RPG (1908-1975), Never Forgotten

People who have any kind of connection to St. Louis, MO will probably be familiar with Marlin Perkins, the renowned American zoologist who died in 1986. His television show, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, ran for more than two decades and originally aired in 1963. The man’s love for animals began much earlier.

A recent Facebook comment (noted by my dear cousin) brought to mind another of our relatives, because of his association with the animal-loving zookeeper Perkins. Richard Phillip Grossenheider (whom ancestry.com informs me is my first cousin twice removed) was assistant curator of birds at the St. Louis Zoo from 1930-1937 and an internationally known wildlife artist as well.

Curious details about Grossenheider’s life provide a snapshot of an interesting person. According to a blog post from January 2017, he was “not well-known,” and the blog author (unknown to me) urges people to “help spread the word” about him and his life. Grossenheider drew the images for A Field Guide to the Mammals (1976) as well as other field guides, most of which are now out of print.

The most fascinating details about Grossenheider (for me, at least) come from newspaper articles. For instance, a report in the 1931 Victoria Advocate (a Texas newspaper) shares this tidbit about what’s going on in St. Louis Mo. The headline observes “Alligators Are Caught By Police.” During his employment (apparently) at the St. Louis Zoo, Grossenheider brought alligators to his home to “study” their habits.

An article reporting on the same 1931 event was included in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, complete with a picture titled “All in a Policeman’s Day’s Work.” Indeed, the news article that followed boldly declares, Two Alligators Loose in Streets, Captured and the creatures are creatively described as “Zoo Saurians.” As with the Victoria TX article, this story begins with the police Captain’s quote, “This place is becoming a zoo.” The Captain goes on to explain how the animals were captured.

Perhaps the most amusing news item came from the St. Louis Globe Democrat which headlined the story as Two Zoo Fugitives Captured By Police. Most details are similar to the Post and Advocate articles, but the final sentence reflects a light-hearted slant stating, “The officers are now on the lookout for a lion to complete their zoo.”

Finally, another article from a 1934 issue of the St. Louis Star & Times relates how Grossenheider had turned his six-room cottage into a “private zoo” with reptiles, wolves and other pets being housed there. I’m guessing some neighbors might have been uncomfortable having Grossenheider in their neighborhood!

As to his personal life, Grossenheider was a veteran of World War II, having served in the US Army Signal Corps. It was during his military service he was able to study wildlife in the natural habitat while deployed in Australia, New Guinea, the Philippines and Hawaii.

Growing up in St. Louis, I’m pretty sure I’d have had occasion to be in a family gathering where Richard P. was also present. Though I don’t remember him specifically, I was reflecting on family traits that seem to carry through consecutive generations. For one, I recall my dad having a live alligator (maybe a crocodile, I’m not sure) stowed away (under lock and key) in the well-built shed behind our house. This was less than 2 miles from where Grossenheider housed his “private zoo.” The question begs to be asked:  how many other neighborhood households in our vicinity had similar pets?

As I’ve thought about “long-forgotten” artist Richard Philip Grossenheider, I couldn’t help but think about my brother, Eric Stricker. He’s a living artist, a talented writer, an accomplished individual of the highest rank, and two years older then me, the person in my life (other than my parents) I’ve known longer than any other soul! I recently posted his picture and website in this space, as he’s been posting daily devotions which I recommend.

Original artwork by Eric C. Stricker, Ed.D.

Some people aren’t aware of my left-handed brother’s ability with a paint brush. He’s been studying the beauty of God’s creation for as long as I can remember! (By the way, I actually have 3 brothers who are left-handed; Eric is the eldest.) Suffice to say, he doesn’t have a menagerie of pets hidden away in his home, but he has an active and productive meditative life and the daily devotions he shares are an outgrowth of his desire to love and serve God.

Acknowledging he’s a perfectionist, Eric’s artwork takes my breath away with its stunningly simple beauty. He has often managed (along with his wife, Terri) to convey on the canvas what I struggle to say in poetic format. I have other images of work he’s done, but I’m going to restrain from posting more here, as I didn’t ask permission to share the beautiful piece above. (I’m hopeful he’ll forgive me!)

Instead, I revert to poetry for images contrasted to the written word, via the sonnet below.

Remember artist Richard Philip Grossenheider as well as artist Eric Charles Stricker, not because they’re related to me, but because their artwork reflects the truth, beauty and goodness of God’s amazingly exquisite world.

2 thoughts on “RPG (1908-1975), Never Forgotten

  1. Wow! What a lovely & surprising tribute! I had no idea about this. Thank you, Renée, for your precious love for me & my work. You may always post or use any of my works – as hopefully – I have done them for God’s glory alone, & in promoting them, you are – hopefully – doing so to His honor & glory! Again, thank you for such a beautiful tribute.

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