Berta and Elmer Hader - Biography


Berta Hoerner was born in San Pedro, Coahuila, Mexico, where her parents Albert and Adelaide unsuccessfully tried to grow cotton with Albert's brother. The family moved 100 km to the east, to the resort town of Parras, Mexico, when Berta was three, then soon-after to Amarillo, Texas, where her father ran a grocery store. Her father died when Berta was five, and the family soon moved to the northeast of the United States. Berta, perhaps inspired by her mother's colorful sketches of Mexican life, took art classes and read intensively while still in elementary school, winning literary and artistic prizes for her work. The family again moved in 1917, this time to Seattle, Washington. While Berta's mother worked for Charity Organization Society and Washington's Home, Berta continued painting and reading, and eventually attended the University of Washington School of Journalism (1909–1912). She also apprenticed at Western Engraving Company, where she learned printing design, fashion design, illustration, and printing skills. Berta's supervisor, Eva Shepherd, moved to San Francisco, handing over her fashion work in Seattle to Berta. When Ms. Shepherd then took a position in New York, Ms. Shepherd asked Berta to take over her free-lance fashion illustratration business in San Francisco. Berta agreed and, to further her training, she spent 1915 summer in Carmel and attended the California School of Design in San Francisco from 1915-1918. While in San Francisco, Berta befriended Rose Wilder Lane (daughter of then-unknown writer Laura Ingalls Wilder), with whom she later rented a Telegraph Hill studio (1413 Montgomery Street). Berta first met her future husband Elmer at this studio. Berta had also befriended Bessie "Mother" Beatty during her time in San Francisco. After Ms. Beatty's adventures covering the Russian Revolution (The Red Heart of Russia, 1918), she invited Berta to New York City to do fashion design illustration for McCall's, where Ms. Beatty had become an editor.

Elmer Hader was born in Pajaro, California, but spent much of his youth in San Francisco. At the age of 16, as a member of the National Guard, he helped restore order to San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. He worked briefly in a survey party up the American River (near Sacramento, California), then returned to San Francisco to work as a firefighter on the State Belt Railroad (a dock-side railroad that acted as a shuttle for goods and people), where his father worked as an engineer. Elmer used his earnings from this job to pay for his first term at California School of Design. He then obtained scholarships to finish at the school (1907–1910). Elmer was also involved in theatre, and was supported by two theatrical groups, including his time in Paris at the Académie Julian from 1912-1914. He was so successful at vaudeville routines in France and the US (on the Pantages circuit), in which he would do a "Painting a Minute" act and, later, a living statue routine (in which individuals were made up to appear to be statues), that he considered dropping his long-term goal of becoming an artist. Hader returned to France in 1918 as a member of the Camouflage Corps, just at the time that Berta was asked by Ms. Beatty to come to New York to work in fashion design illustration at McCalls.

When Elmer and Berta met in San Francisco, they had both been part of a broad network of artists and intellectuals in the area. They became good friends, and, rather than return to San Francisco, Elmer went directly to New York when he was demobilized, where Berta was working for McCall's. The two quickly married, then lived briefly in Greenwich Village. Seeking a more rustic setting, they left the city to rent the Lyle Cottage in Grand View-on-Hudson, a small town in rural Rockland County, New York on the west bank of the Hudson River. This would become the area where they would spend the rest of their lives. Their home, which took more than twenty years to construct was largely built by Hader and his friends, and became an art project in its own right. Elmer went so far as to extract the stones used to build the house from the earth himself. The Haders had a boy in the early 1920s, Hamilton (named after the author Hamilton Williamson), who died from meningitis not long before he turned three. The death of their son, according to their friend J. J. Marquis, turned both of them into agnostics, though they recovered enough to avoid becoming embittered or cynical.

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