Legacy Profile Otto Wilhelm Giebel

Jamie O’Reilly
Legacy Project Artist Profile
Audio track “The Quiet Artist”
And an essay by Willem O’Reilly

Read the Special Edition ENewsletter Legacy Profiles.

In Old Chicago CD cover, Nia O’Reilly-Amandes design

(from In Old Chicago: Stories and Songs of a Beloved City)
At the turn of the last century the largest ethnic group in Chicago was of German origin. Jamie’s Great Great Grandfather Michael Giebel immigrated to the states in the early 1900’s with the promise of a job in Chicago. He’d been a royal baker in Karlsruhe, Germany. There was no job when he arrived. Such was the plight of many new immigrants.

Listen to Victor Holstein and Christopher O’Reilly reads The Quiet Artist.
Winifred O’Reilly Photo Archive

Chris: We never knew either of our grandmothers, nor our Irish grandfather. But I did know and love my German grandfather Otto Wilhelm Giebel, son of Michael the baker. He was “Papa Giebel” to me as a young boy. A fire adjustor by day, and a truly fine artist, skilled at portraits, landscapes and still lifes, his preferred mediums were colored pencil and charcoal. A quiet, sensitive man, he faced discrimination during TWO world wars. Though we’ve always treasured his work, he remained an undiscovered artist until a recent retrospective of his work, curated by our mother Winifred bringing long overdue attention to his art.

Otto Wilhelm Giebel
Born in Karlsruhe, Germany in 1885 and emigrated to the United States in 1902. He settled first in Chicago, moved to Cleveland (where he met and married Jamie’s grandmother Margaret Ivo), and then returned to Chicago for the remainder of his career. A 2008 Retrospective Exhibit at the Doederlein Gallery in Chicago, assembled by the artist’s daughter Winifred O’Reilly, moved from student work, including a watercolor painted at age 14, to drawings completed in his 70s. Finely detailed drawings interpret the music of his favorite German composers (Wagner), portraits of exotic individuals and fantasy landscapes of his homeland. (text from the Exhibit brochure)

Vienna Wood

“Yes. I knew and loved Papa. He was one of the best parts of the early Edgewood years! He trimmed the Bridal Wreath and worked on the roses with James. He gave us Charms (individually wrapped fruit flavored candies) before he would leave, on a Sunday evening, to catch the train back to Chicago. And then I would miss his gentility, and Mom would cry at his going …”

Gloria O’Reilly, Jamie’s sister
Margaret Ivo Giebel, Otto Giebel, Great Aunt Cassie, Winifred O’Reilly
From the Winifred O’Reilly Family Photo Archive

Sweet Papa
Willem O’Reilly

There is a special sweetness in my memories of Papa, my maternal grandfather, after whom I am named. He was quiet and gentle and soft-spoken. But also fun. I especially remember how he would hold me across his lap and tap out time on my back as I hummed. I made a funny noise and loved the playfulness. He would then reach into his pocket and pull out a roll of candy, each square piece wrapped up. I’d get a little treat just because he loved me.

As far as I can tell, my very first memories are my being with him. My mother had a photo of Papa pushing me in a stroller when I must have been less than a year old. What I remember vividly was being at the zoo and seeing a peacock in full display. I’m pretty sure that happened with Papa and the stroller.

What I am very clear about is another early memory. My father was performing Shakespeare in a tent theater. I was there with Papa. (My mother was likely home with my new baby brother and toddler sister.) The play was Macbeth, and the beginning scene was the three “weird sisters”/witches chanting over their caldron. The actresses had on green face makeup, and I was immediately terrified. I ducked down behind the seat in front of me so they would not see me or get me. Papa saw my distress and escorted me out. I missed Dad’s entrance as Macduff. But I knew that Papa protected me and cared for me.

It was the first great loss of my life when Papa died suddenly from cancer. In the ‘50’s the Big C was almost always fatal. We didn’t even know Papa was ill until we got the terrible news. I didn’t get to say goodbye, but I cried a lot. I didn’t know what “dead” meant, but I did get it that I wouldn’t ever see him again.

I missed him then and often think of him when I look at the artwork he created.
He was a meticulous craftsman with his pointillist, colored pencil creations. I have one of a swan on a lake, his depiction of Beethoven’s pastoral symphony, one of my favorite pieces. It is more than nice to have that connection every time I hear that symphony on the radio or play it on my phone. The Papa I loved and who loved me is with me then.

Michael Giebel, Profile
In his early career, Michael Giebel, our Great grandfather was a Royal Baker to the Duke of Karlsruhe.

Michael Giebel (backrow 4th fr right) Photo courtesy of Don Haderlein

This photo is of the 70th Birthday celebration of (1886) Frederick von Baden I, Grand Duke of Baden.
With great grandfather (back row, 4th fr right – wearing a chef’s hat). Date est 1886.
the Duke for whom Michael was a royal baker was Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig who was born in Karlsruhe, Baden, on 9 September 1826. He was the third son of Leopold, Grand Duke of Baden and Princess Sophie of Sweden. Karlsruhe lies on the borders of the Kraichgau leading to the Northern Black Forest.

Michael Giebel and wife Wilhelmina Sexauer brought their family to the U.S .in the early 1900s, with the promise of a job. Son Otto Wilhelm, our maternal grandfather, is the artist whom we profiled above.

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte – Black Forest Cake

In honor or our German side, Jamie’s brother Willem chose to make Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte – Black Forest Cake for our Heritage Bake Sale as part of the Legacy & In Old Chicago CD Release event. (Link.)

Though this dessert wasn’t officially named until the ’30s, it is one of the traditional German tortes we grew up with. Karlsruhe, where our grandfather was born, borders the Black Forest for which the cake was named.

About Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte
Black Forest cherry cake is a popular German dessert consisting of chocolate sponges that are coated in whipped cream and dotted with kirschwasser-infused cherries. Some varieties use the kirschwasser brandy to soak the chocolate layers or to lightly flavor the whipped cream.

When assembled, the cake is lavishly decorated with whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and cherries. Among the numerous theories about its invention, it is still debated whether the cake was created by confectioner Josef Keller or pastry chef Erwin Hildenbrand.

What is certain is that Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte originated in the Black Forest area and was in all likelihood modeled on the colors of the regional folk dresses. Since its first appearance in written form in 1934.

Read about the bake sale here: