University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Art Department

Kenneth A. Kerslake, by Michael Ehlbeck

It has long been my belief a true artist and their artwork grow to become so closely connected that the two become indivisible. The artwork survives as a direct connection to the life and the soul of the artist. There is no way the work of a true artist can be anything less than the truth. I have never thought of Ken Kerslake as anything but a wonderfully generous man and a true artist. The body of artwork Ken produced in his lifetime could be viewed as what he referred to as, “the journey: in which we come to meet ourselves face to face”.

Ken will always be an inspiration to those of us who were fortunate enough to know him, but also to those of us who only know him through his artwork. His unswerving dedication to his family, his friends, his students, and his life as an artist is undeniable. The love of his family was the source of his kindness and compassion for others. Ken was acutely aware of the unrelenting passage of time and was unswerving in his desire to, “live a full life and contribute something of value to your culture and fellow human beings.”

In teaching at the University of Florida starting in 1958, Ken began a valuable contribution that continued until his retirement with the rank of Distinguished Service Professor in 1996. During that 38-year span, thousands of students were introduced to the world of printmaking through a wide range of artistic choices and an ever helpful hand that allowed his students to find their own personal visions. Never once was there an attempt to impose a style or to force any particular direction or technique. Above all else there was enthusiastic support and an urgency to impress upon the students a dedication to making art. By all accounts Ken was an outstanding teacher in a career highlighted by a lifetime achievement award for Excellence in Printmaking Education given by the Southern Graphics Council.

Along with his teaching, which never diminished the quality of his own work, Ken produced an astounding oeuvre of prints, paintings, and drawings. How Ken managed to maintain his spirited intensity and tireless exploration is a question we may never be able to answer. I would hazard to suggest that his artistic endeavors are probably an indication that Ken continued to work because he felt he still had much to learn about himself and about art. His work contemplates the fine line between his patio chairs and their elusive shadows, his figures in undetermined spaces, the act of a loved one, and moments of indescribable richness.

Michael Ehlbeck
Professor of Art, East Carolina University

Return to the Retrospective Exhibition, Three Master Printmakers: Lee Chesney, Krishna Reddy, and Ken Kerslake.