World War II veteran Richard Saholt would pore over magazines searching for just the right images, clip them out with his mother’s tiny sewing scissors, then piece together his terrible yet magnificent montages.
Over decades, he composed more than 1,000 montages of disturbing images and words of death, war, child abuse and mental illness as a way to salve his inner wounds.
A paranoid schizophrenic who eschewed antipsychotic medication, Saholt would regularly ignore inner voices urging him to do brutal acts. Instead, he persevered to assemble the montages, which calmed him and gave his life a sense of purpose.
Saholt, of Minneapolis, died Jan. 12. He was 89.
“Richard created painstaking montages that effectively communicated his torment, many of which have been displayed in museums around the country,” said Peter Schilling Jr., author of the acclaimed novel “The End of Baseball” and a freelance writer and sportswriter, whose work has appeared in City Pages, the Star Tribune, the Blotter and elsewhere.
“It was very important for him to express his struggle and tell his story,” Schilling said.
“In one, you could see an American flag whipping in the center, while Richard’s face stares out at the viewer in various stages — a young man, pensive, eager to be a soldier but perhaps terrified of the coming battle, and an older man, equally pensive, having endured not just the battle in the mountains and its attendant horrors, but many years of struggle when the war ended.”
Saholt had stuttered horribly since his boyhood, and would later insist that he’d been abused by his mortician father. When Saholt enlisted in the Army in 1942, he was diagnosed as schizophrenic, but that was kept from him until 1969, Schilling said.
“Richard’s [military] training was grueling, in part because of the necessity to train these men to withstand the forthcoming mountain terrain, but in part because of Richard’s shyness and his stutter,” Schilling said, adding that Saholt was tormented by fellow recruits.
Again he persevered, going on to become a decorated member of the 10th Mountain Ski Troop Division that fought some of Hitler’s most hardened troops in the German Gothic Line in the Italian Alps, Schilling said.
Saholt returned from combat with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), blackouts stemming from concussions, and back and leg injuries. He had a hard time holding a job, but he and wife Doris managed to buy a stucco house on Fremont Avenue.
Their romance of more than 50 years had begun when Richard took singing lessons to overcome his stutter.
“Every problem he had, he just kept trying and trying to address it,” Schilling said. “When things went badly, he didn’t succumb to it. He looked for an alternative.”
In 1964, when Saholt was having difficulty discussing war experiences, someone suggested he sketch out what he was feeling.
“Richard threw himself into creating these daring montages — pasting material collected from thousands of sources, newspapers, magazines, tabloids, in a process that took many hours a day over the course of weeks — to create an ordered chaos that draws the viewer into his anguish,” Schilling said.
The outsider artwork drew international acclaim and has hung in the White House.
“I can make people see and understand things they never could before,” Saholt told the Star Tribune in 2001. “So in a way, my mental illness has been a gift. Without it, I wouldn’t have amounted to a row of beans.”