Rudolph Frank Ingerle was born in Vienna, Austria on April 14, 1879. His family came from Moravia, a mountainous region in what is now Czechoslovakia. The Moravian people have a very rich culture, with colorful native dress and a traditional way of life. As a child, Ingerle enjoyed visiting his grandparents in their small mountain village and he developed a love for rural life that was later expressed in many of his paintings.
Ingerle and his family immigrated to the United States when he was twelve years old. The family initially settled in Wisconsin, but soon relocated to the urban center of Chicago. There, Ingerle had the opportunity to attend art classes at the Schmidt Art Academy and later at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he often sketched from the Institute’s museum collection. Though Ingerle had a strong sense of Moravian pride, he felt that as a new American he should focus on subjects from his newly adopted country. In the early 1900s he joined with Indiana artist T.C. Steele and others to form the Indiana School of Painting in Brown County. However, he soon left the Indiana School to help found the Society of Ozark Painters.
Ingerle made his first trip to the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina around 1920 and immediately fell in love with the region. Perhaps his childhood memories of mountain life led him to return to the area for a few months every year to paint what he called, “the grandest people in the world; the finest Americans in the country.” The rural, isolated, hard-working lifestyle of the mountain people appealed to Ingerle’s conservative values, both artistically and politically, and his art quickly became very popular among the people of Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee.
At the turn of the century, a railroad was built running through the Great Smoky Mountains and logging became a major industry. Lumber companies threatened the natural beauty of the remote forest land between Asheville, North Carolina and Knoxville, Tennessee with their clear-cutting techniques. In the 1920s and early 1930s, travel writers, nature photographers, artists and motorists campaigned together with local citizens to protect the scenic area. Due in part to the efforts of Ingerle and other artists interested in protecting the untamed and beautiful views of the region, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was officially established in 1934 and its environment is now protected indefinitely for all Americans to enjoy.
Throughout his career, Ingerle painted many inspiring images of the mountains and mountain life and became known as the “Painter of the Smokies.” He was given several one-man shows at prominent museums in the region, such as the Mint Museum in Charlotte and the Hickory Museum of Art in Western North Carolina. When not painting in the mountains, Ingerle maintained a studio in Chicago from which he exhibited work in many major museums and galleries throughout the Midwest. He was also very active in the artistic organizations of that city and served as the president of the Chicago Society of Artists for two years.