Ascension, oil on canvas, 1942
Collection of the Seattle Art Museum
To be afraid of what is different or unfamiliar is to be afraid of life.
Maude Irvine Kerns, the namesake of the Maude Kerns Art Center, was a visionary artist and educator, the first head of the Art Education Department at the University of Oregon (1921 – 1947), and an internationally recognized artist in the Non-Objective Art Movement. Born during the Victorian era, she fearlessly pursued an artistic vision that allied her with some of the most acclaimed modernist artists of her day. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Guggenheim Museum, the Portland Art Museum, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, and the Seattle Art Museum, among others, and is owned by the Microsoft Corporation and many private collectors. The Maude Kerns Art Center has a collection of over 75 pieces of her work comprised of watercolors, prints, brush paintings, and oil canvases.
Kerns was born on August 1, 1876, in Portland, Oregon. She graduated from the University of Oregon in 1899, attended the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art in San Francisco in 1900 - 1901, and then studied at Columbia Teachers College in New York, where she graduated in 1906 with a B.A. in Fine Arts and a B.S. in Art Education. At Columbia Teachers College, Kerns studied with artist Arthur Wesley Dow, who, along with Asian art scholar Ernest R. Fenollosa, developed a formal theory of composition based on the idea that all art was defined primarily by spacial arrangement rather than by the imitation of nature.
During her long career, Kerns experimented with a variety of styles, which included realistic landscapes and portraits, brush painting, and non-objective explorations of color and form. She studied with some of the most well-known modernist artists, among them Hans Hofmann, Rolph Scarlett, and Alexander Archipenko. She travelled extensively in Europe and Asia, and worked with Gertrude Bass Warner, the founder of the University of Oregon Museum of Art (now the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art), to select pieces for that museum’s permanent collection of Asian art.
It was in the 1940s that Kerns’s search for an expressive visual form for her spiritual ideals culminated in non-objective paintings composed of interlocking triangles, circles, and rectangles. Kerns is most recognized for her non-objective paintings. The term "non-objective art" describes any type of abstract art which is devoid of reference to the natural world. Kerns was the only woman in the Pacific Northwest to be active in the Non-Objective Art Movement. She was in close contact with a number of avant-garde painters in New York, including the Baroness Hilla Rebay, the first director of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting (now the Guggenheim Museum). She showed regularly at the Museum of Non-Objective Art from 1941 – 1951 alongside such artists as Moholy-Nagy, Ilya Bolotowsky, Alice Trumbell-Mason, and Josef Albers.
Kerns shared with Rebay the aspiration to find a visual exploration of a spiritual state. “Non-objective painting represents no object or subject known to us on earth,” Rebay said. The masterpieces of non-objective art are “the culmination of spiritual power made intuitively visible. The forms and colors we see are secondary to their spiritual rhythm which we feel.”
Maude Kerns died in Eugene, Oregon on October 10, 1965.
|1876||Born in Portland, OR on August 1 to Samuel and Elizabeth Kerns|
|1896-1899||University of Oregon, B.A.|
|1900-1901||Mark Hopkins Institute of Art, Diploma in Fine Arts|
|1901-1904||Elementary school teacher, Corvallis and Lebanon, OR|
|1904-1906||Columbia University Teachers College, NYC, B.A. in Fine Arts and B.S. in Art Education|
|1906-1921||High school teacher, Seattle, and instructor, Univ. of Washington|
|1907||Became a Christian Scientist|
|1913||European travel and study|
|1921||Assistant professor & Head of Univ. of Oregon Normal Arts (Art Education) Dept.|
|1925||First exhibition: NW Annual Competition, Seattle Art Museum|
|1928||World travel, visit with Gertrude Bass Warner in Japan|
|1929||Solo exhibition: Studio Guild, New York City|
|1930-1931||Summer study: Hans Hofmann, University of CA, Berkeley|
|1931||Associate Professor, University of Oregon|
|1933-1934||Prize: Los Angeles Watercolor Annual Exhibit|
|1935||Summer study: Alexander Archipenko, Los Angeles, CA|
|1939||Appointment to advisory Committee on Women’s Participation for New York World’s Fair|
|Summer study: Hans Hofmann, Provincetown, MA|
|Solo exhibition: Studio Galleries, New York City|
|1940s||Experiments with local Oregon pigments for permanence and use|
|1941 - 1951||Works exhibited at Museum of Non-Objective Painting, NYC.|
|1946||Solo exhibition of non-objective paintings: Seattle Art Museum|
|1947||Retirement from University of Oregon|
|Solo exhibition: Portland Art Museum|
|1954||Solo exhibition: Pen and Brush Club, New York City|
|1955||Solo exhibit: Nat’l Assoc. of Women Artists, Argent Gallery, NYC|
|1958||As a founder, donated first building to Eugene Art Center|
|1960||“Time & Life” Exhibition, Rockefeller Center, NYC|
|1961||Presented deed to Eugene Art Center, renamed Maude I. Kerns Art Center|
|1962||Solo exhibition: Portland Art Museum|
|1965||Died in Eugene, OR, on October 10|