Whimsical perfectionist: Exhibit honors the late Larry Kassell

August 2016 Posted in Other
Larry Kassell in self portrait.

Larry Kassell in self portrait.

By Kristine Thomas

Julia Kassell has the almost impossible task of trying to summarize her late husband’s work for an art show in August.

The challenge before her is what work does she select that would give community members a glimpse of who the late Larry Kassell was as an artist, a man and a community member.

“It’s going to take me a very long time to go through all his work,” Julia said. “He was one of those rare people who did it all and made it all look easy.”

What oil paintings, cartoons, photographs or graphic art does she select? Does she include the sketch he made for the original Silverton Fox mascot for Silverton High School? How does she display the photographs he took for the grass seed industry of golf courses throughout the world? Or share how his iconic signature can be found in four murals in downtown Silverton?

“The way he wrote his name was a work of art all by itself,” Julia said.

Larry Kassell died of leukemia on June 11, one month shy of his 72nd birthday. It was three months from the time of his diagnosis to his death.

On a recent Friday morning, Julia gathered with Jan Prowse and Moises Roizen of the Silverton Art Association at the kitchen table of the Kassell home. Scattered across the table were examples of Larry’s work.

“He was such a fantastic artist,” Jan said. “He was so diverse in what he did. He could do a totally serious painting and then do something with a sense of humor. He was so precise and perfect in his work.”

Kassell retrospective
“A Retrospective” opening reception
Friday, Aug. 5, 6-8 p.m.
The Borland Gallery
303 Coolidge St.
adjacent to Coolidge-McClaine Park
Show runs through Aug. 28
Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – noon
Saturday – Sunday, Noon – 4 p.m.
Information: Jan, 503-363-9310

Jan and Moises are helping Julia decide what of Larry’s artwork to display in the show called “A Retrospective.” The open house is Friday, Aug. 5, 6-8 p.m. at the Borland Gallery, 303 Coolidge St. The show runs through Aug. 28.

“He used his gifts to bless everyone fortunate enough to know him,” Julia said. “It didn’t matter if it was photographing, painting, cartooning, crafting an advertising campaign or writing a book, the finished product was an inspiration that encouraged, enlightened or entertained.”

Growing up in Detroit, Mich., Larry’s parents moved to Salem, then his father left. From age 14, Larry worked, starting with paper routes and mowing lawns. Since his mother never learned to drive, he would walk her to work and home again. Although he saved $1,000, he decided not to go to college and instead joined the U.S. Air Force where he found his passions for painting and photography.

“Photography was his launching pad,” Julia said. “He bought a camera while in South Korea. That’s also when he started writing letters to Ansel Adams, who he eventually met and studied with.”

Julia said Larry had no formal art training and never attended college. What he did have was a curious mind. Describing her husband as whimsical and a perfectionist, Julia said everything Larry saw was enchanting to him.

Moises said most artists rely on images to get an idea. Larry used words to get ideas and then made them into images.

“So much of his work is something you think about and then have that aha moment,” Moises said.

One of Kassell's humorous "Inacchronisms"... "Monet Lisa.”

One of Kassell’s humorous “Inacchronisms”… “Monet Lisa.”

Living in the former Valley View School house, Julia said they had conversations about leaving Silverton and Larry working in a larger city, where he could gain more exposure for his art. The idea never materialized.

“He told me that he wanted to be able to commute in his slippers,” Julia said. “He loved Silverton and didn’t want to leave here to go somewhere else.”

On of her favorite photographs is one Larry took after jumping out of the tub on a early January morning. It was either capture the sunrise or spend time getting dressed. No need to explain what he chose. Married 42 years, Julia said life with Larry was always an adventure. There were hard times financially when she was worried they wouldn’t make ends meet, but he always found a way.

“He would always tell me that God provides not a day early, not a day late,” Julia said. “He didn’t get kerfuffled when things didn’t work out. He just found another way to make things work.”

When he was 55, Larry had a heart attack.

“That was a wake up call for him,” Julia said. “He felt he was cheating himself by doing the same thing over and over again. He decided to take a leap of faith and quit his job and began pursuing his artwork.”

There are many qualities Julia admires about her husband. One was how he treated everyone with respect.

“It didn’t matter if it was a homeless person on the street or the president. Larry would treat both the same way,” she said.

Members of Silverton First Christian Church, Julia said they would attend the Wednesday night community meals. “When he went through the line, he thanked everyone for their work,” Julia said. “He made a point to sit with the person who was sitting by themselves.”

Both Jan and Moises said Larry’s art stands as example for other artists to not be afraid to do what they want or how they want to do it.

“He basically taught people not to be afraid, to explore their artwork,” Moises said. “He had an ability to discover the hidden images in nature. He saw what others missed and through his artwork he tried to convey what he saw to others.”

Julia said Larry believed whatever he was creating had God’s hand helping him.

“He was religious without being preachy,” Julia said. “He said if God created the trees, then he was going to paint them and God was going to help him.”

Julia, Jan and Moises all said Larry used his art to express what he was thinking.

“Larry was a raging perfectionist living in a chaotic world,” Julia said. “While his studio looked like a whirlwind had gone through, he knew where everything was,” Julia wrote in his eulogy.

“He was a collector of wit, whimsy, music and with the soul of a poet, he shared what he saw, heard and learned.”

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