Freda L. Reiter, my mother, passed away in 1986 after a courageous fight against cancer. Born in Philadelphia, PA, she demonstrated early art talent. Her drawings and paintings were singled out by her high school teachers and even as a...
Freda L. Reiter, my mother, passed away in 1986 after a courageous fight against cancer. Born in Philadelphia, PA, she demonstrated early art talent. Her drawings and paintings were singled out by her high school teachers and even as a youngster, she gained a reputation as a fine artist. Freda and her identical twin sister, Ida (also an artist) won 21 scholarships to art schools. Freda started her education in 1936, at the Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, and finished her art education at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA). Since World War II was raging, she could not advance her studies in Europe, so she went to Mexico City, where she studied under Diego Rivera.
Upon her return in 1943, Freda volunteered with the USO, drawing posters and sketching portraits of soldiers. In that year, Freda met Frank Reiter, a New Jersey dentist, who was getting ready to go overseas to Europe. They were married that October 31, and were separated for three years. She continued her USO work.
When Frank returned from the war, they settled in Camden and later Cherry Hill, New Jersey. They had three children. The Reiters loved traveling internationally. Wherever they went, Freda would carry her watercolors and sketch pad and painted or sketched. Her family and famous landmarks were constant subjects. When they went to the Philadelphia Orchestra concerts, she took her sketchbook and often got the musicians to autograph her sketches. To hone her drawing skills, she would sit in front of the television and do quick sketches of the people she saw on television. She had a photographic memory and could recall and draw anything.
Freda was hired by the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper as a courtroom sketch artist in Philadelphia and New Jersey. She covered the Silver Abortion Case in 1949, the Ethel Kravitz Murder trial, and the Elmo Smith Murder trial in the 1950s. She also taught art privately and in the public schools, completed portraits for commission and was President of the Haddonfield, NJ Arts and Crafts League in the 1960s. Her works were sold at various local art shows.
Freda saw the courtroom sketches on television and thought she could also become a TV sketch artist. Getting her portfolio together, in 1966, she went to New York. Since ABC-TV was first in the telephone book, she applied to the graphics department, headed by Ben Blanc. He hired her that day. Her first assignment was the Carswell Hearing in 1967. Among her other assignments were the Patty Hearst Trial, the Gary Gillmore Execution, The Chicago 7 Trial, as well as the Congressional and Supreme Court Hearings. After the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, she covered the John Hinckley Trial. She did a series of sketches during the election of Pope John Paul II, and attended the Tricia Nixon Cox wedding, providing sketches for ABC. As the international news sketch artist for ABC, she went to England and covered the Falkland Islands War debate in Parliament.
In 1971, she was assigned to a minor trial. The assignment desk said to pack for maybe, at the most, a week. They had nicknamed it Watergate, since that was the scene of the crime. Freda spent two years in Washington, D.C., covering the many hearings and trials that resulted from that "minor trial." She swapped drawings with John Erlichmann. While she was sketching John Mitchell and his lawyer in one of the briefing rooms, the lawyer got a call that more indictments were being handed down. She excused herself, told her ABC reporter colleague, and they scooped the other networks that night.
After the Iranian hostages were released in 1980, Freda spent a month in Paris, recreating the events leading to that, with 200 drawings. She received a Television News Emmy for her work.
Her art is on permanent display at the National Portrait Gallery (Smithsonian), and in private collections, including those of former and current members of Congress, lawyers of individuals whose trials she covered and many of her former colleagues at ABC. I am now releasing my mother's art for sale, the first works made available from her estate since an auction at Freemans in Philadelphia shortly after her passing.