Published: August 10, 2010
Harvey Kahn, preeminent American folk art collector and representative for commercial illustrators and photographers, died Friday, July 30, at the age of 86.
In his illustrious professional career, Kahn represented many icons in the commercial art and photography world, including illustrators Robert Peak, Bernie Fuchs and Wilson McLean, along with photographers Bert Stern, Pete Turner, Clint Clemmons and Jerry Schatzberg. Kahn was a founder of SPAR (Society of Photographer and Artist Representatives) and a member of the Society of Illustrators.
In his personal life, American folk art was Harvey’s passion. Pieces from the Kahn collection have been exhibited at the White House, “The Flowering of American Folk Art” at the Whitney Museum, the American Folk Art Museum, the New-York Historical Society, the Newark Museum, and in the US Pavilion, Japanese Exposition, Osaka, Japan in 1970. Objects from the collection have also been featured in more than 35 publications. In 2002 and 2007, his collection was auctioned via Northeast Auctions, Portsmouth, N.H.
“Working with Harvey, I learned about true folk art and not manufactured weathervanes and cigar store Indians by professional carvers,” said Northeast Auctions auctioneer/owner Ron Bourgeault. “Harvey collected the work of untrained artists who created their works with reality, imagination and creativity. His Indian squaw tobacco shop figure sold by Northeast in 2002 is one of the finest examples of true folk art I have ever seen.”
Kahn’s accomplishments in the folk art field included being on the collections committee for the American Folk Art Museum and a founding member of the American Folk Art Society. He served as curatorial advisor to the folk art collection for an acclaimed private art collector. The collection was showcased in the award-winning book, Spiritually Moving in which Kahn is credited as co-author along with renowned graphic designer Tom Geismar.
R. Scudder Smith, publisher of Antiques and The Arts Weekly, interviewed Harvey in 2002. “I visited Harvey and Isobel just prior to the sale of Part 1 of their collection to do an article for the paper. Not only was it a great treat to see the entire collection in their home, but it was entertaining to hear Harvey talk about his objects, where they came from, why he had to have them and what each meant to him,” Smith said. “He was a true collector and a scholar, through and through.”
Don Walters, a Massachusetts antiques dealer and former curator at Colonial Williamsburg, wrote a foreword essay in the 2002 auction catalog of the Kahn Collection. “The modesty with which the Kahns have done all this would lead them to say, ‘It just happened’&ut the truth of the matter is that the formation of the collection was much more cerebral than that and founded on a background in a sophisticated world of art,” Walters wrote.
“Objects were chosen for the collection based on graphic quality, surface, whimsy and humor, or how they amplified a mini-collection. Ultimately the significance of what they were doing is that by example, they helped shape standards that we all take for granted today&”
“When all is said and done and when the objects in the Kahn collection have found new homes, the impact they have had will not revolve around any one object but rather the influence they have had on the folk art community through their friendships, their modesty and their pervasive instruction by example,” Walters concluded.
Before moving to Livingston, N.J., in 2007, Kahn was a longtime resident of Millburn, N.J. During that time, he lived with his family in the Hessian House, which was built in 1730 and registered with the Library of Congress. He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Isobel, daughters Stephanie of Montclair, N.J., and Leslie Rotem of Livingston, son-in-law, David Rotem and grandchildren, Michael Rotem and Danielle Rotem.
The family kindly requests that any donations in honor of Harvey Kahn should be made to the Douglas Lloyd Kahn Collection, Library, Campus of Florham, FDU, Madison, NJ 07940.
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