HONORING VOLKMAR WENTZEL


Alan B. MollohanU.S. Representative
[D] West Virginia, United States

Length: 4 minutes, 34 seconds


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Mr. MOLLOHAN. Mr. Speaker, on Friday evening, the German Embassy here in Washington will pay tribute to a man of extraordinary talent, a native son whose artistry with a camera has opened the eyes the world over.

Today I rise to salute this remarkable gentleman and his distinguished career. Volkmar Wentzel had an unusual introduction to photography. His father was a photochemist and built a darkroom at the family home in Dresden. He would send his boys there when they misbehaved. One day young Volkmar happened to hit the switch that turned on the red inspection light. There in the darkroom he saw the magic of photography for the very first time.

When he was 9, he and his father built a pinhole camera. It was another defining experience. In his words, ``My camera became the passport to a fascinating life.'' Two years later the Wentzels left Germany, escaping the turmoil that followed World War I. They started a new life here in America, in New York.

As a young man, Volkmar set off in search of adventure, but his grand vision to travel to South America stalled in Washington, D.C. By chance, he made new friends who steered to him to Aurora, West Virginia. A colony called the Youghiogheny Forest had been started there by a mix of artists, musicians, writers, doctors and others. It is where they spent slow periods during the Great Depression. They hired Volkmar to look after their property and studios. To our great pride, that is where his career began, in the mountains of Preston County.

The first images he captured were the breathtaking beauty of the countryside. Soon he focused his lens on the people. He gave farm families pictures of their children in exchange for vegetables from their gardens.

One day Eleanor Roosevelt stopped in Aurora for lunch. She was on a trip to Arthurdale, a New Deal Homestead community that she had taken under her wing. The First Lady bought a few of the postcards Volkmar had made. The real profit was not the price she paid, rather, it was the encouragement that Volkmar felt.

He was inspired to come back to Washington to pursue a professional career, and what an amazing career it has been.

I am sure that many of my colleagues have been dazzled by his book, ``Washington by Night.'' It gives a dramatically different view of the city's best known landmarks. Even today, more than 60 years after he captured those images, they still enhance our sense of wonder.

The same is certainly true of Volkmar's long and distinguished career with the National Geographic. From the Himalayas to Newfoundland, his work gave us rich new perspectives, and new understanding, of the world around us. And that is what makes him such a compelling artist. His keen eye, his technical skill, his respectful nature, his gracious manner, all of these things are evident in every photograph he takes.

Of course I have a special affinity for his award-winning work in West Virginia, and I am always proud to tell people that Volkmar and his wife, Viola, consider Aurora to be their home and are active in the local historical society.

The Wentzels recently celebrated his 90th birthday at their Washington residence. Tomorrow's reception will allow his friends and admirers to mark the happy occasion and to salute the work of this outstanding talent and true gentleman.

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