San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Oil paintings, model ships share Grecia home

Entering the splendid home of the Schleiter family is like entering a show room: The walls are decked with Heike Schleiter’s striking oils, executed in the representational and abstract styles; and wooden boards carry large-scale models of fully functioning warships, manufactured by husband Hans Schleiter.

Seven years ago, the German couple moved to the northwestern Central Valley coffee town of Grecia. The former captain and his wife, an experienced designer, found their retirement haven on a hill overlooking a bucolic landscape of coffee and sugarcane fields.

After researching many countries around the world as retirement destinations, the Schleiters chose Costa Rica “because of its favorable immigration rules, the stunning beauty of its nature and the friendliness of the Ticos.”

Hans Schleiter, 67, began his naval career as a ship boy at the age of 16, and moved on to the helm for half of his 28 years of seafaring. The master mariner and graduated navigator also holds a Master of Business Administration, and was a software engineer by trade who in the early 1990s recognized the need for developing electronic safety systems for the shipping industry. Based on new laws issued by the London-based International Maritime Organization, Schleiter revolutionized quality and security management of vessels worldwide. In 1994, he founded a software company called AVECS (Audio Visual Emergency Control Systems) in Germany. The company produced customized software that has been installed in thousands of vessels, with clients ranging from shipping companies to nautical university sites using the software for training.

Oil Paintings In Grecia 2

Hans Schleiter with his 1:100 scale model of the legendary battleship Bismarck, which took him 8,000 hours over three and a half years to build. The model has 35 electric motors and 77 functions, including sound effects. 

Gaby Kyriss

Ten years later, Schleiter sold his award-winning company, moved to Costa Rica and began dedicating himself to another of his great passions: the manufacturing of large-scale model warships. All his remote-controlled models are built on a scale of 1:100. They sail, maneuver, and have light and sound effects. Because most of the materials for his hobby are not available here, Schleiter acquires them from German and U.S. suppliers. The goal of his collection is to recreate the history of seafaring by means of one prototype per era.

“I am a pacifist, [but I prefer] battleships for my collections because a combat vessel always combines state-of-the-art materials and equipment,” he says.

In a large, well-lit and extremely tidy workshop in their Grecia home, Schleiter manufactures his unique model ships while wife Heike Schleiter creates her vigorous art. The prolific artist experiments with different styles but uses oils exclusively, saying, “Oil has life.”

“I like to play with colors,” Schleiter says. “Sometimes I already have an image in my mind, and sometimes it is just a smell or déjà vu that is inspiring me.”

Her main subjects embrace interpretations of nature, including the four elements, earth, air, fire and water. Another key source for creativity are her travels to Kenya, where she learned about the culture of the Masai people and became fascinated by their distinctive customs and dress, archaic lifestyle and unique design language. Her paintings reflect the Masai use of the color red and the warm green and earth shades of the East African savanna.

“In my Masai paintings, I want to communicate the African sense of life,” Schleiter explains. “Here in Costa Rica, I have the time and peace to immerse myself in exploring shapes and colors.”

Schleiter’s role models include German painters Franz Marc and Otto Dix, as well as Austrian symbolist Gustav Klimt, she says. She also especially appreciates the work of Tamara de Lempicka, a Polish art deco painter renowned for her elegant interpretations of unspectacular motifs.

Schleiter, 49, is a graduate of Germany’s Dresden Academy of Fine Arts and the Konrad Wolf Film and Television University in Potsdam-Babelsberg. While working for the German movie industry in animation and special effects, she met husband-to-be Hans Schleiter. She later became marketing director and public relations manager of her husband’s company, AVECS.

Heike Schleiter’s paintings are for sale, and her next solo exhibit will take place in June at Hotel Rincón de San José in the capital’s Barrio Otoya neighborhood. For more information, contact the artist at Those interested in Hans Schleiter’s model ships may contact him by email at

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