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 James Kevlin  (1900 - 1986)

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts      Known for: figure

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Ad Code: 4
James Kevlin
from Auction House Records.
four female figures
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following information was submitted by the artist's son: James Kevlin Jr.:

James Courtney Kevlin (1900-1986) was born in Pittsfield in Massachusetts' Berkshire Hills. As a boy, he picked pond lillies -- later an occasional subject of his paintings -- on nearby Pontoosuc Lake with his mother, and sold them door to door.

His father, John, and two of John's brothers, Matthew and David, helped unionize the General Electric plant in Pittsfield, and David ran for mayor on the socialist ticket in 1919. In the crackdown on "radicals" that followed the attempted assassination of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, the three men were blackballed through the Berkshires. Unable to find work, they ran a candy shop in Williamstown, near Williams College, for four years, then moved to Philadelphia to work at a Ford plant in nearby Chester. The blackball caught up with them, they were fired and spent the rest of their careers running candy shops in Philly.

By then, James -- Jimmy, as his friends called him all his life -- was at normal school in Fitchburg, Mass., studying to be a teacher. He met his wife, Claire Souza, there and, after graduating, they moved to Fall River, Mass., her home area, and Jimmy taught industrial arts in New Bedford. He remembers seeing the Charles W. Morgan and Wanderer sailing out on the last whaling voyage; the Wanderer foundered in a storm, and the Morgan returned to dock.

With the Depression under way, James looked for the best-paying school district in the nation, which was then Newark, N.J. He moved his family, which by then included two sons, James Jr. and George, and continued teaching. He and Claire divorced a few years later.

In the mid 1930s, Kevlin came down with scarlet fever, which at that time required a lengthy recuperation. He began sketching in his hospital bed and was hooked. Recovered, he became a student of John Grabach, a painter of sturdy industrial scenes and portraits, who at the time was chief designer for the Gorham Silver Co.

Other artists in the group, which came to call itself the Dialis, which met weekly in a studio above an Italian restaurant, feasting on spaghetti and cianti when Grabach's instruction was complete. Sometimes they hired a model and painted nudes. The group Eddie Garboly and Henry Gasser; Gasser's oils were reproduced by Grumbacher's and sold widely. Grabach published a book on painting the human body, and Gasser published several on oil and water-color painting.

Kevlin continued to teach, but in the summers headed to Gloucester, Mass., and
down Maine, and later, Martha's Vineyard, where he was head waiter at the Colonial Inn in Edgartown and painted with friends in his off hours. During this period, his subjects included ports, the work on fishing boats, still lifes and rural scenes, watercolors and oil. Perhaps his best work, "Bass Rocks," later sold to a collector in the Midwest, was painted in Maine during this period.

In the mid '40s, he met a guest at the Colonial Inn, Ivy Larrick, who ran a booking agency for charities in New York. The two married in 1948 and took a duplex on Central Park South, across from the Central Park carousel. He continued to teach, but in the evening he and Ivy often attended Broadway opening nights. He joined the Salmagundi and the National Arts Club.

He and Ivy took repeated cruises through the Caribbean, and he was particularly taken with Haiti and the Bahamas. A notable work during this period was "The Nickel Divers," boys diving for coins in the harbor at Port au Prince.

In the '60s, the couple bought a weekend home on Pumpkin Hill in New Milford,
Conn., and after she died around 1970 and he retired from teaching, he moved
to the country full time, building a one-room studio behind the house.

He painted almost daily for the last 15 years of his life, ranging rural Connecticut north of New Milford along the Housatonic. He painted a strong sequence of Bull's Bridge in winter in Kent, Conn., which were quickly sold. A painting was accepted by the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts for its annual show. He also put on a one-man show at the Kent Art Association.

For several years, he wintered in Tehuantepec, on the southern coast of Mexico
in the state of Oaxaca, driving down through Brownsville and crossing over at
Vera Cruz. He painted numerous market scenes and Mexican landscapes during
this period.

In the mid-'80s he began to fail, and moved to Dallas, Texas, where he lived with his son George and daughter-in-law Blanche, both of whom became collectors of fine art. George had two sons, Patrick and Michael.

His other son, James Jr., was an executive in multinational businesses, retiring as president of Avon Iberica, which served Spain and Portugal. He had three children, Janet, James and Marguerite.

James Kevlin was a man who knew himself, what he wanted to do and what he didn't. He continued to experiment as long as he could paint, at one point rubbing watercolor scenes with sandpaper to achieve a great sense of distance. He was admired as an original by most everyone who knew him.

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