Stand in front of Maude Kerns' Composition #22, Sharpness at the Portland Art Museum and you'll be transported into another world. At least I am. Those horizontal bands of blue merge seamlessly from light pale through cerulean to aqua. The triangles of blue and green focus me to a location where I can step through and enter a realm of oneness with the universe. Many of Maude Kerns paintings are like this. Even though she was a "non-objective" artist in the 40's and 50's, her work carries a level of spirituality that reflects her studies of Wassily Kandinsky art-as-spiritual expression philosophy.
It's fitting that we have included Maude Kerns here at Fifty Two Pieces. Our focus each week is a piece of art at the Portland Art Museum and Maude Kerns was born here in Portland in 1876. Her pioneer parents must have been forward thinking since they sent her to the Universtity of Oregon after she had graduated from high school. She continued her studies at the California School of Fine Arts and later Columbia University, where she received a second degree in Fine Arts under the guidance of Arthur Wesley Dow. She was able to travel through Asia and Europe seeing the works of not only Wassily Kandinsky but also Piet Mondrian, Paul Klee and others from the avant-garde art movement. Like Louise Nevelson from Week 24 Kerns studied with renown art teacher Hans Hofmann. Subsequent to these travels, she taught art at the University of Oregon in Eugene. While there she was named head of the Arts Department and remained until her retirement in the 1940s.
What is not often mentioned about Maude Kerns is her deep commitment to the spirituality of Christian Science. She joined that religion in 1907. In addition her advice to young women is also not usually written about. However, she is known to have advised her female students to be "more than baby- making machines" if they desired careers in art – an early feminist who achieved much. Here is a self portrait with more of Maude Kerns' words of advice for us all.