Hans Peter Kahn Biography

Hans Peter Kahn




Artist and educator Hans Peter Kahn was born in Leipzig, Germany, on July 5, 1921. The son of composer and conductor Emil Kahn and poet and harpist Nellie Budge Kahn, he and his siblings were raised in a prosperous household that encouraged pursuit of the arts. Early schooling included formative years at the first Waldorf School and high school at the Stuttgart Gymnasium. However, with the rise of Nazi Germany and anti-Semitism throughout Europe, Emil Kahn was removed from his position at the Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra in 1933; not long after, Nellie died. Emil left for the U.S. in an attempt to find a safer place for his family. At the age of 16, as Europe descended into conflict, Hans Peter followed his father to New York City and enrolled in courses at the Pratt Institute. For four years he worked as a commercial artist and union organzier, before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1942.

When Germany surrendered in April of 1945, Kahn, then stationed in Europe as a tank mechanic, was briefly sent to work as a court interpreter for the Nuremburg trials. Upon his return to New York that same year he dove once more into art, enrolling in courses at the Art Students League under Vaslov Vytlacil and lessons at the studio of Hans Hoffman, who would become a major influence and mentor to both Kahn and his brother, the painter Wolf. Through Hoffman and his circle he was exposed to leading abstract expressionist work and was himelf a student of "action" paiting. He continued his lessons with Hoffman once he received the G.I. Bill and worked as his assistant at his Provincetown school beginning in 1949. Simultaneously, he earned his BA in art from New York University (1950) and his Master's in philosophy (1952).

In addition to painting Kahn was a printmaker, theater set designer, poster artist, and calligrapher, publishing two books on the latter subject for teachers. He began teaching in 1949 in the summer program at Sarah Lawrence, followed by a teaching position at Louisiana State University and a chairmanship position in the art department at Hampton University, Virginia. He continued to teach as a tenured professor at Cornell University beginning in 1957 as well as a guest professor at the London Royal College of Art, Cal Tech, New York University, and Hobart College. He formally retired in 1984 but continued to teach summer courses at Cornell. Save for two years spent in Canada in protest against the Vietname war, Kahn remained active at Cornell until his death.

In addition to his work in the arts and teaching, Kahn was a civil rights and labor rights activist, and in 1977 became a volunteer firefighter in the town of Trumansburg, New York, where his family had settled - a position he held until his death while on duty on February 16, 1997.

Selected solo exhibitions:
1951: Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA
1958, 1962, 1967: Andrew Dickson White House (ADWH), Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
1962: Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL; Gallery RJ, New York, NY
1968, 1970, 1974, 1985, 1990: Upstairs Gallery, Ithaca, NY
1969: Alfred University, Alfred, NY (retrospective)
1980: Malott Hall, Cornell University
1983: Sibley, Rochester, NY
1984: Johnson Museum, Cornell University (retrospective)
1994: Wells College, Aurora, NY (retrospecive)
1995: Sola Gallery, Ithaca, NY

Selected group exhibitions:
1940s, 1950s:

"Paintings from Cold Water Flats", Seligmann Gallery, New York; "Watercolors of Today", the Research Studio, Maitland, FL; 47th Annual Watercolor & Print Exhibit, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Phil., PA; "Introducing the Printmakers", Seligmann Gallery; "Printmakers", Seligmann Gallery; "Modern Prints", Ashby Gallery, NY; "Pyramid Group", Ashby Gallery; "Printmakers, Ink and Oils", Seligmann Gallery; "American Painting", Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, IA.

1960s - 1990s:
1962: Gallery RJ, New York, NY; Art of Doors, Kornblee Gallery, NY
1963: Cortland State University Art Festival, Cortland, NY
1964: Two Rivers (with Victor Colby), Robertson, Binghamton, NY
1968: "Paintings by Peter Kahn, Sculptures by Bill Schickel", Upstairs Gallery, Ithaca, NY
1969: "From the Collection", University of Notre Dame, NY
1983: "Upstate New York", University of Rochester, NY
1989: "3 Landscape Painters: Kahn, Poskas, and Lyman", Washington Art Association, Washington, CT
1996: "7 Over 65", Kraushaar Gallery, New York, NY
1997: "3 Men", University of Rochester, NY; "All in a Family: Peter Kahn, Wolf Kahn, Emily Mason, David Kapp, and Cecily Kahn", New Britain Museum of Art, New Britain, CT

A detailed obituary for Hans Peter Kahn can be found here.