Bernard Kester has passed away at the age of 90. This venerated professor, master designer, artist, curator, writer, and inspirational mentor has left an estimable legacy at University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Craft and Folk Art Museum. He was a critically important figure in the California and national studio craft movement from the 50s to the 70s, and his indispensable contribution helped usher in an entirely new era for craft in the twentieth century. An accomplished ceramist, his work was shown in major regional and national exhibitions, including the Museum of Arts and Design (formerly the American Craft Museum), LACMA, the Walker Art Center, and the Smithsonian Institution.
Bernard earned his BA (1950) and MA (1955) degrees from UCLA and remained there teaching ceramics, weaving, and design from 1956 to 1993, chairing the Department of Art from 1972 to 1975. During his four-year tenure as Acting Dean of the College of Fine Arts, he oversaw the school’s restructure into the School of the Arts and the School of Theater, Film, and Television.
Kester considered textiles and fiber as fertile media for artistic experimentation. He initiated the fiber art program at UCLA and encouraged his students to think of fiber in sculptural terms and to see their endeavors as independent works of art. His groundbreaking 1971 exhibition, “Deliberate Entanglements,” is regarded as a benchmark in the history of fiber art. The professor fervently believed that “Learning to see is as important as learning to read” and was convinced that artists of any medium needed a universal liberal arts education to enlarge their worlds and enrich their capacity for creativity.
In his tireless promotion of craft as a respected art form, he introduced the nation to California and western craftspeople with his “Letter from Los Angeles” which appeared regularly in Craft Horizons from 1965 to 1979. He was a contributing artist of all the influential “California Design” exhibitions, and designed the 1968, 1971 and 1976 shows. Over his long career, Bernard received several honors. He was a Fellow of the American Craft Council and Trustee Emeritus of the Museum of Arts and Design. He served on the Board of Trustees of the Craft and Folk Art Museum and the Board of Directors of the UCLA Arts Council and was the recipient of the International Association of Designers award in textiles.
In addition to “Deliberate Entanglements,” Kester curated a number of exhibitions. His first, “Craftsmen USA ’66,” was shown on the occasion of LACMA’s opening. Crafts were celebrated in his “American Crafts ‘76” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and at two exhibitions at CAFAM—“California Women in Crafts (1977) and “Made in LA/Contemporary Crafts ’81.” He authored numerous book and exhibition reviews and catalog essays, lecturing widely and serving as a juror for selection and awards for national exhibitions.
As its principal exhibition designer, Bernard was legendary at LACMA. His architectural designs elegantly presented and enhanced the perception of artworks in the museum for more than fifty years; he designed over one hundred exhibitions there, tastefully reconfigured its many galleries, and oversaw the periodic rotation of the permanent collection. Such exhibitions as “Age of the Pharaohs” (1974), “The Great Bronze Age of China” (1982), “The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985” (1986), “Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries” (1991), “The Arts and Crafts Movement in Europe and America: Design for the Modern World 1880-1920” (2004), and “SoCal: Southern California Art of the 60s and 70s” (2007) are memorable examples of Kester’s discriminating eye—his extraordinary mastery of light and space, appreciation of the art object, and grasp of the harmony and power of color.
A brilliant artist and designer–unfailingly elegant, articulate, and erudite–Bernard Kester will be missed by a host of friends and colleagues who have so greatly benefited, for so many years, from his passion and expertise.