Close brushes with history
Picture this: It’s 1984 and a young man from Windsor, ON, the son of a boat-builder father and a commercial artist mother, arrives at Queen’s for grad studies in psychology. He spends eight years earning two degrees, and then goes on to carve out a highly successful career for himself – one in which he wins high praise, with one observer even hailing him as “a genius.”
That’s a rough sketch of the life to date of Peter Rindlisbacher, MA’86, PhD’92. However, it’s only when you begin to fill in the details and add some colour to the picture that the man really comes into focus. You then see that his story didn’t turn out as you might have anticipated.
You see, a funny thing happened on the way to the doctor’s office, and Peter never followed his intended career path.
The would-be psychologist became an artist. Not just any artist, but one of the world’s foremost painters of marine and historical subjects. Last year, when Canada began its bicentennial celebrations of the War of 1812, Peter’s works adorned the covers of several books about the war, and interest in his commercial artwork blossomed. In addition to those book covers, his oil paintings can be found in magazines, in the Canadian War Museum, and in other museums and galleries across North America. Now a lavish coffee table book of his artwork has been published. War of 1812: The Marine Art of Peter Rindlisbacher (Quarry Press, $39.95) is a collection of 115 paintings depicting naval battles of the war between Canada and the U.S.
Peter now works full-time on commissions. “You could say that my hobby has taken over. It’s become my life,” he says with a laugh.
Fact is, Peter was always interested in art and in history. He’s never had an art lesson, and for most of his early life he didn’t take his art seriously. He was an avid sailor who spent his summers on the water. He painted only in winter, and then just for fun. “I must get my artistic skills from my mom. She was incredibly versatile in her work as a commercial artist,” he says.
He dabbled in painting as an undergraduate at the University of Alberta and brought his hobby with him to Queen’s. The light went on for Peter about how gifted an artist he is one day when he was chatting with an academic advisor. “He happened to see one of my paintings and said, ‘Peter, if you can paint like that, what in heck are you doing studying psychology?’ I took that the wrong way and felt down for several weeks … until I realized that he had paid me a compliment, and he was right.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
He did finish his degrees, but didn’t go looking for an office. For a time after he graduated from Queen’s, Peter lived at Amherstburg, ON, a community that treasures its maritime and War of 1812 heritage. After marrying and starting a family, Peter stayed home to care for the kids and work at establishing himself as an artist. Being a stickler for historical accuracy, he spent whatever time he could find or make doing research for his paintings, which are meticulously and painstakingly crafted. “I enjoy the painting,” he explains. But I also really love doing research, trying to nail down every detail of whatever subject I’m painting.”
That attention to detail is much in evidence, and it’s one of the reasons Peter’s career has taken off as it has.
These days, he’s living near Houston. The Rindlisbachers moved to Texas so his wife Ellen could pursue her career with an oil and gas company. Where he’s located doesn’t make much difference to Peter, as long as there’s water nearby. “It’s not too bad here because we live near a lake,” he says. And it’s about a half-hour’s drive to Galveston, on the Gulf of Mexico.
Peter also gets his nautical fix by taking part in re-enactments of historic battles. That’s his hobby now that painting’s his profession. In his garage Peter has a nine-metre (29-foot) longboat with eight oars and two small cannons – a replica of an 18th-century British gunboat – his “re-enactment toy”. He hauls it around the continent, and he and some friends dress up in period costumes to take part in various commemorative events.
And what about Peter’s training in psychology? Does he ever wonder what might have been if he’d hung out his shingle and worked as a clinical psychologist?
“No,” he says without hesitation. “Right now, I enjoy painting far too much. I’m doing what I love.”