artworldTributes
Sunday, April 17th, 2011

“A Clear-Eyed Working Sculptor”: Nathaniel Kaz, 1917-2010


Nathaniel Kaz passed away December 13 at the age of 93.  Kaz was a renowned sculptor, a founder member of the Sculptors Guild and a National Academician.  He was an inveterate advocate of direct carving and traditional bronze casting, a denizen of Pietrasanta and an inspiring teacher. This tribute by MARY ELLEN SCHERL, President of the Sculptors Guild, was read in her absence at the memorial service to Kaz on December 29, 2010 and draws on words also written for the occasion by sculptor RICHARD HEINRICH.

Nathaniel Kaz marble carving Mother Earth, 1935; right, Kaz in 1997 with the same work in the  Metropolitan Museum of Art's display, The Human Figure in Transition, 1900-1945.  Photographs Courtesy of the Artist

Nathaniel Kaz marble carving Mother Earth, 1935; right, Kaz in 1997 with the same work in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's display, The Human Figure in Transition, 1900-1945. Photographs Courtesy of the Artist

In 1937 a small group of sculptors banded together to create the Sculptors Guild.

Chaim Gross –the first president, Paul Manship, Jose de Creft, Herbert Ferber,  William Zorach,  Jose De Rivera,  and the youngest member, 30-year-old Nathaniel Kaz, were at the forefront of American Modernism.

The mission of the Guild, then and now, is to promote, encourage and serve as an advocate for sculpture and to make contemporary sculpture a relevant part of the cultural experience.

Ahead of their time and perhaps unwittingly defining “alternative space”, their first exhibition in 1938 was installed in an empty parking lot on Park Avenue.

Rejecting the traditional, their aesthetic shift greatly impacted the international art scene after WW2, bringing American Art to prominence.

Nathaniel was the last surviving founding member. As recently as 7 years ago he attended and spoke at a Sculptors Guild Annual Meeting. Memorably, it was my first Annual Meeting and it was held at the home and studio of Richard Heinrich. Richard and Nathaniel had the opportunity to spend some quiet time together. Moved by the encounter, Richard shares these words…

Nathanial Kaz spent several hours in my studio during the reception. I spoke with him at great length as we sat having a couple of glasses of wine.

He left an indelible impression on me, as a sculptor who was there at the dawn of organizing the Guild. He was a strong proponent of the need for artists to have an independent voice.

His recollections of the early days and the sculptors who were members of the Guild were lucid and charmingly amusing.

His mind was sharp and I felt his still evident power and encouragement to keep working and helping each other have success.

He was a grand “mensch” and he will always be an inspiration of what it meant and means to be a clear-eyed working sculptor.”


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5 Responses to “A Clear-Eyed Working Sculptor”: Nathaniel Kaz, 1917-2010

  1. naomi gaskin says:

    I do appreciate this tribute to my father Nathaniel Kaz.

    • Knoxann Armijo says:

      Your Father was quite amazing. You are hopefully blessed to have some of his work. He was a friend to me and was very kind.

  2. JEAN SIEGEL says:

    I HAVE ONE OF THE SMALL HEAD PIECES IN BRONZE. HE MUST HAVE KNOWN MY MOM, PERHAPS FROM THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO.MOM PASSED AWAY AT AGE 81 IN 2008. I ASSUME HE ATTENDED THERE? I BELIEVE THE HEAD PIECE WAS MADE IN 1945.

    JEAN ( KWESKIN ) SIEGEL

  3. Sara Dustin says:

    I have recently come into possession of a most skillful and evocative etching titled “The Beauty and the Beast plus Me,” signed in the plate “Kaz 77/ Retrasatra Italy.” the “77″ surmounted by a star like figure. The major subject matter is an elongated, highly civilized but extraordinarily well hung nude man wearing glasses,reaching up on tip toe with his left hand to support the arm of a beautiful, full breasted nude women floating above while attempting to fend off a furry, pan-like demon, also floating above him, with his right. The demon has his right arm wrapped around the beautiful young woman and is squeezing her right nipple, apparently much to her pleasure. All this is taking place against a background which appears to be a reference to the 19th century French painting, “The Gleaners”—-except that far across the wheat fields on the horizon the low lying French village with the spire of the village church has been replace by an Italian hill town surrounded by the ruins of Roman aqueducts. Under the etching, in what I take to be the artist’s own hand writing, is the letters AP (artist’s proof?) the title, a dedication “to my dear new friend Micheal Irwin Rosen on his birthday/ May 9th, 1965″ and a second hand-written “Kaz 77″ signature.

    My question—does anyone know if this is a study for one of Nathaniel Kaz’s sculptures, or an independent work, or not his at all? And who is Micheal Irwin Rosen? The piece has produced long enjoyable conversations on its meaning for me and my friends.

    • Knoxann Armijo says:

      You question of Beauty and the Beast. I have a photograph of this work that was in Kaz’ apartment in NYC and taken by my friend, Nomi Ziv. It is a wonderful bronze, quite a nice size and very very very much Kaz. It is his signature, his way of making his art. You know it is his when you see his work. I knew Kaz, he played violin for me over the telephone, and I was a guest in his home in Pietra Santa in Italy for a few weeks. He was a character, his studio was wonderful as was his home. I do not know where the piece Beauty and The Beast is, but can ask my friend, Nomi who might know.

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