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Art History



  In the spring of 1939, Charles Kessler was completing his third year at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts when he was informed that he would need two more years to graduate. After an illness in his first year, he had fallen behind and had failed a year of French and another of German. He recalled that in those days Andover offered little art instruction, his chosen field. Bartlett Hayes, who was in charge of art at Andover, suggested he apply to Black Mountain College.

Charles enrolled at Black Mountain in the fall of 1939 and remained for a year. He studied English with Kenneth Kurtz, drawing with Josef Albers, history with Walter Barnes, and calculus with Charles Lindsley. He sang in the chorus directed by Heinrich Jalowetz and had a minor part in a production of Macbeth. He described Josef Albers’s course as “a useful kind of hand and eye discipline” in which personal expression was not encouraged.

Charles recalled Lee Hall’s large portico and the “beautiful view out across the valley,” as well as walks up the mountain behind Lee Hall and hikes down to the village of Black Mountain. On one occasion he joined the crew that shoveled coal from a railroad car in the village onto the college truck, an honored tradition at the college.
Charles Kessler left Black Mountain at the end of his first year when his roommate Dick Andrews suggested that they take an apartment in New York in order to study at the Hans Hofmann School in Greenwich Village. Robert de Niro, who had studied with Hofmann before enrolling at Black Mountain, had “not hit it off with Albers” and told his fellow students about Hofmann. In New York, when they discovered that the Hofmann School was not taking additional students for the fall term, they enrolled instead in Vaclav Vytlacil’s painting class at the Art Students League. Charles later studied at the Phillips Gallery School in Washington, D.C. and with Hofmann in the summer of 1941 at his Provincetown school.

After serving in the U.S. Air Force from 1942-46, Kessler completed his undergraduate study in art history at the New School for Social Research in New York. He then enrolled at Columbia University in the Department of Art and Archeology. He completed his Ph.D. there under Meyer Schapiro. His dissertation on Max Beckman was published as Max Beckmann’s Triptychs (Belknap Press, Harvard, 1970).

In 1983 Kessler retired from teaching art history at the State University of New York at New Paltz. He has written for the Magazine of Art, Arts Magazine and other journals. He presently lives in New Paltz, New York. His daugther Joan C. Kessler is author of Demons of the Night (University of Chicago Press) and Night Shadows: Twentieth-Century Stories of the Uncanny (David R. Godine).
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