Michael Kelly (1887-1984)
Before going abroad Kelly was invited to spend the summer at the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation in Long Island. Kelly lived, worked and studied there, and the legendary Tiffany offered valuable criticism and advice. Tiffany urged Kelly to study nature in all its forms, colors and shapes to better understand the mystery of design. In the fall of 1921 Kelly left for Europe, embarking on an extensive survey of museums, galleries, historical landmarks, church art and architecture, and modern art exhibits. He studied in Paris, Florence and Rome.
Refreshed by these enriching experiences, Kelly returned to his work as studio assistant to Prix de Rome artist Ezra Winters. Kelly remained an assistant to Winters and others from 1922 through 1939, working on design projects for the Cunard Building in New York City, the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, the United States Chamber of Commerce Building in Washington D.C, and the 1939 New York World’s Fair, among others. During this time he completed his own drawings and paintings that reflected life in the Depression Era. One of Kelly’s own designs reached the finals in a contest sponsored by the 1939 World’s Fair.
Perhaps the most significant flowering of Kelly’s talent as a major artist came about during his Gloucester, Massachusetts period from 1939-1941. Kelly was a fascinated and truthful observer of the waterfront area, and his paintings captured the essence of this part of Americana. In these pictures of fishermen and townspeople involved in their everyday life, Kelly perfected the style that would become the hallmark of his career.
In 1950 Kelly and his wife Rosa came to Cold Spring, NY and opened their antique shop at 72 Main Street. For the next quarter of a century Kelly painted a record of the life, land, and architecture of the lower mid-Hudson Valley area in and around Cold Spring. He was a familiar figure around town, and in 1977 the Putnam County Historical Society honored Kelly for “his years of dedication and service to the Society and to the community.”
Later in his life Kelly began to express political sentiment in his paintings. Depression Era themes of home, farm, workers and architecture are fused together with expressions of a changing world. The Statue of Liberty, Kennedy, Castro, and Khrushchev interact with historical figures, angels, and the devil. The more “modern” lighting, angulation, and subject of these paintings demonstrate Kelly’s continued scope and growth as an artist. Michael Kelly died in Cold Spring, NY in 1984.
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