“The world is run by artists and mathematicians,” Richard Schroeter muses, on a peaceful fall visit to Charlottetown from his home in Kensington. “As humans, we love utility—but we also love beauty,” he says. His utility work is as a multimedia specialist for Veterans Affairs Canada, but the list of ways he creates beauty is long: writing, comedy, songwriting, stained glass, leatherwork, metalwork, woodwork, carving, painting, drawing… Richard laughs, “If I get bored or stuck on one [medium], I have another.”
Richard recalls, “As a kid, I was not distracted by things—I had to make things… I grew up in Ten Mile House, very poor. You could do nothing and feel the hunger, or you could fill your time with making things and making do.” His mother taught him to read at a very young age, and he learned to draw and paint. He says he benefits every day from creative “skills that layer on top of each other.”
In addition to poverty, Richard’s worldview was shaped by having an abusive father. “When your mom is a victim of that, as a little kid, it is hard not to be angry… But for some reason as a little kid, I decided, ‘It won’t be so bad—if I just do the opposite of what my father would do’ … It keeps me on an even keel.”
Not treating others as he was treated was a skill Richard needed outside home as well. “As one of a very few number of Black people on PEI,” he remembers, he experienced racism: “I wasn’t going to do that to someone else… In those days, there was not a lot of exposure [to diversity]. There is more diversity now, but that brings out fear and anger too.”
He used humour a lot as a deflection in school, and in adulthood, Richard was one of the originators of the PEI Stand-Up Showcase. One of his first experiences with stand-up was actually being called up from an audience to fill a gap in the program. “I told stories of growing up in poverty, and people laughed their arses off. I thought, ‘Okay, it’s weird, but it’s easy.’” Today, while he hasn’t performed comedy publicly for three years, his kids (two daughters and a grown foster-daughter) inspire funny and poignant creative non-fiction writing for eager audiences on social media. “My kids are hilarious—they are very sharp, and they one-up their father,” he says.
His craftwork, on the other hand, you won’t find advertised: “People just seem to know,” he chuckles. His work is custom to each special order. “My joy is making something they want for life. It has to be personal.”
Like many PEI artists, Richard says, “I wish I could do all those things and make a living, but I have kids… In a large sense, it’s the PEI way—there’s a lot of ‘can’t.’ There’s so much talent here, but it needs to be seen as more valuable, more viable.” Richard is grateful. “[Paid] work for me has creativity, and that has been satisfying. I work for veterans, and I work for the people. I feel a level of accomplishment, and that’s good.”
Richard lived in almost every province of Canada before returning here. Today, he says, “PEI is my home and my heart.” He says, “I am always looking to do things that inspire and help. There is so much good here, even with the fear and anger” that “politics and the pandemic” he says have revealed.
Inspiring and helping looks these days like writing about our food sources for Salty magazine and “putting together some children’s books” for collaboration with an illustrator and eventual self-publication—and training to facilitate parenting support groups that will promote children’s wellbeing.
Richard contemplates, “We have all these problems, with racism, with poverty, with food. If we focus on letting children grow in a better way, if we make children better, they will fix it—and we’ll make ourselves better.”
Richard’s creative life focuses on “knowing what I value—people. I didn’t always understand it, and I still forget it, but if you value people, your life is better, all the time.”