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Milton N. Kemnitz

Milton Kemnitz, painter of the art in textbooks from Michael Clay Thompson

Milton N. Kemnitz (1911-2005) was an artist and an early civil rights and union activist. He was born in Detroit on March 31, 1911, and his interest in automobiles began at an early age. His mother’s cousin was William Metzger, one of the founding fathers of the automobile industry, and his uncle was William F.V. Neumann, who designed engines and took part in early auto racing. Together, these two helped found the American Automobile Association.

Kemnitz graduated from the University of Michigan in 1933 and took a job as a social worker. He participated in the sit-down strike at the General Motors facility in Flint, and he shared a house with Walter and Victor Reuther and Norman Thomas when they founded the United Auto Workers.

Kemnitz became the secretary of the Conference for the Protection of Civil Rights and remained so when it grew into the National Federation for Constitutional Liberties in 1941, when he moved to Washington, D.C. Eligible for the draft, he signed up as a merchant seaman in the Merchant Marine and went to the war zone on Liberty ships. The National Maritime Union had a program to teach seamen to paint, and Kemnitz took advantage of it, taking classes in New York City when his ship was in port. His earliest works were done at sea of other ships in the convoys.

After the war he settled in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he set about his life’s work of depicting through his art all that he saw around him: houses, birds, people, cars, and landscapes, both urban and rural. His art is well-known to students and teachers using the MCT language arts curriculum, where his illustrations provide both theme and enhancement of the text to delight readers young and old. His art is also featured in a few of the books published by Royal Fireworks Press, and he is the subject of a memoir written by his son, the founder of Royal Fireworks, Dr. Thomas Milton Kemnitz.

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