A Visit To Gene Rantz’s Studio

There’s a quiet beauty in entering a creative person’s maker space. 

A rough pencil sketch on a scrap of manilla drawing paper. Jars with carefully cleaned brushes that still hold just a whisper of Viridian oil paint near the ferrule. A box of pastel chalks; the pinks unused, while colors for shading nature rest as nubs and bits and powder. Tupperware boxes filled with used oil tubes that give away the color source of farm fields and rolling clouds out over the bay.

You can see which were the most beloved colors in the way the tubes had been rolled to get every last bit of Ultramarine Blue, Indigo, Prussian and Horizon. Just a few in the arsenal of blues that let him give the world what I now identify as a “Gene Rantz Sky”. 

Last Saturday, Betsy Ernst and I went to Gene’s studio at the invitation of Bill Rantz, Gene’s son. He wanted us to pick some things for the Gene & Judy Rantz Youth Foundation Scholarship program at NAA. We gathered books, paper, brushes, paints and other things our young students can use. 

We took our time looking around the studio while we chatted with Bill & Colleen Rantz and Lisa, from the estate auction house. Among the things left there, waiting … ready to get back to the making, there were books on art and books on philosophical meanderings. A small bird’s nest catching light by a window. A can of soup no doubt to remind him to stop and eat something. There were vertical stacks of sketches he’d done for practice at the Monday Night Figure Drawing Classes that Chris Woomer teaches. 

There were easels and work tables; an enlarger for architectural sized copies and dozens of large and small tools for bringing to life whatever his imagination could conjure.

We saw watercolors, oils and pencil drawings in every stage of completion that sat looking back at us as if to say they were on the way, but not there yet. 

My favorite things were the paint palettes. Covered in whatever dabs and smears and mixes Gene needed while he worked. Wood and hardboard and even a piece of glass held the primordial soup from which each creation emerged unique and beautiful. 

And the glove. That one hit me in the heart. The cloth glove that Gene had used so many times to blend and smooth and wipe a wet canvas that the paint had stiffened it. I stood it up on the worktable so I could take a picture and that was the thing that had me step away and shed a few tears. So real and so tangible, this simple glove awaiting the hand that needed it.   

And there were new supplies at the studio as well. Stacks of brand new canvases, watercolor paper, oil paint sets and lots of picture frames! 

So many of us were friends of Gene and his luminescent wife, Judy, who moved in the world like a human bundle of wildflowers. Losing them both, one after the other, was a stunning reminder that life is short and we’d better get on to making our own contributions to the world sooner rather than later. 

Now, it’s your turn.  On May 15, 2022, Bill Rantz will be holding a sale and auction of Gene’s studio contents. For artists looking to add to their supplies, the items I’ve mentioned will be available for sale. And for those of us who want a memento of our friend there will be an auction. Artifacts of a life well-lived; small treasures and tools; sketches and art pieces, wooden art boxes and work lights amongst the offerings. 

Part of the proceeds from the sale will be donated by the very generous Rantz family to the Gene & Judy Rantz Youth Art Foundation Scholarship Program at NAA.  We are grateful and we want the Rantz family to know that we will continue to hold Gene in our collective hearts.

I’m pretty sure that if Gene were here he’d say, “Ok. people. That’s enough. Get back in your studios and make something.”


You can donate to the Gene & Judy Rantz Youth Art Scholarship Foundation and the Gene & Judy Rantz Memorial Bench Project here: https://www.northportartsassociation.org/gene-and-judy

And, please, take some time to visit Gene’s website and be with his art for a moment. https://generantz.com/

Are you a Plein Air Painter? Come on up to the top of the Leelanau Peninsula this July and join the Gene Rantz Plein Air Paint Out at the Northport Arts Association! https://www.northportartsassociation.org/call-for-artists

And, if you’re interested in the auction coming up this May 15, 2022, Check in at the NAA website for details. https://www.northportartsassociation.org/

Words & Photos by Mimi DiFrancesca Heberlein, V. P. NAA

Above Images from Gene’s studio by Mimi DiFrancesca

Gene & Judy Rantz
Christmas Cove Sunset by Gene Rantz Northport, Michigan