Dora Kaminsky Biography

Dora Kaminsky

American

1909-1977

Biography

Dora Kaminsky Gaspard, painter, pastelist, and printmaker, was born in Manhattan, New York in 1909. She attended the Educational Alliance, an institution established in a converted settlement house in the late 1890s to serve the children of immigrants. Its arts division, the Arts Alliance, soon became a noted destination for burgeoning artists, and Kaminsky studied alongside Chaim Gross, Adolph Gottlieb, and Ben Shahn, among others. At age 16, she enrolled at the Arts Students League, pursuing textile arts and painting.

In 1930 Kaminsky took a sojourn to Europe to continue her studies, having been inspired by the French Impressionists she discovered in her time at the ASL. Beginning with a sketching group at the Grand Chaumier in Paris, she soon traveled to Brussels and Antwerp, garnering further inspiration from the International Exhibitions on view. In Stuttgart, Germany, she enrolled at the Glass-Palatz Auschstelling Schule and learned about the work of Expressionists such as Otto Dix, George Grosz and Beckmann, at a time when their work was still unknown to the United States. The tumultuous times in Europe ended her pursuits, however, and after six months she returned to the States.

Due to the Great Depression, Kaminsky struggled to find a foothold upon her arrival. She married and moved to upstate New York, trying her hand at farm life while still pursuing art. After the marriage failed, they sold the farm and she returned to New York. There, she joined the efforts to form what would eventually become the Federal Arts Project (FAP), and travelled with fellow artists to Washington state to meet with Holger Cahill and Whitney Museum founder Gertrude Vanderbilt. In the mid 1930s she joined the Graphics and Illustration divisions of a Queens branch of the FAP, eventually teaching for the Project at the Brooklyn Museum as a sketch artist, painter, illustrator, book designer, and leather worker. It was during this period that she discovered silkscreen printmaking, as well, the medium that would eventually become her focus. Maura Dehn, Modern dancer and choreographer, enlisted Kaminky's help in producing a show at the Brooklyn Museum in which Kaminsky designed the costumes, based on the masks and regalia of the museum's African exhibition.

By the time the U.S. joined the war in 1941, the FAP had ended and Kaminsky took a job working on bombsight clocks at the Edison factory in Orange. At this time she and her fellow cohorts from the Federal Arts Project began forming what would become the National Serigraph Society. The group helped cement serigraphy--or screenprinting--as a fine art, coining the term "serigraph" from the Greek words "seri" --silk-- and "graphy"--to write. The group taught and exhibited for nearly twenty years.

Work at the factory proved unsatisfactory, with unfair wages and restrictive hours. In 1943 she quit and took up a job at a papier mache factory in St. Mark's Place. In 1944, upon the encouragement and partial patronage of artist Viola Schwedell, she decided to take up a summer residency in Taos, New Mexico. Saving up $700 through double shifts and side work, she finally traveled to Taos in the spring. There she was welcomed into the home of her former student Ira Moscowitz and his family, and through him she met her future husband, artist Leon Gaspard. For ten years Kaminsky would travel to Taos every summer; in 1954, she moved there permanently.

Kaminsky saw comfortable success in the West, exhibiting her serigraphs in Taos and Santa Fe, NM; Wichita Falls, Lubbock and Dallas, TX; and San Francisco. Never comfortable in one place for very long, she traveled to Greece in 1955, where she established a summer studio; later in life, she would also work and teach in Honolulu, HI. In 1958 she and Gaspard married, and together they traveled throughout Russia, Egypt and France, attending exhibitions and gallery openings. Following the death of Gaspard in 1964, she curated shows and exhibitions of his work in Texas and New Mexico, and she continued to travel, touring Africa and India in 1972-73.

Her works are included in the Baltimore Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Honolulu Academy of Art, the Southwest Museum of Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Among the awards and grants she received for her work are the National Treasury Competition Award (1940); the Metropolitan Purchase Prize (1942); the Wurlitzer Foundation Grant (1956, '57), and the purchase award in serigraphy from the Santa Fe Art Museum.

Dora Kaminsky Gaspard died in Phoenix, AZ, on June 1, 1977.