Dr Ferdinand Anton Ludwig Eckhardt was born on 28 April, 1902 in Vienna, Austria and he died 25 December,1995 in Winnipeg, MB, Canada. He studied art history at the University of Vienna, where he obtained his PhD in 1927.
During the late twenties, when employment was difficult to find, Ferdinand Eckhardt worked at the Benno-Filser publishing house in Augsburg, Germany, before moving to Berlin as a freelance art critic for various local and foreign newspapers, art magazines and journals. For his research for the article "Berlin Graphic Artists of Post-War Berlin", published 1931, he was referred to the widow of Berlin artist Walter Gramatté. This meeting was a doubly fated one, since he would get to know two people, two artists and their art, more intensely than he could ever have imagined: Walter Gramatté, a passionate human being, late-expressionist painter and graphic artist, and his no less passionate widow, Sophie-Carmen (Sonia) Gramatté, not only a virtuoso violinist and pianist, but also a composer. Ferdinand started researching the graphic works of Walter Gramatté and in 1932 his "Das graphische Werk Walter Gramatté" was published. That same year he and Sonia organised a memorial exhibition for Walter Gramatté, touring eleven cities throughout Germany. Making the works of Walter Gramatté accessible to the public became one of his missions in life. In 1934 Sonia and Ferdinand married and lived in the Berlin apartment in which she and Walter had lived in.
In that same year, circumstances led Ferdinand to take on a position as public relations officer with Bayer- Aspirin as the artistic consultant for the marketing division. In 1939 Ferdinand was transferred to Vienna, where he was called to military service in 1942 and discharged in 1945.
After the war Ferdinand became the Director of Education Development at the Austrian State Art Galleries in Vienna, home of the Habsburg art treasures, under Director Alfred Stix. He was the co-founder and Cultural Director of the Austro-American Society in Vienna, until 1953, with the goal of promoting closer cultural relations between Austria and the United States. In 1949 he received a study grant from the British Council to work and lecture in England. Three years later the US State Department awarded him an eight-month study tour of art education facilities in various US museums, among them the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and the National Museum in Washington, DC, for two months of study at each location. Art education in museums remained one of his concerns, stating in his memoirs in the 1980's: "I am still convinced, that in spite of the progress made in this area, the observation of works of art has been neglected, not only through the lack of funds, but more because of deficiency in the technique and skill to achieve an effective understanding between the teacher and the listener, the expert and the amateur."
In 1953 Ferdinand Eckhardt took a leap of faith and uprooted himself and Sonia from the secure tradition, rich art world and Viennese music scene where Sonia had recently become a founding member of the International Society for Contemporary Music, and emigrated to Winnipeg, Canada as the newly appointed director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery.
At that time the accommodations of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, housed in the Civic Auditorium, a building that at the time was primarily used for concerts, festivals, dances , roller skating, boxing and wrestling, were insufficient. So, determined to better the situation, Dr Eckhardt, along with the board and the Women's Committee, urged for proper facilities. Finally, after 16 years of tenure, the present building, designed by the architectural competition winner the Gustavo da Rosa team and Number Ten Architectural Group, was constructed. Ferdinand wrote about his work at the gallery: "Through hard work I managed to build up the local art museum from a small cell to a significant enterprise. The highlight of my directorship was the inauguration by H.R.H. Princess Margaret in 1971 of the new gallery, the undisputed finest art building in Canada. Also, the collection of this gallery is remarkable and is around fifth best of the museums in Canada."
By the time he retired he had arranged a total of 650 exhibitions, acquired numerous pieces of art as well as entire collections and the Winnipeg Art Gallery had become one of the finest art museums in Canada, with an extensive collection of Canadian art and Inuit sculpture. He retired from the Winnipeg Art Gallery and wrote: "In September,1974, I retired as Director after 21 years at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Sonia and I wanted to travel a lot, but unfortunately I lost my wife. My life had taken a complete turn. I had planned to continue my work in the field of art, to write, to organize, and perhaps consult. Now it became clear that I had to continue where Sonia had been so suddenly interrupted..... To work for the advancement, ... for the recognition of her music."
As a result Dr Eckhardt was instrumental in founding the Eckhardt-Gramatté National Music Competition for the performance of Canadian music. Started in 1976, the event is held annually at Brandon University in Sonia's memory. In 1977 he published her memoirs "Music from Within". And, in 1982, to fulfill the two great missions in his life, he established the Eckhardt-Gramatté Foundation in honor of Walter and Sonia, for the advancement of public appreciation and understanding and knowledge of the music and artistic works of these two individuals.
Through the Foundation Dr Eckhardt was a generous supporter of the arts , sponsoring recordings, publications, exhibitions, concert series, music commissions, and scholarships. The Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, University of Winnipeg, University of Manitoba, Brandon University, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, University of Calgary and others received major donations.
From 1960 to 1986 he was the Austrian Honorary Consul for Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Dr Eckhardt's cultural contributions were recognized with the Österreichisches Ehrenkreuz für Wissenschaft und Kunst 1. Klasse (Austrian Order for science and fine art 1st class)in 1972, The Order of Canada in 1976, honorary degrees from the University of Manitoba and Brandon University, honorary memberships and numerous community service awards.