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Horst Trave


German-born painter Horst Trave, who was active in the San Francisco Abstract Expressionism art movement founded after World War II, was known for not seeking fame as an artist.

"I thought that sort of thing was going to be up to other people to decide. ... Essentially, I did the paintings for myself," Trave said in a 2007 interview.

Trave, who moved to Healdsburg from San Francisco more than three decades ago, died Aug. 28 at a Santa Rosa hospital. His health had been failing since he fractured his neck falling down the stairs at home earlier this year. He was 94.

"He was very humble when he talked about his art," said Cecilia Trave, the artist's wife of 52 years.

Despite the painter's reluctance to promote his own work, he became nationally and internationally known. Trave's work was shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Chicago Art Institute, and became part of the di Rosa collection in Napa.

Born June 22, 1918, near Neuburg, Germany, Trave began to study art as a schoolboy. After fleeing Nazi Germany for Sweden as a young man, Trave came to the United States in 1941 and served in World War II on the American side.

"I was one of the first American troops that went into Berlin," Trave told The Press Democrat.

Trave married his first wife, Ruth, in Germany and brought her with him to America. The couple later divorced.

After the war ended and Trave settled in the Bay Area to study art, he found his fellow students searching for meaning in their chosen work.

"The real intensive thoughts about painting, and where it should go, happened at the California School of Fine Arts (in San Francisco)," Trave said.

What came out of that soul-searching was the style now recognized as San Francisco Abstract Expressionism. Leaders of the movement included Richard Diebenkorn, Hassel Smith, Sam Francis and Elmer Bischoff.

Trave received his master of fine arts degree from the California School of Fine Arts in 1951. While Trave kept painting, he earned a living by teaching high school art in San Francisco and building homes in the Bay Area's surrounding countryside during the summers.

Having started his art career with European landscapes done in pen and ink during his youth, Trave moved on to a variety of media, mostly working with oil on canvas but even experimenting with wood sculpture briefly.

He settled in Healdsburg with his second wife, Cecilia, in 1979. The artist continued to paint and exhibit his work, most recently at the John Natsoulas Center for the Arts in Davis in 2010, in a show titled "The Beat Generation and Beyond."

"I listened to Horst because he always had a few gems of wisdom to pass on," said Sebastopol painter Janet Charnofsky. "As he aged and slowed down, he was still painting with all the energy he had, still exploring and creating something new."

In addition to his widow, Trave is survived by their son, Peter Trave of Petaluma, two daughters from his first marriage, Ingrid Olsen Miller of Cottage Springs and Kathryn Caveness of Willits, and five grandchildren.

No services are planned, but Cecilia Trave hopes to schedule a memorial art exhibit in the future.

— Dan Taylor