University Museums

Title: Aspen Thicket
Name: Painting
Date: 1960-1961
Medium: Sumi ink
Dimensions: 23 1/2 x 12 in. (59.7 x 30.5 cm)
Classification: Paintings
Credit Line: Gift of Fine Arts Comm. Faculty Women's Club, in memory of Mayona Lubsen. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Location: Iowa State University, Brunnier Main Storage
Object Number: U82.111
More Information
Handwritten notes that were to comprise Dwight Kirsch's autobiography were found in his desk drawer after his death in 1981. Entitled "My Life in Art-Memoirs," it unraveled a story about an artist, teacher, and art administrator whose importance to art cannot be underestimated. Dwight Kirsch was first exposed to the arts at an early age, and it would remain a driving force all his life. Born near Mayberry, Pawnee County, Nebraska, his first watercolors were done at the age of 6. By age 10, Kirsch began experimenting with photography and was developing his own prints. Kirsch graduated from University of Nebraska in 1919 and moved on to the Art Students League in New York. The Art Students League was a student-controlled, progressive school where Kirsch was allowed more freedom for growth. At the same time, he became familiar with commercial art and advertising while apprenticed to the Niagara Lithograph Co. His apprenticeship with Niagara was followed up with a two-year stint with the John B. Holtzclaw Co. in Los Angeles. His role shifted from student to teacher in 1924 when he accepted a teaching position at the University of Nebraska.

On his many trips to New York, Kirsch came into contact with a number of America's most important artists of the early 20th century. His focus on contemporary art acquainted him with Edward Hopper, Thomas Hart Benton, Alfred Stieglitz, Andrew Wyeth, John Sloan, and others. These trips also brought him recognition not only as an artist in his own right, but also as an art authority and public speaker.

This was the pattern through he 1930s and 40s until he accepted a position at the Des Moines Art Center in 1950. After a year as the interim director, he accepted a full-time position that lasted until his retirement in 1959. In 1953, his wife, Truby, died. Shortly thereafter, he was granted an honorary doctorate from Iowa's Grinnell College. While continuing his work in Des Moines, he also traveled extensively. As always, Kirsch traveled to New York and to other art centers for both business and for his own education. Through the 1950s, he would travel through the Midwest and visit Colorado, California, and Arizona where he advised a fledgling art center in Phoenix. Probably his most important trip was to the East where he studied sumi-e painting in Japan and also toured Hong Kong, Singapore, Cambodia, Den Pasar, Bali and Indonesia.

After retiring from the Des Moines Art Center, he remained active through lectures, workshops, commissions, and artist-in-residency programs. Kirsch exhibited works both in Nebraska and Iowa, and also Colorado. He kept traveling and remained deeply involved in the arts. He moved to Colorado to be near his family in 1976. Among many other honors he had received over the years, he was given a joint retrospective exhibition by the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery (now Sheldon Museum of Art) and the Des Moines Art Center, both for which he had done so much. Dwight Kirsch died in 1981 at the Colorado State Veterans Home, Colorado Springs.