SPENCERTOWN–Artist Ellsworth Kelly, described by National Public Radio as “a universally recognized master of contemporary art,” died today at his home here Sunday, December 27. He was 92.
The New York Times, which ran an obituary of Mr. Kelly on the front page of the December 28 print edition, reported that New York City gallery owner Matthew Marks, who represents Mr. Kelly’s works released the news of his death.
Mr. Kelly moved to Spencertown in 1970 and rented a second-floor space on Main Street in Chatham, where he painted 14 works in a year’s time–each consisting or two rectangular canvases that formed an “L” shape. The paintings are known as the Chatham Series. The paintings are a small part of Mr. Kelly’s many paintings and sculptures in a career that began in the 1940s and continued until the time of his death. His work appears in major museums and galleries as well as private collections around the world.
In addition to his stature as an abstract artist whose bright colors on geometrical shapes has had a profound influence on artists and art movements for decades, Mr. Kelly was known locally for his philanthropy, including matching grant programs through the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation that promote arts education in all the public school districts in Columbia County.
The Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation (BTCF) issued a statement following the announcement of Mr. Kelly’s death, expressing sadness at his passing and gratitude for the partnership between BTCF and Mr. Kelly and his foundation “to create permanent sources of support for arts and humanities programming for the 7,800 students in Columbia County’s public schools. In the last 15 years, the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation has contributed nearly $2 million to six Berkshire Taconic education enrichment funds that enhance teaching and learning through hand-on projects in theater, literature, music, fine arts, history and more.”
The BTCF statement went on to say, “Encouraged by a public school teacher to pursue his passion for art, Ellsworth Kelly in turn has helped inspire hundreds of local students through life-changing experiences that might otherwise be out of reach. This tremendous legacy of generosity will continue for decades to come and transform the lives of young people in Columbia County.”
He also helped support many other local cultural and civic projects in the county. Peter Paden, executive director of the Columbia Land Conservancy, said this week that Mr. Kelly had been very generous in his support for local land conservancy projects and his support made it possible a decade ago for the conservancy to acquire and open to the public two or three new conservation areas. The areas include High Falls in Philmont and Drowned Lands in Ancram.
“Ellsworth had a deep love for this area,” Mr. Paden said, who described Mr. Kelly as a “terrific supporter” of the conservancy and “a real conservationist.”
Another of the community projects that benefited from his generosity was the purchase of the Crandell Theatre in Chatham by the non-profit Chatham Film Club and the restoration and technical upgrade of the historic Main Street movie theater. Fred Ulrich, president of the film club board, said in a statement last week, “Ellsworth Kelly was extremely supportive of the arts in Columbia County. His foundation has been instrumental in helping The Chatham Film Club purchase and renovate the Crandell Theatre and we’ll be forever grateful for his generosity.”
Mr. Kelly was born in Newburgh in 1923. He served in the army during World War II and briefly visited Paris as a soldier. A few years after the war he returned to Paris and studied art there, meeting some of the major artists of the 20th century, according to his obituary in The New York Times. He returned to the U.S. in the 1950s and found a studio in lower Manhattan. But he eventually relocated to Spencertown, where he had a home and studio.
He is survived by his husband, Jack Shear.
(A shorter version of this story appeared on www.columbiapaper.com December 27.)