A Legacy of Art in Community
Abstract with Oranges, (1955) duco enamel on canvas, collection of the KIA
Kirk Newman: January 5, 1926 - November 4, 2017
A prominent Midwest sculptor, Kirk Newman came to Kalamazoo in 1949 as part of the University of Michigan's extension program to work at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts. When he retired as Director of Education in 1978, the school that would come to bear his name had received national recognition that continues today.
Born in Dallas, Texas, in 1926, Kirk Newman began his artistic career experimenting with abstract sculpture and painting. He moved into exploring the human figure and the complexities of the modern world, beginning with small bronze sculptures of anonymous businessmen, whose suits identified them as figures of power and authority, but whose crouching, falling, and grasping postures revealed vulnerability. As Newman's nuances embraced the whimsical and satirical, the figures suggested the inflated egos and social pretensions of their subjects. By the 1980s, his businessmen - now flattened and shadow-like - conveyed the fast pace of contemporary life.
Widely known as a sculptor, Newman was also a drawer, painter, and printmaker. His most lasting regional impact, however, was as a dedicated educator. He facilitated the partnership with University of Michigan extension service that expanded art class offerings at the KIA, and was the school's first full-time instructor. He was director of the art school from 1961 to his retirement in 1978.
Kirk Newman believed community art programs could be as stimulating and rewarding as those offered at the college level, and he recruited a dedicated group of teachers to help develop the KIA art school, which became an enduring resource to the Kalamazoo community.
In a 2015 interview with the Kalamazoo Gazette, Kirk said he was very interested in how to create a community that embraced art when he came to town.
"Rather than have a few pictures around, the question was what do people do with art," he said. "I think we created a huge awareness of quality arts and an appreciation for it. We were giving people a chance to actually experience the arts. Once you experience trying to make things, it's very different than just being an observer. Then it becomes a unique experience."
Please visit www.kirknewman.com for an in-depth look at Kirk Newman's legacy.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Kirk Newman Art School scholarship fund at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts.
Newman's reputation was created largely from 2 bodies of work: small bronze business figures and large public pieces presenting a more traditional approach to the figure, which can be found in Toronto, Hong Kong, and throughout Michigan. Examples of his large public sculptures (shown):
When Mercy and Justice Prevail (1976) Bronson Park, Kalamazoo, Michigan
Hong Kong People (1990) Hotel Conrad, Hong Kong
Community (2001) Manulife Financial, Toronto, Canada
Children of the World (1995) Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, Michigan
LOL Greenleaf Trust Building (2013) Birmingham, Michigan
The Children of Sherman Lake (2012) with Joshua Diedrich, Sherman Lake YMCA Camp, Augusta, Michigan
People (1974) Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Kalamazoo, Michigan
Below: Goodbye (1978) lithograph, collection of the KIA