In Memoriam: Kent Kirby
Kent Kirby, an Alma College faculty member from 1962 until his retirement in 1990 as chair of the Art and Design Department, was a prolific and talented artist who served as a mentor to many artists of considerable talent, many of whom become established and well known in the art world.
The Charles A. Dana Professor Emeritus of Art and Design, Kirby died June 7, 2005, at Gratiot Community Hospital in Alma after a long illness.
During his time at Alma, Kirby established the degree programs and the plan for the Clack Art Center. He also founded the Alma College Statewide Print Competition, a premier juried print show open to Michigan artists and showcasing some of the finest talent in the state. As a memorial to him, the College renamed the top award in the competition the Kent Kirby Memorial Purchase Award.
His gentle, fun-loving nature combined with his love and knowledge of art was a tremendous attraction to potential students.
Printmaker Michael Barnes '91, associate professor in the Northern Illinois University School of Art, feels Kirby was responsible for guiding him to pursue a career in art and teaching.
“One moment I have always recalled clearly was when Kent walked past the printmaking studio one morning while I was working on a silkscreen project,” recalls Barnes. “He looked in and said something to the effect of ‘I hate to tell you this, but I think you are destined to be a printmaker.’ Together with Kent’s influence as a teacher and an exemplary role model through his career as an internationally renowned print/photo artist, he inspired me to further my studies at the graduate level and always strive to push myself as an artist.”
Contemporary artist Lynda Lowe ‘75 received a warm reception from Kirby when she was considering transferring from a large state university because she was disappointed in the lack of personal attention.
“This seemingly insignificant little Kent Kirby encounter ended up having a huge impact on my life’s direction,” Lowe says. “Kent was consistently thoughtful throughout my three years of study. He followed through on really mentoring and challenging me as an artist. He and Ed Jacomo encouraged all of our little band of art majors to perform to our best abilities, granted us skills to begin the journey, and sent us off with an abiding passion for art making. Even while working late nights and entering critique sessions we had a lot of fun, something not to be underestimated as I came to appreciate much more later on.”
In 1974, assisted by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Michigan Council for the Arts, Kirby founded Light-print Press, “a private fine art press to print, publish and research the collotype printing process.” The press continues to serve as a resource for a small but international community of photographers and printmakers.
In addition to printing his own and other’s works, he compiled the results of his research in a book, Studio Collotype: Continuous Tone Printing for the Printmaker and Photographer (Heliochrome Press, Dalton, Mass., 1988). In 1988, he assisted Helena Wright, curator of graphic arts, in curating “Imperishable Beauty,” the first historical survey of collotype printing by a major American museum at the National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.
Governor George Romney appointed Kirby to the first Michigan Council for the Arts, and he served 20 years on various panels and committees of the organization. He frequently juried exhibitions and presented workshops and lectures around the country.
Since 1960, his work was shown in more than 150 juried and invitational exhibitions, and he won numerous awards. His art is included in the permanent collections of major museums and private collections, most notably the Detroit Institute of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Chicago Art Institute and the British Museum.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Alma College Statewide Print Competition or the Seville Township Library.