Paul Kelpe

born Minden, Germany 1902-died Austin, TX 1985
Minden, Germany
Austin, Texas, United States
Active in
  • New York, New York, United States

Paul Kelpe originally wanted to be a musician, but an exhibition in Germany made him realize that abstract art could be a substitute for music, and he decided to become a painter instead. His parents did not approve of the radical work he produced, however, and sent him to America to straighten him out (conversation with the artist, 1983). The Chicago branch of the Public Works of Art Project hired him to create murals, but his designs were criticized for being too abstract. A few years later, however, he was asked to resign from the American Abstract Artists because his work was too representational! Kelpe struggled to make ends meet during the 1950s, describing his situation in a letter as hopeless. He wrote that he would have to make a choice between paying the rent and eating because he could not afford to do both. (Manthorne, Paul Kelpe: Abstractions and Constructions, 1925-1940, 1990)

Related Books

1934: A New Deal for Artists
During the Great Depression, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised a “new deal for the American people,” initiating government programs to foster economic recovery. Roosevelt’s pledge to help “the forgotten man” also embraced America’s artists. The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) enlisted artists to capture “the American Scene” in works of art that would embellish public buildings across the country. Although it lasted less than one year, from December 1933 to June 1934, the PWAP provided employment for thousands of artists, giving them an important role in the country’s recovery. Their legacy, captured in more than fifteen thousand artworks, helped “the American Scene” become America seen.