Oradell Celebrates 100th Birthday of Late Hometown Artist Ellsworth Kelly

Modern artist Ellsworth Kelly was one of the most important abstract painters of his generation.

Ellsworth Kelly

Modern artist Ellsworth Kelly Photo: Courtesy of Ellsworth Kelly Studio

When Ellsworth Kelly was a child, his family moved to Oradell. Living near the Oradell Reservoir inspired him artistically as he observed patterns in the nature around him and became fascinated by local birds.

Kelly’s work often consisted of geometric shapes arranged on a canvas and painted in strong, bold colors. He looked to explore the relationship between form, color and space through his artwork, and he influenced various art movements, such as Minimalism and Pop Art. The late legendary modern artist would have celebrated his 100th birthday this past May.

John J. Trause, director of the Oradell Public Library, says Kelly was a major supporter of his hometown’s library. One of the biggest donors to the library, Kelly even visited in April 2013 during the library’s 100th anniversary celebration. Trause says meeting the trailblazing painter was a delight, and that his personality differed from many of his contemporaries.

“He certainly wasn’t a grandstander the way the other artists of his generation were. He was a very affable, great guy, but it wasn’t like he was promoting himself the way they did, for example,” says Trause. “He was absolutely thrilled to have come down [to the library]. He was so happy to pose for photographs with us.”

Kelly died in December 2015, at the age of 92. In his memory, the library continues to showcase his work. Two original lithograph prints—Color Squares 2 (2011) and Magnolia (1966)—are currently on display. There are also various framed posters from exhibitions of Kelly’s work throughout the lower level of the library and in the director’s office. Kelly himself donated the posters to the library in 2013.

“Over the years we’ve had a number of programs and lectures about him by scholars and local artists,” says Trause. “It’s funny—even some people in the art world are not as aware of his contribution. We’re trying to change that here in his childhood hometown.”

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