Kenneth Kilstrom, Artist
Dedicated to the life
and work of Illinois and New York artist Kenneth Kilstrom
Kilstrom was a native of Illinois who moved to Manhattan at
the beginning of the Abstract Expressionist movement in the
late 1940s and early 1950s. He knew, and was known, by many
artists who are famous today. Circumstances beyond his control
removed him from that association during a critical period
when these artists were gaining well deserved recognition for
their contributions to this new style. It may be that had this
not happened, his name would be mentioned in common with those
other great artists. This web site is a small attempt to
rectify this circumstance.
unnamed, Kenneth Kilstrom, 12" x 16", oil on board
Kenneth Russel Kilstrom was born on 25 December 1922 in
Chicago, Illinois, only child of Harold Robert and Hulda
Elfreda Elizabeth Nelson Kilstrom, both children of Swedish
immigrants. Kilstrom's birth date is incorrectly
reported as 29 December 1922 in the Social Security Death
Index. Harold Robert Kilstrom was employed as an
optician in Chicago in the 1910-1940 censuses. Harold Kenneth
Russel Kilstrom was listed in the 1930 census as Harold, but
later used his middle name, Kenneth.
Since Kilstrom used various versions of his name over the span of his life, resulting in some confusion, extra care has been taken to verify his identity. Kenneth Kilstrom's full name, birth date, and the names of his parents, are proved by the 1930 Federal census of Chicago, IL, the Cook County, Illinois Birth Certificate Index, 1871-1922 (FHL Film #1379146), the Cook County, Illinois Birth Index 1916-1935 (File #6055470) and by the 1940 Federal Census of Berwyn, Illinois. When contacted for information about Kenneth Kilstrom's attendance there, the registrar of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) replied:
"Kenneth Harold Kilstrom
attended SAIC from 1943 to 1944 but did not graduate."
also noted that he was the only person with this surname to
have attended the SAIC. Kenneth Harold Kilstrom gave his
address as 6957 Riverside Drive, Berwyn, Illinois in his SAIC
registration forms. This is the same address that Harold
Robert Kilstrom, Kenneth's father, reported on his WWII Draft
Registration Card and the same address where the Kilstrom
family was residing during the 1940 Federal Census of Berwyn,
Kenneth Kilstrom married Joy Soeda, a Japanese American born in 1915 in Kauai County, Hawaii, of Japanese immigrant parents. Little is known about Joy and some incorrect information has been published about her. A more detailed examination of her life is presented at the end of this biography.
Kenneth Kilstrom, 1940 and ca
Kenneth Kilstrom reportedly attended the University of Illinois (1942-1943) and the Schools of the Art Institute of Chicago (1943-1944). That Kilstrom attended the University of Illinois has not been proved, though if he did, it was likely the University of Illinois Chicago. The Registrar of that school would not confirm his attendance due to privacy concerns. This Registrar manages records for all of the University of Illinois campuses. His attendance at the SAIC has been confirmed.
Much of what follows in this
paragraph is unconfirmed and comes from a source that has
not been able to provide any documentation, but has
published this information on the Internet where it has been
widely cited from for several years. Kilstrom attended the Canterbury
School of Drama in Fort Wayne, Indiana and the Goodman school of Drama in
Chicago. Kilstrom was awarded a scholarship for art to
Cooper Union in New York City and moved there in 1945. He
attended the school briefly and was offered a job as an
apprentice with sculptor, Isamu Noguchi from 1945-1947.
During the time Kilstrom worked with Noguchi he did set
design for Martha Graham. He also studied musical
composition with renowned composer Meyer Kupferman and
percussion with the Francesca Boaz dance group.
It seems unlikely that Kilstrom could have attended the Canterbury School of Drama and Goodman School of Drama in the time between his attendance at the SAIC in 1944 and his reported move to New York City in 1945. No records for a Canterbury School of Drama in Fort Wayne have been found, but there is mention of such a school in Chicago. There is a Canterbury School in Fort Wayne, but is was not created until 1977 and serves grades K-12. The Goodman School is now known as the Theater School at DePaul University. It seems most likely that Kilstrom attendance at these schools may have been in the nature of individual classes, not enrollment in any specific degree program, and perhaps between the time he graduated from high school in 1940 until he moved to New York in 1945.
When contacted, the Archivist at the Noguchi Museum reported that there is no mention of Kilstrom in their Archives. This does not mean that Kilstrom did not work with Noguchi, but that records do not exist that can confirm this connection. If Kilstrom did work with Noguchi during this period, he would likely have worked on Graham's production of either "Cave of Heart" or "Errand into the Maze". Images of Kilstrom have been sent to the archivist at the Noguchi Museum in the hopes that he may appear in photographs from this period. A friend of Kilstrom, artist John Grillo, mentions Kilstrom's affiliation with Noguchi in an interview in the 16 July 2011 edition of the Provincetown Magazine. Mr. Grillo was a friend of Kilstrom and collector of his work. He has been contacted for more information about Kilstrom, including Kilstrom's affiliation with Noguchi.
The archivist at the Meyer Kupferman web site could find no references to Kilstrom in their records but was able to supply contact information for Kupferman's widow and an attempt to contact her for more information is in process.
No records of a Francesca Boaz Dance Group have been found. Only two mentions of Francesca, or Francisca, Boaz were found using a Google and Ancestry.com search. First, in the Rome News Tribune on 20 January 1958 it is reported that Francesca Boaz was the director for the dance segment of a children's play. Second, a single mention of "Francisca Boaz's Dance Studio in Manhattan" is made in A Fire in the Mind: the life of Joseph Campbell by Larsen (1991). Various sources show that the Kilstrom's were living in Manhattan in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The dates and proximity of the Boaz Dance Studio to the Kilstroms' apartments during this period may support this claim.
An attempt to confirm Kilstrom's scholarship to the Cooper Union is under way.
All of this being said, there may be some grain of truth in these claims but they may have been inflated, perhaps by a gallery for the purpose of enhancing Kilstrom's credentials at some point. This is only speculation, though.
1950s - Work as an
artist and Incarceration
In the early 1950's, Kilstrom was committed
to a psychiatric hospital where he was confined for around a
decade. Kilstrom is mentioned in American water colors,
drawings, and prints, 1952: a national competitive
exhibition, December 5, 1952-January 25, 1953 by
the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which may indicate that he
was committed after this date. The reason for his commitment
has not been preserved. According to a memoir by a friend of
the Kilstroms, Pat Passlof, Kenneth's wife, Joy, brought him
home cooked meals and painting materials on the weekends and
he would pass the day of her visit in painting and
picnicking, weather permitting. Pat Passlof was the spouse
of noted artist, Milton Resnick. Kilstrom could not keep
painting materials at the hospital as the other patients
would take them. It wasn't until around 1960 that prominent
people from the art world, including Robert Motherwell,
Richard Bellamy and others, attempted unsuccessfully to get
Kilstrom released from the hospital. At the urging of Pat
Passlof, the Tanager Gallery in New York agreed to sponsor a
one man show of Kilstrom's works and the success of this
show aided in achieving his release. The gallery was not
told that Kilstrom was residing in a psychiatric hospital.
Purchasers of Kilstrom's work at this show included Tom
Hess, editor of ArtNews Magazine. The Tanager show of his
work was a near sellout, and favorably reviewed, so Joy
Soeda Kilstrom showed Xerox copies of the receipts and
reviews from this show to the director of the hospital
where Kilstrom was detained. This convinced him to
immediately release Kilstrom. Subsequently, Kilstrom had
many successful one man and group shows.
Work as an artist
"The Attack on Marshall Gilbert", Kenneth Kilstrom, 9
15/16" x 17 11/16", intaglio, color, with engraving,
aquatint and offset
(Courtesy, Harvard Art Museums)
Kilstrom's initial success was as a print maker. Kilstrom joined Stanley Hayter's Atelier 17 in New York City in 1947, which was reportedly in close proximity to his apartment. One researcher has speculated that the painting below depicts this apartment during this time. While working at Hayter's Atelier in 1948, Kilstrom is mentioned in The Grove Encyclopedia of Materials and Techniques in Art by Gerald W. R.Ward (2008) as possibly the first artist to add real world photographic imagery onto an intaglio printing plate as an element in a composition, in his work "The Attack on Marshall Gilbert". This print is currently in the collection of the Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum. Kilstrom had early success as a print-maker and won awards and prizes for his prints, including a purchase award from the Museum of Modern Art. Sally Midgette Anderson noted that he was known as a "star" in the world of print artists at the time when he won a first prize from the Philadelphia Print Club. Kilstrom was almost certainly exposed to a new movement in painting called the New York School, or Abstract Expressionism, when he moved to New York. He is said to have attended Robert Motherwell's "Subjects of the Artist" discussions and been very interested in this style, which is reflected in his printmaking. Kilstrom's close association with Milton Resnick, who is well known for painting in the Abstract Impressionist style, also seems to have influenced Kilstrom's work as much of his work appears to be in that style.
unnamed, Kenneth Kilstrom, 16" x 20", oil on board (possibly Kilstrom's apartment)
Kilstrom exhibited at the
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1948, the Renaissance
Society at the University of Chicago in 1949, the Tanager
Gallery in New York City in 1961, the Zabriskie Gallery in
New York in 1963, 1964 and 1966, at the Fishbach Gallery
1964-1967 and at the Roswell Museum in 1971. According to a
history of the program, he was accepted into the Roswell
Artist in Residence program in 1970-1971. This history also
noted that he was friends with abstract expressionists
Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof, who were also members of the
program, and also from New York. Pat Passlof and Milton
Resnick recommended Kilstrom for the program. At various
times the Kilstroms and Passlof and Resnick were neighbors
in various apartment buildings that were favored by New York
School artists in Manhattan. According to the 22 September
1975 issue of the Village Voice,
Kilstrom's work was among that exhibited at the MOMA as part
of the "76 Jefferson Streeters Show". This show was
comprised of the work of 17 well known artists who had
resided at 76 Jefferson St., NYC over a period of about 20
years. The building was a widely known as a residence of
poor artists and musicians. Kilstrom was living there at the
time of the MOMA exhibition. The article notes that the
building was "a microcosm of the New York art scene".
Kilstrom's work is included in the collections of the Smithsonian Institutionís Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, the University of Missouri Museum of Art and Archaeology, the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art, the Roswell Museum and Art Center, Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sao Paolo, Brazil and the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Kilstrom is mentioned in various art magazines in the 1960s including the New Yorker, Arts Magazine, The Art Gallery, Art International and Studio International. The following excerpt is from The Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program: an anecdotal history by Ann McGarrell and Sally Midgette Anderson:
The last mention of Kilstrom's work as an artist found to date was in Arts Magazine: Volume 51, Issues 6-10, 1977. Kilstrom is also mentioned in Ten Years of American Prints 1947-1956 by Una E. Johnson, Out of the Picture: Milton Resnick and the New York School by Dorfman and Davenports Art Reference and Price Guide.
Identifying the work of Kenneth Kilstrom is typically very straightforward due to is distinctive style and uncommon surname. He typically signed his work "Kilstrom" or "Kenneth Kilstrom" in block letters or cursive. This was not always the case, though. There has been some doubt cast on the claim that a lot of paintings offered on ebay starting about 2009, bearing the "HKK" monogram, were the work of Kilstrom, since he also, perhaps more commonly, signed "Kilstrom" or "Kenneth Kilstrom". When this question was raised with the seller of these works, the seller supplied the following response:
An attempt is being made to verify
this sale with the city of New York.
unnamed, Kenneth Kilstrom,
16" x 20", oil on board
Subsequent conversations with the
seller revealed that the art professor was a noted African
American abstract artist, as well, Marvin Prentiss Brown
(1943 - ). Attempts to contact Mr. Brown have been
unsuccessful, so far.
At least one of the paintings from this lot, a seascape, bears the "HKK" monogram on front and is also signed "Kenneth Kilstrom" verso. It is possible that these are early works by Kilstrom, created before he dropped his first name, possibly from the late 1940s or early 1950s. It may be that Kilstrom used a monogram during the period that he was achieving success as a print maker, in order to not shift the awareness of his work from printmaking to his painting. This may help to date his monogrammed works to the late 1940s and early 1950s. There is a strong resemblance between some of these monogrammed works and works signed by Kilstrom in the 1960s, particularly his figurative work.
Kilstrom seascape, verso
Examples of Kilstrom's monogram
Joy Soeda Kilstrom
Joy Kilstrom was born on 2 July 1915
and died on 16 November 1988 in New York City, according to
the Social Security Death Index. Joy's Social Security
Number was issued in Illinois, so Kenneth and Joy may have
married there. It seems possible that Kilstrom and Soeda met
at one of the institutions where Kilstrom studied.
Joy has not been identified in the 1920 or 1930 Hawaii censuses. Yokichi and Kame Shoeda and son Takeo appear in the 1910 Paalaa Uka, Honolulu census. No Soedas appear in the 1920 Hawaii census, though there are several Soundex spelling variants that do appear in the census. There is one family of Soedas in the 1930 census of Hawaii, headed by Yokichi and Kame Soeda, but no female that fits Joy's age is reported. The census lists Takiyo, Kenzo, Yoshio and Tashio as sons of Yokichi and Kame Soeda. This couple has not been located in the 1920 census, but the birth dates of their children and other information indicates they were in Hawaii by 1907. It is possible that her birth name was not Joy, or that she may have been in Japan, as indicated in other records, during the 1920 and 1930 censuses.
Joy is listed in the 1937 and 1938 Honolulu City directories as a teacher at the Castle Free Memorial Kindergarten. Takeo Soeda, manager at the Soeda Garage and Kenzo a mechanic at the garage are listed in the same directory, as well. Also listed are Raymond T. and Yokichi. All of these Soedas, excepting Joy, are listed as residents of Heeia, a Honolulu neighborhood. Yokichi Soeda and wife Kame left Hawaii for Japan in 1939, according to passenger lists. Whether this was a relocation or vacation is not noted, but it was noted their last arrival in Hawaii was on 26 March 1907, so it seems likely this was vacation. A Yoshika Soeda the right age to be Joy arrived in Los Angeles from Honolulu on 14 June 1940.
Joy Soeda was interred as part of the Manzanar Relocation Project in 1942, during WWII, while living in Los Angeles. The brief record of her internment contains some interesting information about her. She had attended one year of college, had received a teaching certificate and taught in kindergarten and primary schools. She is mentioned in a history of the Manzanar camp as a teacher and also instructor of new teachers. She had lived in Japan for a period of one to five years before the age of 19, and spoke, but did not read or write Japanese.
Kenneth and Joy are listed as Kenneth Kilstrom and Joy Soeda at the same address in the 1957 Manhattan city directory. Joy Soeda was still at the same address in 1959 but Kenneth was not listed. This may indicate that they did not marry until later, or that Joy continued to use her maiden name after their marriage. Joy Kilstrom received credit as the costume designer for the 1961 short film "The Sin of Christ", according to the Internet Movie Database. She is recorded as Joy Kilstrom in the Social Security Death Index.
Other works by Kenneth Kilstrom
From the collection of William Gary Lopez
Kilstrom's 1971 show at the Roswell Art Museum included more than thirty paintings. Only half a dozen images were included in the brochure for this show, though. The text of the brochure:
The paintings of Kenneth
Kilstrom are displayed at the Museum in celebration of the
artist-in-residence grant. The more than thirty canvases are
testament to nine months of intense and joyous creativity.
The images and subjects of these canvases are the pious
reflection of the artist's daily life in New Mexico. Yet
they are more that emotional expressions of encounter
between artist and canvas. Manifest is the transcendental
presence evident in art where the artistic integrity has
evoked truth and harmony. The delicate anxiety of line and
form as well as the strongly abstract resolution of form and
space are reminiscent of Early Christian painting. Indeed,
the almost fervid stillness in The Nude and Woman with Hat and Angel suggest this
awareness of an eternal moment of salvation similar to that
of the British painters of the Middle Ages.
The compositions vary from
portraits and single figures to multifigured groups.
Sometimes the figures are with hats or nimbus; but always
with dark bands of hair framing the faces.
The visitor to this exhibition
will find it a peaceful experience.
From the collection of the Anderson Museum of
This painting is on permanent display at the Museum.
Some images from the Internet, part of the HKK ebay
Kilstrom prints from the Indianapolis
Museum of Art:
"Polymorphic Pianos", Kenneth Kilstrom, etching, 1947
"Cock at the wake", Kenneth Kilstrom, color etching
and engraving, 1947
"Percussion Head", Kenneth Kilstrom, color etching and
engraving, ca 1949
"Piano music by Evan Evissen", Kenneth Kilstrom,
etching and engraving with aquatint, 1947