of time with the family he lived – as he does now – in a home for handicapped people. There, among other activities, he was painting. Once, around thirty years ago, I looked through his folder and saw a painting which impressed me so much that I said to myself: „I would like to be able to paint like this“. This moment was like a signal: I bought colours and started painting Sundays afternoons. This became a passion. I just made cards and gave them to friends as presents. Later, some years after my husband’s death I had the feeling that my work does not satisfy me any longer. I enjoyed working a lot, but at some point I just noticed that the balloon went flat.
What kind of profession did you have?
Initially I taught domestic science in several schools. Later I worked for an enterprise that administrated staff restaurants for different banks, insurance companies, industry, schools, etc. Here I went up on the hierarchical scale to a high leading position. At some point I managed approximately 400 restaurants with 3500 people and this became slowly a burden. I felt overwhelmed and noticed that other interests became more important. I wanted to paint, take lessons; it was a burning desire. Eventually I decided to retire before term. This happened ten years ago, I was fifty-seven.
Before ending our interview I would like you to tell the story about your trip to Peru that you told at the opening of your exhibition.
Around forty years ago I spent one year in Peru together with a group of Europeans who organised a hospital there. I was doing different jobs such as running the day-care for the children of the people working in the hospital, taking care of the laundry. In such places one must be flexible and do a lot of things. Even though they followed doctors’ indications we noticed that the Indian patients wanted also to consult their local healer. Before starting healing he drank an extract of a plant with hallucinating effects which helped him having „visions“. A Swiss doctor managed quite hard to obtain such a liquid. He tried it first and told his wife and me what he felt. We decided to try it too. It was like a trip in a fantasy world. I kept on seeing two sorts of columns of fireworks permanently moving. They disintegrated on the upper side while from below new ones kept on coming, like a rolling band of intensive and impressing colours. At that time I did not paint at all but felt that I would very much like to be able to paint such impressions. In the state created by that dream-trip you have the feeling you are able to do anything, as if your capacities had no limits. You cannot imagine that tomorrow will be as yesterday, but different and better because you can make things happen. I tried it only once. Neither had I another occasion nor did I want it. It was so beautiful the first time that I was afraid it would not be as beautiful the second time. I had no need of it. It was unique. Years after, each time I told people about this experience it made me shiver and sweat on my back, that’s how intensive it was. In time though this memory lost its power, went in a shadow. When I started preparing my exhibition this memory came back. Some time ago I asked a painter to give me some lessons. He said „I agree, but first you must know what you want and what makes you happy. Think it over“. This was difficult. I went home and kept on asking myself „What makes me happy?” Slowly I realised that what I try to express in my paintings are those fireworks. But I failed. I told the story to the painter and we talked about it. He uses meditation when he works and little by little gave me some directions. While working I managed to bring some stillness in my wild combinations of colours. Maybe you noticed that most of my pictures have a large, still surface of one colour. Before, this surface was totally stormy, full of colours and movement. The painter helped me to calm down some areas of the picture and bring the fireworks just in one part. That’s how I succeeded… sometimes… but sometimes maybe not. This is the story with the fireworks. When I look behind now, I see that I could live intensively on the canvas.
Did you realise that you paint the visions from Peru or how did it happen?
I do not paint what I saw at that time but rather what I felt when I saw those explosive colours bursting intensively, wild. I experience a feeling not an image. Those images are too far away from me. I cannot reconstruct them anymore. Just the sensation is left. I think that to be creative one should not hang on anything but rather let oneself carried by feelings. Even though sometimes it might seem crazy, one must let things, feelings, flow. Sooner or later they will find their right way.
So did you find out what makes you happy?
The biggest happiness is the moment when someone sees my painting and says „Wow! I like it!“. This happens to me too. Sometimes when I go to an exhibition and I see something I like my hands get wet and I become nervous. I enjoy painting and when I see that I can forward this feeling to someone else through my picture, this is the greatest happiness. But to reach this it is not enough to want it. One must follow ones feelings, and go on and on.
Thank you very much for this interview.
Alina Mondini, Zürich