A Lifetime of ‘Feeding the Soul’

Although Nina Fritz was predestined to become a gifted and celebrated artist, it took some time for her life’s purpose to be revealed. Not until she was in her early twenties, living in Japan with her Air Force husband Norman, did she discover what she was meant to do.

She had gone to the military base’s craft center to work with ceramics. “ I was walking down the hall one day and I looked into a room and it was very quiet, and they were all painting. A light bulb went off in my head. ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to paint.’ ” The very next day she registered for the class, started painting and immediately began winning prizes for her work.

Today she produces pieces in oil and watercolor in her home-based studio.  Often rising as early as 3:00 a.m., she paints for a few hours before others wake.  Later, she goes back to it for a few more hours. “I think people don’t realize how hard I work. But it is not work to me. Painting is a joy. It is almost like I cannot function unless I paint or draw.”

Nina grew up on a farm, the eighth of nine children born to Italian parents in Philadelphia. Her father, who was a building contractor, moved the family to the farm when she was three years old. He continued to build there as well, including a three story, produce packing house, with the top level being living quarters for the farm hands

She recalls that all her friends who visited her on the farm thought she lived in heaven: able to ride horses and milk the cows. But they never saw the flip side of farm life. She and her three brothers and five sisters rose early and worked all day alongside the hired hands. The family even made their own cheese, as well as wine from their grape arbor.

She married Norman in 1959.  They have had five children during their sixty years of marriage: Normie, John, Paul, David and Nichole. The two that were born during their stay overseas were announced with cards created by Nina with a little baby on the front that said, “Made in Japan.”

Upon moving back to the States, Nina went back to school and then started teaching, but never stopped painting. During her husband’s Air Force career, the family moved a lot and Nina’s studio was often reduced to being a corner in the living room.

She credits her great support system – her husband and her mother –  with being responsible for her continued career. “Norman carried me every step of the way. My mother lived with us for years, and as far as she was concerned everything I did was a masterpiece.”

Even after a lifetime of artistry and critical acclaim, she is nevertheless taken aback sometimes by what people say and their perceptions. When she introduced herself to a neighbor, that person replied, “Oh everybody knows you.” And when she attended a high school reunion, a classmate asked, “I want to know how you went from the tomato patch to where you are now?”

“Things like that surprise me,” Nina comments. “All I do is what comes natural to me. I don’t feel any different from anyone else who works every day because that’s what I do. But as I said, it’s not work, it’s like a feeding of the soul.”

Their oldest son, who was a runner at Auburn University, tragically collapsed and died on the track.  Devastated, Nina was unable to paint (or sing, which she greatly enjoys) for seven years after his passing. A friend/teacher/artist was responsible for getting her back to her life’s purpose.

Nina has been asked by customers to repeat a piece she painted in the past but explains why this is impossible for her. “I tried, but it’s very hard to repeat  – because something happens. It is almost spiritual that when you start painting, something takes over.”

She continues, “You sort of get in the zone.  And I don’t wait to be inspired. I just go into the studio and start painting. Then you feel the inspiration. Then you start taking off, the brushes start, and you get into a rhythm – and that’s when things happen.”

When Carol Carlan approached her to create two paintings of the new Studer Family Children’s Hospital, Nina at first couldn’t believe what she was being asked to do. After looking at the architect’s rendering of the building, she wondered nervously if she could improve on it. Nevertheless, she accepted the challenge and began without delay, listening to a Mozart CD as she created two stunning watercolor renditions.

The paintings, unveiled at the opening ceremony of the new Children’s Hospital, were presented to Quint and Rishy Studer and Bubba and Angie Watson in appreciation for their extraordinary support of this state-of-the-art facility: Northwest Florida’s only hospital solely dedicated to the care of sick and injured babies and children – forever captured in beautiful portraits created by Nina Fritz. We are forever grateful for her gift and the legacy that will live on.