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The Gertrude Kasle Gallery

"A Brief History"

The Gertrude Kasle Gallery

Gertrude Kasle was born in New York City on December 2, 1917. Even when she was younger than seven years old, she showed signs of a remarkable talent to draw what she saw, and studied with Gaetano Cecere. As Cecere taught sculpture at Cooper Union, he taught her to draw from casts. She later studied art in high school, and enjoyed painting water colors which were sometimes sold at her high school’s fund raising events. She took classes at the Art Students’ League on Saturdays in drawing live models. Although she wanted to go to the Pratt Institute, she instead decided to study art education at N.Y.U. As she often explains, “My eye developed beyond my hand.” After two years, her fiancé Leonard Kasle, convinced her to transfer to the University of Michigan. When she had finished her junior year, she interrupted her education to concentrate on being the wife of a Navy chaplain through World War II. In 1947, they came back to Detroit with two children, and she resumed painting and studies in fine arts with Sarkis at the Society of Arts and Crafts. In 1955, after her three children were old enough, she went back to college at Wayne University to complete her degree in art education.

When Gertrude came to Detroit, she was appalled by the fact that there weren’t more visual opportunities for people to see good contemporary art. As she stated in an interview with Dennis Barrie in 1975: “I was a very provincial New Yorker. I thought every city had a Metropolitan Museum and a Whitney Museum of Modern Art.” She worked with the “Friends of Modern Art” at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and became Vice President. However, after her daughter was married and moved from Detroit, she wanted to do something more challenging. In 1962, she was approached by Detroit businessman Franklin Siden to help him open a gallery, where she would have a one-third partnership. In the first year, she introduced to Detroit the work of Rivers, Jenkins, Hartigan, Goodnough, Yektai, Natkin, and Kreisberg, as well the artists whose prints were published by Tatanya Grossman. When Siden made it clear that he felt he no longer needed her to introduce him to the contemporary art world, and that she would no longer have an equal say in what the gallery was going to promote and carry in the future, she left.

Through 1964, Gertrude was encouraged by Larry Rivers, Grace Hartigan, among other artists that she had represented at the Siden Gallery, as well as several distinguished customers, such as Herbert Barrows, and John Ciardi, to open her own gallery. Joy Hakanson, who was at that time the Detroit News art critic, asked Gertrude if she would open a new gallery. Hakanson was so positive about Gertrude’s reply that she “had to think about it,” that the art critic stated in the Detroit News that “Gertrude Kasle was looking for gallery space.” As a result of that article, the Fischer Building, in what was known as Detroit’s “New Center” area, called her with a very attractive lease arrangement. Her husband promised to assist with the accounting, and she opened the Gertrude Kasle Gallery with a combined show of Larry Rivers, Grace Hartigan, Robert Goodnough, Manousher Yektai, and Irving Kreisberg on Saturday, April 10 1965.

Gertrude Kasle Gallery

Gertrude operated the gallery for eleven years, exhibiting many of the greatest artists of the American art scene at the time. Some of the artists that she promoted through those years were already well established, such as William De Koening, some did not become Internationally known until later, such as Jim Dine, and a few of them have all been but forgotten, such as William Schwedler. However, Gertrude achieved her goal to bring great contemporary art to Detroit. She helped the art scene in her adopted city evolve beyond any one movement or “school.” In the process, Detroit became more aware of its own local art scene. Many artists who originated in Detroit, such as Al Loving, Brenda Goodman and Michelle Doner, were given more than just a show through the Gallery. From 1965 through April 1976, Gertrude spent countless hours promoting the art and the artists she handled. Her gallery was greatly successful from a cultural standpoint, if only moderately successful financially. She closed her doors at the end of April 1976, with very little notice, the subject of which will be discussed by me in a latter feature article.

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