Chris Reutinger keeps the dreams and beauty of Catalina Tile alive

0
1058

Chris Reutinger has lived a double life that he says has both amazed him and left him feeling both proud and fulfilled.

Reutinger, 67, has been able to follow not one, but two muses: His hand-crafted art related to Catalina Island and life as a classically-trained, professional and much sought after musician.

It was the latter that came first for Reutinger.

“My mother was a musician,” he said during a telephone interview from his home on the mainland this Tuesday.

Chris Reutinger has lived a double life that he says has both amazed him and left him feeling both proud and fulfilled.

Reutinger, 67, has been able to follow not one, but two muses: His hand-crafted art related to Catalina Island and life as a classically-trained, professional and much sought after musician.

It was the latter that came first for Reutinger.

“My mother was a musician,” he said during a telephone interview from his home on the mainland this Tuesday.

His mother Joan Reutinger was a concert pianist while he was growing up in San Diego. Around the age of seven, he discovered his interest the violin.

“I started lessons when I was 9,” he said. “I won a young composers competition in San Diego.”

By the time he was 12 his compositions were being debuted and performed by the San Diego Symphony. These early accomplishments led to a scholarship to San Francisco State University to be part of the school’s flagship music ensemble: The Morrison Quartet. Soon he was performing on television and spreading his talent among various symphonies in the Bay area and beyond. He continued a rigorous education in music, which in many respects has been his main “day job,” so to speak. It was where he found his first and long-lasting success.

Eventually Hollywood began to call upon him to use his talents to create musical scores for a wide range of productions. However, he first decided to sample what life is like on an island. He won a spot as a first violinist with the Honolulu Symphony in 1972.

“It’s funny,” he said. “In Hawaii, which is so far from the mainland, I got a sense of island fever. I only spent one season there and I decided to move on.”

He found himself back in Los Angeles, where he began a 32-year career in live performances and studio recordings. He has contributed to more than 550 motion pictures scores and 450 record/CDs and has recorded and performed with Elton John, Barry Manilow, Henry Mancini, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Roy Orbison, Ray Charles, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, Beck, Natalie Cole, Andrea Bocelli, Jewel and Michael Feinstein, to name a few.

However, it was in 1976, his 30th year of life, that his second muse appeared when he made a visit to Catalina.

“I went with a girlfriend and few friends,” he said. “I always wanted to go. There was something about it. It was there, visible from the mainland, and rising out of the sea. There was something mystical, something romantic about it.”

During that first visit, Reutinger and his friends stayed at the Zane Grey pueblo. There was no bar, so the group, which  had brought their own cocktails with them, decided to relax and enjoy the atmosphere.

Sitting outside in a patio area, enjoying a drink of scotch, he noticed a sense of calm come over him as he watched a seaplane fly in over Avalon Bay. He liked the nostaligic sense of the moment and soon discovered he felt the same about most of the island. He also discovered something related to that sense in the few pieces of Catalina Tile he was able to find around Avalon.

Reutinger said he realized that the ceramic artworks made from the often brightly-colored Catalina Tile was a classic art form that represented California, perhaps much like the great painter Milford Zorns and his contemporaries.

He began to collect all of the Catalina Tile art works he could find. Unfortunately, he could hardly find enough of the rare ceramic to satisfy his appetite for it. Much of the original Catalina Tile had already been collected by rich and famous people from all walks of life.

“The Roosevelts (Franklin and Eleanor) were big collectors of it,” Reutinger said. “I remember seeing a photograph of Eleanor unpacking a box of dishes made from Catalina Tile ceramic.”

 That is when he decided to learn how to make his own ceramic art in the style of the original Catalina Tile works.

Thus began a second career for Reutinger. As in his music career, Reutinger took his education in ceramics seriously. He studied and got training at Berkeley and sought out the best teachers.

“I had been collecting original Catalina Tiles from the Catalina Tile and Pottery Factory that was located at Pebbly Beach during the years 1927-1937,” he said. “Because these tiles were so scarce, I decided to make high quality reproductions for other collectors.”

He started Catalina Picture Tile in Venice, Calif. in 1978, under the early name of Palisades Picture Tile.  

“In Avalon I took rubbings of all the bird and fish sets to make sure the lines of the tiles would be as accurate as possible to the originals.”

In addition, he has also created a line of original works he calls “scenes I wish the old company had made. All are done in the original Catalina Style,” he said. “The glazes used are as close in color to the original as possible and all are hand-made.”

In that way, each of his tiles are unique works of art. As a violinist, Reutinger said, he can relate to the value of that artistic standard. He is naturally a fan of Stradivarius violins.

A Stradivarius or “Strad” is one of the violins, cellos, and other stringed instruments built by members of the Stradivari family, particularly Antonio Stradivari, during the 17th and 18th centuries. According to their reputation, the quality of their sound has defied attempts to explain or equal it. According to Reutinger, each Stradivarius is also unique, although of the same high quality. Like Catalina Tiles, they are also rare.

“Antonio Stradivari made about 1,000 violins in his lifetime,” Reutinger said. “Most are gone, lost in shipwrecks, fires or other ways.”

While Reutinger can’t recreate a Stradivarius, he said he does get a lot of satisfaction out of recreating Catalina Tiles. He has also found a lot success. His original tiles have now been widely collected and can be found throughout the world.

They can also be found in a few places in Avalon, Catalina.

They have been stocked at Afishinados Gallery Store on Crescent Avenue and have been in other shops.

Reutinger has been making his tiles for 37 years now. To view some of his work, visit his website at www.catalinapicturetile.com.

He also continues to visit Catalina on a regular basis and says he does not experience island fever, most probably because Catalina and the mainland are visible to each other.

“It’s really not that far,” Reutinger said. “But it is like going to another world. I will always come back.”

Chris Reutinger keeps the dreams and beauty of Catalina Tile alive