Oral history interview with Reed Kay, 1995 December 22-1996 October 4
Kay, Reed, 1925-
Brown, Robert F.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. School
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. School
Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.School
Place of publication, production, or execution:
Transcript: 232 pages
Originally recorded on 9 sound cassettes. Reformated in 2010 as 17 digital wav files. Duration is 12 hrs., 56 min.
An interview of Reed Kay conducted 1995 December 22-1996 October 4, by Robert F. Brown, for the Archives of American Art over seven sessions, in Kay's home, in Brookline, Massachusetts.
The cassettes are accompanied by 54 color slides of Kay's artwork executed between 1941 and 1993, including sketches, watercolors, and paintings.
Kay talks about his childhood in an immigrant Jewish community in Boston and the great encouragement he received from teachers and librarians; his entry into the difficult Boston Latin School at age 11; and his early entry into the art classes at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Kay continues discussion about the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston School; life-long friendships there with Jason Berger, Jack Kramer, and David Aronson; and instructors, including Karl Zerbe, head of painting.
Kay talks about his service in World War II; completion of education at MFA School; his marriage in 1946; his first teaching position at the MFA School's summer sessions under Mitchell Siporin and Leonard Baskin in 1948 and Oskar Kokoschka in 1949. He discusses Kokoschka and Zerbe as teachers and colleagues; and his travelling fellowship to Paris, Italy, and Spain, 1949-1950.
Kay continues his discussion of Karl Zerbe as a teacher; talks about the difficulty of beginning a painting career and teaching, especially in a university as Kay did from 1956 until 1989; and about various teaching colleagues at the MFA School.
Kay talks about the superb teaching of anatomy by Ture Bengtz and of perspective by Peter Dubaniewicz at MFA School in the early 1940s; on the precocious abilities of upperclassmen such as Conger Metcalf and John Wilson, and the stimulation their accomplishment gave Kay; on his work, from student drawings to his cityscape paintings of the late 1950s, which he continues to make, abandoning figural, narrative, and studio subjects.
Teaching materials and methods of painting at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (summers of 1952 and 1954-1960) and the high quality of instruction and students and his decision to leave; the pluses and minuses of teaching and the toll it took on his own work; his long tenure at the School of Visual Arts, Boston University (1956-1989).
On his writings, principally, "The Painter's Companion: a Basic Guide to Studio Methods and Material," (1961) [revised editions, titled, "Painter's Guide," (1972, 1983)], which was an outgrowth of the emphasis put on craftsmanship, permanence, and mastery of media at MFA School under Karl Zerbe; on his growing concern, expressed in writings and lectures, with the toxicity of some modern artists' materials; and his relationship with art conservators. He discusses his work, from 1959 into the early 1990s while viewing slides.
Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Reed Kay, 1995 December 22-1996 October 4. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Funding for the digital preservation of this interview was provided by a grant from the Save America's Treasures Program of the National Park Service.
Reed Kay (1925- ) is a painter and teacher from Brookline, Massachusetts.
This interview is part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and administrators.
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 750 9th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001