Erich (Ernst Karl) Mayer was born in Karlsruhe, Germany. Mayer was educated in Berlin, could not afford to study art, but won a bursary for architectural training. In 1896 his studies were discontinued when ill-health confined him to bed for two years. In 1898 he was seeking for a healthier climate, he came to South Africa.
He was appointed Assistant Land-Surveyor at Vrede in the Orange Free State. He joined a Boer commando fighting in the Anglo Boer war where he sketched farmers at whose farms he stopped over with his battalion. He was captured by the British at Mafeking and sent to St Helena where he devoted his leisure time to art.
Later in his life he worked as a newspaper artist and became acquainted with Pieter Wenning and JH Pierneef, to whom he taught the art of woodcut. He married Margaretha Gutter, and the two travelled by caravan through South Africa. Mayer’s paintings became very popular among the rural communities.
Mayer wandered widely and recorded as he went, however, because he was a sympathetic observer rather than a heroic narrator, it is not the epic events but the ordinary participants and their environment that are preserved in his pictorial accounts. In general, Mayer worked within the popular representational tradition. The curious Baobab tree or “Kremetartboom”, figures with great frequency in his landscape painting. Mayer died in 1960 in Pretoria.