Since the Museum has been closed due to COVID-19, I’ve been conducting a complete inventory of the Collection. One of my favorite works is Tree Trimmer by printmaker Jerome Kaplan. With summer almost over, this striking watercolor reminds me of my frequent vacationing in and around the Bahamas. I miss the warmth of the sun, the shade of the palm trees, resting my feet in the sand, and the smell of the ocean—all of which bring back memories of vacationing with my family. Reminiscing on past beach vacations makes me long for next summer when hopefully social distancing is a memory and life is back to normal.
In this watercolor, a man is presumably inspecting palm trees that need trimming. Although the man may be working, I imagine that while he’s looking for dead leaves near the tops of the trees, he’s also taking time to enjoy the nice warm day with the sun shining on his face and in his eyes. A related print more specifically titled Frond Cutter is also in the Museum’s Collection. The print, unlike the watercolor, is missing the coconut at the base of the tree. The artist’s decision to leave out this fruit drastically changes my perspective from a man taking in his surroundings as he works, to a man simply completing a tree trimming job. It’s amazing how a subtle difference like a missing coconut can change one’s perspective, something that I probably would’ve never thought about had I not seen the print.
Jerome Kaplan (1920–1997)—who would’ve been 100 years old in July—spent most of his life and career in Philadelphia. He attended the University of the Arts and studied illustration and design. After a brief stint in the army, Kaplan returned to Philadelphia and began teaching printmaking at the University of the Arts. For more than 40 years Kaplan was an esteemed instructor while also pursuing his own practice. He received a Guggenheim fellowship in printmaking, a Tamarind Fellowship, and Nettie Marie Jones Fellowship. He had more than 20 solo exhibitions in his career and spent several summers studying at nearby Penland School of Craft in Penland, NC. After Jerome’s death, his wife Ann Kaplan founded the Senior Artists Initiative in 1998 to assist artists and their heirs in organizing and distributing their works. In 2015 the Asheville Art Museum was generously gifted more than 40 of Kaplan’s works.
Kaplan’s artwork, mainly autobiographical in nature, pays homage to both a personal and cultural past. His scenes stem from specific visual experiences or from such experiences seen through the filter of time. Early explorations in woodblock printing give way to lithography and etching, and throughout his career a deep personal mythology resonates.
~ Contributed by Chris Whitten, assistant registrar