An interview of Kiff Slemmons conducted 2007 November 1-2, by Mija Riedel, for the Archives of American Art's Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America, at Slemmons' home and studio in Chicago, Illinois.
Slemmons speaks of her childhood growing up in a small town in Iowa; helping her mother in the town pharmacy; working the printing press with her dad, who published the town newspaper; taking art lessons in grade school; learning to play the piano; attending one year at Scripps College before living for a year in Paris; attending the University of Iowa majoring in French; taking basic art classes her senior year; a spring trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, with her future husband Rod; financing the trip by selling 150 pairs of earrings at the student art fair; visiting Monte Alban and being inspired by the ancient jewelry in Tomb 7; moving to Washington state; meeting Ella Steffins and doing jewelry repair work; a strong feeling of the maker's presence in work she repairs; the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi; imperfection as an attractive quality; the conscious decision made from jewelry making to art making, based more in ideas and concepts as opposed to simple decoration; series Hands of Heros, Figures of Speech; the importance of exhibiting her work as it would be seen worn as opposed to in cases under glass; the development of her breastplate pieces; the Top 10 Ethnic Hits; the layering of many meanings as well as materials in her work; her respect for the brevity of poetry and love of Emily Dickinson's work; the restraint of poetry in leaving things unsaid and her struggle to capture that essence; series Re:Pair and Imperfection coming out of her move to Chicago and the developing Iraq War; her workbench as an ever-changing sketchbook full of chaos, tension, and conversation; working with Francisco Toledo and the city of Oaxaca in developing paper jewelry; her travels to India, Africa, Mexico, and Japan; her piece Insectopedia and the great interest shown in it by entomologists; and her desire to send her work out in the world where it is seen and enjoyed. Slemmons also recalls Ramona Solberg, David LaPlantz, Leo Adams, Esther Knobel, Lloyd Herman, Dominic DiMare, Walter Benjamin, Hannah Hoch, Annette Messager, Virginia Holshuh, and others.
Biographical / Historical:
Kiff Slemmons (1944- ) is a metal artist from Chicago, Illinois. Interviewer Mija Riedel is a curator and writer from San Francisco, California.
Originally recorded on 4 sound discs. Reformatted in 2010 as 13 digital wav files. Duration is 7 hr., 19 min.
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.
Metal-workers -- Illinois -- Chicago -- Interviews Search this
Jewelry makers -- Illinois -- Chicago -- Interviews Search this
Kurtz, Charles M. (Charles McMeen), 1855-1909 Search this
Scope and Contents note:
Charles M. Kurtz had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances that often overlapped his personal friends and professional colleagues with his career activities. Certain individuals whose names may not be particularly well known, such as the artists, D.F. Hasbrouck, William Morgan and Patty Thum, for example, were both personal and professional friends. Their letters, often seeking Kurtz's help, are informative about their own and Kurtz's careers. Kurtz's close friends, the Starkweathers, his own relatives, and his wife's family, the Stephensons, were particularly interested in Kurtz's professional activities and also kept him informed. His sister, Emily "Clootie" Kurtz, for example, also studied art in New York under H. Siddons Mowbray and her letters, especially those written while she was in Europe in 1891, occasionally commented on the art world of the day. His father, D.B. Kurtz, an important attorney for railroad and banking concerns in western Pennsylvania, details many of his legal activities in his letters to his son. His letters have been highlighted because of his own prominence and their references to his son's collecting activities, for which he often advanced funds. There is also the occasional letter from the distinguished New York photographer, William Kurtz, who was not related to Charles M. Kurtz. His letters have been indicated by the inclusion of his first name so as to distinguish him from the Kurtz family.
Many of the names noted in the description of Kurtz's personal and professional correspondence represent individuals of interest to art historians and those studying American social history. Although some merely record a brief professional contact with Kurtz (e.g. Stanford White sending regrets), they do place the individual at a certain place in time. Several correspondents who contacted Kurtz throughout his career solely on behalf of personal concerns (e.g. his college fraternity) have not been noted. In the case of a letter written on behalf of a well known individual or organization by someone whose name may not be immediately recognizable, the appropriate identification has been indicated in brackets the first time it appears, e.g. James Grant [for John Wanamaker].
The correspondence between Kurtz and his wife is among the richest in the collection and most interesting for its descriptive commentaries on late 19th century life. Consequently the most successful method of using the Kurtz papers is for the researcher to identify a date and/or event for which information is needed (e.g. the blizzard of 1888) and then read their correspondence for that period. Another approach for arriving at useful information (e.g. a description of the Baltimore collector, Benjamin Walters' house) is to consult the chronology and ascertain Kurtz's itinerary during a given period. He invariablycomments on notable people, places and the ambiance in the cities that he visited while managing various expositions and exhibitions. Gaps in the correspondence between husband and wife usually correspond to periods when they were living or travelling together.
Many letters are illustrated (see Index), usually by Kurtz himself. The majority of these are to his wife. Some may be difficult to decipher because a fire scorched some of the letters while they were in the possession of the Kurtz family.
Reel 4805 contains letters, primarily from artists and art committee members; concerning loans for the Southern Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky (Aug.16-Oct.25, 1884) and related details. Frequent correspondence to and from Charles Kurtz to his fiancée Julia Stephenson is regularly interspersed beginning in September, 1884. Many of the letters from E. Wood Perry refer to the Art Union; others from Kurtz refer to the Art Association.
See Appendix for a list of illustrated letters in Series 2.
Appendix: List of Illustrated Letters in Series 2:
American Art Association galleries with Dutch fireplace: AAA 4805 (1345) letter from CMK to Julia Stephenson, Dec. 17, 1884 by CMK, with extensive description of galleries at Six East Twenty-third Street (Madison Square South, entrance on B'way).
Portrait of Charles M. Kurtz, 1884 by Julia Stephenson: AAA 4805 (1409) end of year note with illustration
Self-Portrait (caricature) of Charles M. Kurtz, undated, as signature on brief letter to Julia W. Kurtz: AAA 4804 (394)
Holiday banner of cherubs on 1884 letter by Julia S. to CMK: AAA 4805 (1414)
Anonymous portrait, pencil sketch, circa 1877: AAA 4804 (753)
Pencil drawing of train "The Next Station is New Castle:" AAA 4804 (783)
Floor plan of Detroit house of Col. Crowell: AAA 4804 (1152) (Col Crowell was brother-in-law of a Mr. Elwood of the Wayne Co. National Bank. Kurtz says he "lives in probably the finest house in Detroit. I never saw more elegant or more beautiful furnishing. It is really finer than that in the Power's establishment in Rochester! 3 page description follows of the furnishings: carved woodwork, stained glass etc. also mentions he went to see "an artist named Melchers with Bacher")
Pencil sketch by Julia Stephenson of herself "pulling" CMK's wiskers: AAA 4804 (1235), November 23, 1883 letter, page 9
Post card sketch "The Boy That Did As He Pleased," Dec. 1883 by CMK to Julia Stephenson, sketch of cow & boy in meadow: AAA 4804 (1238)
Caricature of CMK by himself as signature on letter to Julia Stephenson, Dec. 2, 1883 letter: AAA 4804 (1253)
Double Self Portrait of Julia Stephenson as a "coquette," Dec. 9, 1883 letter to CMK: AAA 4804 (1254)
Upraised hand of truth from CMK to Julia Stephenson, Dec. 1883: AAA 4804 (1264)
Logo designs on back of envelope, with upraised hand, & "North Gallery" with palettee, 1885: AAA 4806 (81)st
Pencil sketch (finished drawing) of child sitting under tree with calligraphic date "June second, 1885" [a copy of Mrs. Loop's picture in my "81 book" of Mrs. Loop's daughter] see letter, June 14, 1885 AAA 4806 (634): AAA 4806 (623)
Monogram designed for pin given as gift for bridesmaids at wedding of CMK & Julia Stephenson: AAA 4806 (1039)
Sketch of a painting by unidentified artist acquired by CMK in letter to JSK, June 11, 1886: AAA 4807 (401)
Sketch of Victorian era townhouse: AAA 4822 628
Street in Bologna, Italy: AAA 4822 (1083)
Poem circa March, 1897 with self-portrait caricature: AAA 4823 (240)
Maps: Massachusetts, Boston, & handwritten, of Mt. Vernon St. in letter from CMK to JSK, July 8, 1887: AAA 4808 (480)
Floor plan of Kurtz's room at 123 E. 23rd: AAA 4808 (1211)
Self-portrait for his daughter, July 26, 1888: AAA 4809 (279)
Street map of section of New Orleans, Jan. 1889: AAA 4809 (986)
Floor plan, Washington Artillery bldg., New Orleans (Muncky. exh), Jan. 26, 1889: AAA 4809 1014)
Marine sketch by J. C. Nicoll, March 28, 1889: AAA 4809 (1250)
Sketch of building and floor plan of St. Louis Museum by Halsey C. Ives, June 7, 1889: AAA 4809 (1484)
Sketch by Charles M. Kurtz of curtain valence, June 12, 1889: AAA 4809 (1505)
Sketch by Charles M. Kurtz of General di Cesnola's [director, Metropolitan Museum of Art] country house in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., August 5, 1889: AAA 4810 (195)
Small, self-portrait sketch by Charles M. Kurtz at end of letter to his daughter, Nov. 17, 1891: AAA 4811 (238)
Small, self-portrait sketch by Charles M. Kurtz at end of letter to his daughter, Nov. 27, 1891: AAA 4811 (308)
Sketch of arrangement of pictures for exhibition by Henry Ward Ranger in letter to Charles M. Kurtz from Ranger, December 8, 1891: AAA 4811 (381)
Sketch of holder for Christmas candles by Charles M. Kurtz, December 16, 1891: AAA 4811 (429)
Print (?) as invitation for exhibition of work by J.H. Dolph and Hamilton Hamilton, January, 1892: AAA 4811 (614)
Child's watercolor drawings by Elizabeth Kurtz, February 4, 1892: AAA 4811 (743-745)
Child's drawings by Elizabeth Kurtz, May 12, 1892: AAA 4811 (1195-6)
Sketch illustrating decorations worn on official European uniforms at dinner for 1893 Fair, May 5, 1893: AAA 4812 (1306),
Thumb nail sketch of painting by Will H. Low, "a female tying the Sandals of Love" by Charles Ward Rhodes, June 19, 1893: AAA 4812 (1453)
Sketch of proposed picture frame by Charles Ward Rhodes, August 23, 1893: AAA 4813 (205)
Installation diagram of St. Louis Exposition [annual regional fair] by Charles Ward Rhodes, Sept. 8, 1893: AAA 4813 (247-248)
Sketch of painting by Gagneau by Charles Ward Rhodes, exhibited at the St. Louis Exposition, October 5, 1893: AAA 4813 (308)
Sketch of Charles M. Kurtz's college fraternity pin, February 2, 1894: AAA 4813, (623)
Diagram of arrangement of seating for table on board ship by Charles M. Kurtz, March 10, 1894: AAA 4813 (738)
Diagram of boats on sea and pig-skin water cask by Charles M. Kurtz, March 18, 1894: AAA 4813 (818)
Diagram of gallery for St. Louis Exposiion by Charles Ward Rhodes, April 27, 1894: AAA 4813 (938)
Floor plan of vestibule exhibition area of St. Louis Museum by Charles Ward Rhodes, May 17, 1894: AAA 4813 (1022)
Floor plan of galleries for St. Louis exhibition with measurements by Charles Ward Rhodes, August 13, 1894: AAA 4813 1246
Thumbnail sketch of beer drinker by Botto, October 1, 1894: AAA 4814 (5)
Sketch of fur wrap by Charles M. Kurtz, June, 16, 1895: AAA 4814 (574)
Diagram for hanging America pictures at St. Louis Exposition, 1899 by Charles Ward Rhodes: AAA 4816 (901)
Floor plan by Charles Ward Rhodes for Second Annual Exhibition of the Architectural Club of St. Louis, April 11, 1900: AAA 4816 (1152)
Floor plan and elevation sketch by Halsey C. Ives of his country house: AAA 4816 (1354-55)
Thumbnail sketch of sailboat at sea by Frederick E. Bartlett, January 23, 1901: AAA 4817 (36)
Valentine from Julia Wilder Kurtz to Charles M. Kurtz, February 13, 1902: AAA 4817 (619)
Illustrated letter: sketch of toddler [Isabella S. Kurtz] by Julia Wilder Kurtz, March 3, 1902: AAA 4817 (661)
Thank you note from Julia Wilder Kurtz to Charles M. Kurtz illustrated with ink drawing of bunny, February 16, 1902: AAA 4817 (1076)
Self-portrait caricature as signature by Charles M. Kurtz June 10, 1903, June 15, 1903, June 16, 1903: AAA 4817 (1208), (1217), (1221)
Self-portrait caricature with hat as signature by Charles M. Kurtz, June 28, 1903: AAA 4817 (1237)
Self-portrait caricature as signature by Charles M. Kurtz November 14, 1903: AAA 4817 (1307)
Sketch of retriever dog by Dudlee, Dec. 19, 1904: AAA 4818 (182)
Sketch of Bulgarian Order of Merit Cross awarded to Charles M. Kurtz by himself enclosed in March 3, 1905 letter: AAA 4818 (305)
The collection is open for research. Patrons must use microfilm copy.
Glasgow painting diary, Microfilm reel 4912: Authorization to publish, quote, or reproduce requires written permission from Yale Center for British Art. Contact Reference Services for more information.
Charles M. Kurtz papers, 1843-1990 (bulk 1884-1909). Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Glass plate negatives in this collection were digitized in 2019 with funding provided by the Smithsonian Women's Committee.