William Ralph Kiefer was born March 27, 1905 in Brooklyn, New York. His father, William Kiefer, was born 1876 in New York City of German ancestry. His mother, Katherine Knell, was born 1879 in New York City. Her parents were also German immigrants. They married in New York on June 8, 1904. He was their first born of three children. His younger sister Ruth Katherine Kiefer was born in 1906, and his little brother Edwin Herbert Kiefer was born in 1909. They lived at 219 Moffat Street in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. At that time the neighborhood was an ethnic blend of German, Irish, Scotch, and English. His father was a janitor and custodian engineer at a local elementary school P.S. 24 in Brooklyn.
He attended the Isaac Chauncey School P.S. 113 until the eighth grade. He graduated in June 1918 at the age of thirteen, and then attended Bushwick High School, on Irving Place and Woodbine Street in Brooklyn. There he met Frank Kramer, whose father was also a janitor at Public School 93 in Brooklyn. He also met Walt Baumhofer, whose father was a janitor in a neighborhood tenement, and John Gould, whose father was a local plumber. Along with a shared German-American ancestry, all four kids had natural drawing abilities and a shared dream to become successful artists.
During the Great War he was too young for military service. He was only fourteen when the war ended in 1919.
In 1920 his family had moved to 122-11 Metropolitan Avenue in the Kew Gardens section of Queens, New York. The house was a two-family structure, and his next-door neighbors were his uncle and Aunt Charles and Olivetta Kiefer.
In January of 1923 during their high school graduation ceremony John Gould delivered the address, because he had been elected President of their Senior Class, but the greatest honor of that day was when W. Ralph Kiefer was awarded a scholarship to study art at the Pratt Institute of Brooklyn.
In September 1923 he attended Pratt as a full-time student in the Three Year Course. Two of his art teachers were Dean Cornwell and H. Winfield Scott. Among the other students were his Brooklynite pals Frank Kramer, John Gould, and Walt Baumhofer.
In June 1926 he graduated from Pratt. At that time the school was not an accredited college, so graduating students did not receive a BFA college diploma, but instead received a certificate of course completion.
W. Ralph Kiefer began to work as a pulp magazine freelance artist. Although Kiefer is not a common name, another artist named Henry Carl Kiefer (1890-1957) happened to arrive in NYC around the same time to begin his own career as a pulp artist. Although their names are similar the two artists are completely unrelated.
W. Ralph Kiefer illustrated stories and painted covers for pulp magazines, such as Frontier Stories, Short Stories, Thrilling Adventures, and West Magazine. He lived and worked at his family home in Kew Gardens, using an extra bedroom for his art studio.
In June of 1929 he was honored with an invitation to use a painting studio at the Tiffany Foundation at Oyster Bay, Long Island, NY. He shared the space with John F. Gould. Later that summer he visited Monterey, Massachusetts, in the Berkshire Mountains, where he painted landscapes.
In 1933 at the age of twenty-eight he still lived a home and had not married. He returned to Pratt Institute for advanced training. He enrolled in the Teacher Training course to become an accredited art teacher. In September 1934 during his second year of study he was forced to quit his training when he became ill and spent several months convalescing in bed, while his condition grew steadily worse.
W. Ralph Kiefer died of a heart attack in his family home in Kew Gardens at the age of twenty-nine on November 25, 1934.
© David Saunders 2012