Childhood and puberty
The third of four siblings reared in Näfels/Glarus-Nord, a small town in German-speaking Switzerland some 60 km from Zurich, I left home at the age of fifteen. The following three years I spent as a boarder at the Pensionnat Sainte Agnès in French-speaking Fribourg. The boarding school was directed by nuns, and the three years in their “care” turned out to be a nightmare. Yet nobody had forced me to go there. It was on a whim that I had decided to board that ship of fools, and I virtually forced my father’s permission and even wallet to pay for the whole adventure! Thus I had no choice but to cope with the consequences of my rash decision.
Näfels / Glarus-Nord
After three years I quit the boarding school feeling bewildered and with no plans for my future; but I was in possession of a diploma of business studies and had a fair knowledge of the French language.
Back home I took on some secretarial jobs but was bored and put off by the daily office chores. I was drifting in a life without perspective.
Paris and London
At twenty, by then a politically independent Swiss citizen, I travelled to Paris, where I spent a few months attending the Culture française course at the Sorbonne. Then I moved to London, where I stayed for almost three years – once again against my parents’ rather fierce opposition – making a living as an au-pair girl. My employer during the last year, 80-year-old Mrs. Osborne, mother-in-law of Randolph Churchill, was a lady with great style, charming, warmhearted, witty, elegant and generous. As an avid reader of novels she knew how to relate episodes about her youth in Ireland that reminded me of Jane Austen’s novel Emma. Sitting on a barstool in the kitchen while I washed her morning tea cup and asked what food and other things she needed to buy, elegantly clothed with an assorted wide hat to frame her finely chiseled face, she would forget time and space and plunge into her past, reliving many a tragic, comic or tragi-comic event. She also reported many a hilarious encounter with Winston Churchill, obviously a kindred spirit, who seemed to like playing jokes in her company. I owe Mrs. Osborne a lot. Probably much more than I consciously know. Without her my life in London would have been less colorful and less enjoyable.
After three years I returned home, quite recovered from the nuns’ ecclesiastic terror. I had several University of Cambridge certificates and the Diploma of English Studies in my pocket.
Zürich – Secretary at a Psychiatric University Clinic
I got a job as a secretary at the Burghölzli Psychiatric University Clinic in Zürich, working for interns and the Medical Director, Prof. Manfred Bleuler, then a world-famous psychiatrist. I came to understand a few things about psychiatry and met my future husband, an undergraduate at the time. We married in 1971.
After two years of secretarial work and frequent visits to the ergotherapy department in the clinic, I embarked on a 3-year training period in Zurich to become an ergotherapist or art therapist, as the profession is known in some countries.
Lausanne - Ergotherapist / Art Therapist
1974, after working for two years as an art therapist at a psychiatric day clinic in Lausanne, Switzerland, my husband, by now chef de clinique (senior physician) at the Psychiatric University Clinic in Lausanne, persuaded me to quit my job in order to set off on a career as an artist. Gottlieb and my mother-in-law had not the slightest doubt that art was my destiny. They supported me enthusiastically, and several artist friends helped to make my start rather easy. After a two-weeks’ stint at the Art Academy in Lausanne, I left it bored by the lessons and the much younger students who were mainly interested in “anti-authoritarian” blabbering.
A long, thrilling and at times frustrating development as an artist was under way. Without the constant support and encouragement of my husband and my mother-in-law, I might not have gone all the way. Today, I am very grateful to both of them.
|Greta and Gottlieb 1977 in Santa Fee, New Mexico|
From 1976 to 1978 we worked in the USA with my husband’s stipend from the Swiss National Research Fund. To this day we feel that we owe much to those two years, living and working in Philadelphia, New York, Mill Valley/California and Taos/New Mexico. The USA, in those days a land of optimism and opportunities, fostered my artistic development a great deal. There was freedom, open-mindedness and a general spirit of exploration. The Woodstock Festival with its “mind-expanding” drugs, rock music and flower power had burst the doors of the dull and dreary Eisenhower era wide open and cleansed the gateway to perception. Now the world was yours to investigate!
|Godfather’s Stuggle with Entropy, 1977|
Back in Switzerland
But, alas, due to a contract my husband had signed before leaving for the USA, we were forced to return to Switzerland. Flying back to Zurich from San Francisco, I felt like I was entering a black hole. I regretted the freedom we were leaving behind, and like a needle caught in a scratched record, my mind was stuck in the groove of Wilhelm Busch’s poem The Flying Frog:
Wenn einer, der mit Mühe kaum
Gekrochen ist auf einen Baum,
Schon meint, dass er ein Vogel wär,
Dann irrt sich der.
Loosely translated: if someone who has crawled onto a tree with great pains already presumes to be a bird, he is mistaken.
Ever since our marriage, my husband and I have been a team, inspiring and motivating each other for our individual and shared projects in science and art. For about twenty years we regularly returned to California to enjoy its gorgeous landscapes: Muir Woods, a National Park with giant trees whose tips reach towards the heavens like Nature’s own Gothic cathedral; Yosemite National Park with its waterfalls, the Half-Dome and El Capitán; our hikes on Mount Tamalpais with a view on San Francisco Bay and the immense blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean and the fog drifting over the Golden Gate Bridge; the charming town of Carmel and the Pastures of Heaven of Steinbeck County. When George W. Bush and his camarilla set foot in the White House, the spirit of Woodstock quickly evaporated.
|Combat Queen, Meidenalp Turtmanntal Valais / Switzerland|
Valais / Switzerland
Today, our home is in Brig, a town nestled at the foot of the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Swiss Alps, surrounded by steep mountain ridges, gentle slopes and lush meadows. There are the Combat Queens (reines de combat), black cows that look like basalt sculptures in the green pastures. We are entranced by the ancient stone pines in the higher elevations, also called the Queens of the Alps, who may grow to over 1,000 years old. We never tire of listening to the water gurgling in the crystal clear mountain creeks or foaming through deep and sometimes eerie gorges. During the wintertime the world is lulled into slumber by the white eiderdowns of Pulverschnee, powder-snow; multiple glaciers and the magic Matterhorn are never-ending sources of inspiration and invigoration. Here, an enchanted loom of geophysical and biological evolution has been weaving a tapestry of intense beauty and power of expression since time begun.
This world is a delight for my biological eye in working harmony with the electronic eye of my camera. Chance only favors the prepared mind. Hopefully, my mind is prepared to leave a visual testimony of a magic country struggling more or less successfully against the ongoing environmental destruction by mindless man.
Reverse side of a Celtic bronze mirror
50 BC – 50 AD
The family clan of the GALLATI
Greta’s maiden name, Gallati, is of Celtic origin. In the course of their migrations the Celts emerged for the first time in the southwestern Balkans in the fourth century B.C. The swarthy Greeks called these fair-skinned people hoi gálaktoi, meaning the milk-faced.
The Celts were a nation of fierce warriors but they also created a great culture with a fascinating oral tradition, beautiful architecture and objects displaying refined visual artwork.
Celtic migrations were extensive. This is why today, from Ireland to Italy, Romania and Turkey we still find many locations that bear the name Galati. There is even a world-famous soccer club in Istanbul called Galatasaray.
Due to the etymology of her family name, in the Canton of Glaris the stress lies still on the first syllable. The name is mentioned very early in a chronicle of the
battle of Näfels where, in 1388, poorly armed mountain peasants vanquished a heavily armed Habsburg cavalry.
While her father was a descendant of the Celts, her mother was a descendant of the Habsburgs. Born in Gurktal (Carinthia, Austria), close to the border with Slovenia, she came from a region whose population integrated many different ethnic and cultural influences over the centuries. This brought a welcome breath of fresh air into the old Glaronese family.