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 Earl Cavis Kerkam  (1891 - 1965)

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Lived/Active: New York/District Of Columbia / France      Known for: modernist still life, figure and portrait painting

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Earl Cavis Kerkam
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Earl Kerkam abandoned a well-paid career as a commercial artist to study painting. He studied at the Rand School, the Art Student's League, and the School of Design, before moving to France to continue his studies. In Paris, he attended the Academies de la Grand Chaumiere and the Academy Colorossi from 1924 to 1929. He was in charge of the American Art Gallery in Paris for a brief period. He exhibited some of his paintings along with Andre Derrain, a member of Henri Matisse's circle, Les Fauves.

After the Great Depression began, he returned to America. In the early 1930s he was the art editor for "Progress" magazine. From 1933 to 1943 he was employed with the Easel Project of the Works Progress Administration, where he worked with Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, among others. During World War II, he created posters for the New York City Department of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity. The posters were designed to promote wartime conservation of natural resources.

In the late 1940s, Kerkam became involved with The Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors, an organization devoted to making the public and the press more aware of the importance and diversity of non-academic art. The Federation developed what was, at the time, a unique method of encouraging museums to include contemporary works of art in their collections. The Federation would find donors to purchase the works, and then approach museums to accept them. As a result, museums across the country began accepting contemporary art.

Although he never experienced much fame with the general public, Kerkam garnered the respect of other artists because of his devotion to painting. He worked mostly in still life and figures, particularly in self-portraits, in part because he could seldom afford to hire models. He was very cognizant of the traditions of modern painting, so he returned consistently to the paintings of Paul Cezanne and the cubists for inspiration. However, Kerkam's paintings remained too tied to tradition, both with regard to subject matter and form, to ever be included among any of the abstract expressionists. As a result, he is rarely mentioned in discussions of the period.

His paintings were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, the Corcoran Art Gallery, Art Institute of Chicago, and the Mellon Galleries. He taught briefly at the New York Studio School before his death in 1965.

Submitted February 2005 by Gene C. Gerard, teacher of American history at Tarrant County College in suburban Dallas. He wrote: "I am working on a book that looks at the homefront contributions of various Americans during World War I and II. One of the individuals I've researched is the painter Earl Kerkam. As such, I have written this biography".

My sources for the biography are as follows:

* "The Most Difficult Journey," by Beth Harris, Exhibits USA, for The Poindexter Collections of American Modernist Painting Programming Guide

* "1934 - 1942: An Important Time in the Development of American Graphic Design," an M.A. Thesis by Erin K. Malone, Rochester Institute of Technology, 1994

* "The School - Its History," the New York Studio School

* "The Federation in Retrospect" by Dora Ashton,

Biography from Alpen Gallery:
On July 6, 1965, the following letter was sent to the Board of Director of the Museum of Modern Art, New York City with signatures of William De Kooning, Hans Hoffman, Philip Guston, Mark Rothko, Georgio Spaventa and Esteban Vincente

"Gentlemen: We the undersigned as a Committee of working Artists respectfully request the Museum of Modern Art to give an exhibition of the works of the late Earl Kerkam, Painter.

Kerkam in our eyes is one of the finest Painters to come out of America, and as working Artists we could afford the stimulation such an exhibition would provide us, and the younger generation of Artists who have not had the opportunity to study his work."

Periodical References:
1. 'Kerkam paints a picture', by Elaine de Kooning. February 1951, Art News.
2. 'Earl Kerkam', by J. Dugan. May 1948 issue of Salute.
3. 'Earl Cavis Kerkam', by Elsie Harmon. July 1936 issue of P.M. magazine.
4. 'Oils of Earl Kerkam', by Elsie Harmon. November 1937 issue of Art News.
5. 'Paintings, Chinese Gallery', by Elsie Harmon. June 1948 issue of Art News.
6. 'Portrait', by Elsie Harmon. November 1945 issue of Art Digest.
7. 'Portrait', by Elsie Harmon. July 13th, 1955 issue of Life magazine.
8. 'Paintings at Poindexter', by Elsie Harmon. December 1955 issue of Arts.
9. 'Kerkam works...', by Jeanne Paris. 1/21/68 issue of Long Island Press.
10. 'New York Letter', by Irving Sandler. January 1961 issue of Art International.
11. ''Paintings at Egan Gallery', by Irving Sandler. January 1954 issue of Art Digest.
12. 'Oils at the Chinese Gallery', by Irving Sandler. March 1949 issue of Art News.
13. 'Earl Kerkam 1890-1965', by Louis Finkelstein. May 1965 issue of Art News.
14. 'Earl Kerkam', by Lawrence Campbell. January 1968 issue of Art News.
15. 'Earl Kerkam'. February 1968 issue of G.B. Arts Magazine.
16. 'Earl Kerkam', by Victoria Donahue. 11/12/1967 Philadelphia Inquirer.

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