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'Woodcarvings by Johnathan Kendall' 
at Wellfleet Preservation Hall

Inaugural Exhibition Honors Itinerant Artist of Landmark Doors

June 30 – September 5, 2011

Opening Reception: Saturday, July 2,  6–8pm

Curator Talks: The Life and Art of Johnathan Kendall July 19, 7 pm & August 23, 7 pm

 

When the newly renovated Wellfleet Preservation Hall opened its doors on May 14, 2011, Mark Gabriele, the curator of Woodcarvings by Johnathan Kendall, was eager to have his picture taken by the restored hand-carved folk art doors that grace the Hall's ceremonial entrance. The iconic doors had been hand carved by Johnathan Kendall to commemorate our nation's bicentennial in 1976 for what was then a Catholic church. They became cherished by the community and attracted visitors eager to have their photos taken with them.

WPH Managing Director Janet Lesniak said that this amazing exhibition is only possible because of Mark's dedication and extensive research on the life and work of this elusive itinerant artist. We're thrilled that this show will offer a rare glimpse into the life's work of one of the most eccentric and enigmatic figures in contemporary folk art history.

Gabriele originally saw the doors while in high school on his first visit to Wellfleet in 1977, one year after they were first mounted. Though fascinated by the colorfully painted panels of religious scenes, Gabriele had no idea that one day he would become the expert on the artist who created them.   

30 years later, when Gabriele moved to Wellfleet and heard about the community movement to transform the church into a community cultural center and restore the neglected doors, he volunteered to find out more about the artist who carved them. It opened up a fascinating search for me that's taken me to all parts of the country, he said.

Since Kendall was back and forth to the outer Cape several times in the 1970's and 1980's, a little bit of detective work revealed several collectors on the Cape, some of whom knew the artist personally,Gabriele added. This exhibition includes over 30 works; some bartered for room and board as he passed through town, and some repaid to friends who bailed him out of jail. Some are among his very earliest carvings, rare treasures from the point in time when the artist's creative flame had just been lit.

 

Gabriele offers this background on Johnathan Kendall:

Kendall expanded the art form of icon making which is centuries-old, pioneering innovations in color, scale and dimension to achieve some spectacular multi-layered pieces. He himself was a colorful, enigmatic and eccentric character.

Claiming to be a Boston pedigree " a Cabot to be exact “ Johnathan Kendall didn't seem to get along very well with his mother.  In a letter to a friend, he likened her to the Jezebel of the Old Testament, whose ultimate fate was to be thrown out of a window to a pack of hungry dogs. 

Thankfully, his father provided some relief and took him on long trips throughout Europe, where they visited many churches and cathedrals together.  Though just a youth, Johnathan gravitated to Byzantine icons with their serene saints and angels set against a sky of gold.  He was in his early teens when his father died, abandoning him to his mother.  On his 18th birthday, as Kendall told others, his mother arranged for police to escort him out of the family home in Ipswich and disowned him. 

While living in a Colorado cabin, he taught himself how to carve wood, using whatever scraps were available to make icons like the ones he had seen as a boy.  This soon became a consuming passion. 

He wound up becoming a nomad, seeking the people and places that would give him reason to do more carving.  Unfortunately, in addition to his artistic gifts, he also had a gift for alienating some of those very same people. He engineered his own obscurity and it has given me great satisfaction to help bring his life and art to light.

Gabriele will give talks on the The Life and Art of Johnathan Kendall on Tuesday, July 19 at 7 pm and Tuesday August 23 at 7 pm.

The reception at the Hall on July 2, 6 – 8 pm is open to the public.

This exhibition is made possible in part by Season Sponsor Donna L. Drown, First Vice President Financial Advisor, M0RGAN STANLEY SMITH BARNEY and by a grant from the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod (AFCC).

 

About Mark Gabriele

Mark Gabriele graduated with a B.A. from the State University of New York, College at Purchase in 1982. He now lives in Wellfleet, Massachusetts where doors carved by Kendall are a local folk art landmark. His appreciation of these doors sparked him to research the artist and his work, and to curate the 2007 Kendall exhibition at Cape Cod Museum of Art.