by Larry Upthegrove
John Maier was born in Wurtemburg, Germany in 1819 and determined at an early age that he would become an artist. Striking a deal with a Berlin-based school of painting, whereby he would service himself to grind paints, Maier was able to pay for his tuition and living expenses for his education. At age 21, he was able to relocate to America – New York City specifically – where he met the love of his life, Miss Maria Ann Berkele. Soon after meeting, the two married in 1850 and moved to the burgeoning southern city of Atlanta.
Maier painted both landscapes and portraits, and although he preferred landscapes, Maier was more adept at portraiture. Despite having lost the use of one of his eyes in childhood, Maier was quite skilled and his business grew quickly.
He sold some landscapes, but soon Georgia’s upper society commissioned Maier’s talents to record the images of their families. It is known that he painted Chief Justice Joseph Henry Lumpkin, Howell Cobb, Robert Toombs, Alexander Stephens, Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Austell, Father John A. Ryan, Father Thomas O’Reilly, Mrs. O.A. Lochrane, Mrs. T.R.R. Cobb, Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Steinheimer, and many others. Some of his works now hang in the state capitol building and in the Governor’s Mansion. Most of his paintings have never resold, the subject families retaining them for generations.
Late in his life, Maier’s health was a mess. The sight in his only eye failed, leaving him completely blind. His 12-year-old son had to hold his hand and guide him wherever he might need to go, and he suffered greatly from asthma. During a severe attack of that affliction, Maier sent his son for medical help. When his son was gone, he placed a gun in his mouth, and ended his misery on March 6, 1877.
Maier now resides as a “silent citizen” of Historic Oakland Cemetery. Later, his son and his brother-in-law would go on to form the jewelry house of Maier & Berkele.