Friday, May 15, 2015

POST #86: SAM KAHN THE ARTIST (1927-2007)

My husband died over seven years at the age of 80. He was a Clinical Child Psychologist by training, an expert in play therapy with children. He was musical, an authority on classical jazz, a phenomenal athlete – any sport – a licensed arborist, a community leader, a world-class husband and father, But he was not an artist – or so we all thought.

When Sam was in his sixties, he was too ill to work full time as a clinician – I think he had kind of had it with pathology anyhow – so he got a Connecticut State Arborists’ license and began to treat trees. Since his climbing days were over, there wasn’t much future there and so he spent his time involved in community activities, managing our garden, listening to music and then –to everyone’s surprise (I should say “amazement”) he became an artist, first carving in wood and then painting on paper. He had never had any art training, in fact, he was noted in our family for his “lack” of art ability. What was going on? Maybe it was the series of small strokes he had suffered?

His work was totally unique, unlike anyone elses’ – childlike in concept and execution, no perspective, anatomy, no realism, only vibrant design and execution. “The World According to Sam Kahn”. Visitors to his “studio,”  (Eve’s former bedroom), were stunned at what they saw: “Sam?” they would ask in amazement as a riot of uninhibited carvings and paintings appeared before them. Sam, taking their accolades as his due, would continue to work. “You did that?” Although I do not consider myself expert in “Outsider Art” (the untrained artist category that best describes his work), I knew I had a genius on my hands…and a very confident one at that.

Sam soon began to exhibit his work publicly. If he were included in a group show, I felt sorry for anybody else whose work was there. As they say, he “blew them out of the water.” One year, Ken Marcione, the art curator at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center invited him to put his work in a small room just outside the main galleries where the winners of the annual state art competition were being shown. At the opening, the rooms with the winning work were devoid of visitors; everyone was crowded into Sam’s small space, looking at art that was new and original, not the “same old-same old.” He was a star, but a cool one, accepting celebrity status as his due.

Sam worked until a few months before his death. I knew he was dying when he could no longer paint; he would sit for hours staring at a blank sheet of paper. That’s what happens to artists when they no longer can create, they die. Anyhow, a couple of years ago, we packed up all his drawings and constructions, his notes, his “press,” put them in huge boxes and shipped them down to the “Self-Taught Art Collection” at the Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. I hope they appreciate what a great artist he was and give his work the attention it deserves.

P.S. If you click on the images in the body of this blog, you can enlarge them and get a better idea of the work.


  1. I agree that Sam was an incredible artist & craftsman. Wish you had shown some
    of his woodworking efforts & constructions,which were fantastic !
    Years ago, I photographed many of them - DGP

  2. what a cool guy and what a loving tribute. I think Sam's work benefited from living with another wonderful artist. Elin Menzies

    1. I loved Sam and I loved his work. He wanted to trade me for one of my pieces of art (which he truly appreciated) but we never got around to swapping. Which I had pushed it because the work was great.