Ahead of Her Time


Although she created oil paintings, watercolors, lithographs, and collages, the artist and educator Luise Clayborn Kaish (1925–2013) was best known for her monumental sculptures in bronze. Critic Robert M. Coates once described her bronze reliefs as possessing a “sweeping energy that parallels the turbulence of Turner in painting,” and indeed her important commissions for Jewish and Christian sanctuaries — such as “The Ark of Revelation” illustrated below — infuse traditional forms with her emotional power and fresh understandings of religious meaning.

Women artists - LUISE KAISH at work on "The Ark of Revelation" sculpture
LUISE KAISH at work on “The Ark of Revelation” in her MacDougal Street studio, New York City, c. 1962; photo: Morton Kaish, courtesy of Kaish Family Art Project and the Luise and Morton Kaish Foundation

In an era when women were discouraged from pursuing careers in art, and especially sculpture, Kaish studied with leading figures including Ivan Meštrović and Diego Rivera. Traveling widely to research and see art in situ, she was among the first women to be awarded the American Academy of Rome Prize and ultimately became professor and chair of Columbia University’s painting and sculpture division. Beyond the big commissions, her works can be found in major museum collections nationwide.

Women artists - Luise Kaish sculpture
LUISE KAISH (1925–2013), “The Ark of Revelation,” 1960–64, bronze, 14 x 15 ft., Temple B’rith Kodesh, Rochester, New York, photo: Paul Rocheleau

Out now is “Luise Kaish: An American Art Legacy,” a richly illustrated 256-page monograph surveying Kaish’s life and career, published by D Giles Limited (London) in association with the Kaish Family Art Project. Edited by feminist art historian Maura Reilly, it contains essays by six scholars and many previously unpublished photographs. A portion of each sale made through the Project’s website will go to the Artists’ Fellowship, which assists professional artists and their families in times of need.

The book’s publication coincides with a major gift from the Kaish family to Syracuse University, where Luise and her artist husband Morton Kaish met as students (they married in 1948). The gift will name a gallery at the Syracuse University Art Museum where the couple’s art will be displayed, and also endow a fellowship program that provides students with opportunities to use the Kaishes’ artworks as a basis for original scholarship.

All of these exciting developments epitomize how artists’ legacies can be secured for the future, an urgent matter explored in detail by James Lancel McElhinney in the November/December issue of Fine Art Connoisseur magazine (page 101).

Click here to learn more about “Luise Kaish: An American Art Legacy.”

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