Biographical / Historical
American artist, art critic and author Robert Kehlmann was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1942. He received both a B.A. (Antioch College, 1963) and an M.A. (University of California, Berkeley, 1966) in English literature, with a focus on allegory in the Romantic poetry of Blake, Coleridge and Keats. Upon graduation, Kehlmann wanted to pursue a career as a fiction writer. It was only in preparation for a year-long European trip that he first began to study the history of art and architecture. From 1969-1970, he and his wife traveled extensively throughout England, Scotland, France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands; Kehlmann was especially drawn to the art and architecture of the Renaissance and Modern periods. Upon return to his home in Berkeley, he signed-up for a drawing class and in 1971 took a course in stained glass making at a local studio.
Inspired by Abstract Expressionism and Bauhaus aesthetics, Kehlmann believes that stained glass art can involve the same sort of visual expression as contemporary painting and sculpture. By using the lead line as a drawn line—instead of simply as structural support—he emphasizes the activity of forms in his works. He calls his compositions “drawings with lead and glass” and eschews the decorative elements usually associated with stained glass. Kehlmann’s glass panels begin as “charcoal, pastel and acrylic drawings on canvas that point a direction, although parts of the drawings are discarded once he starts cutting and assembling pieces of glass” (“Three Californians in Glass,” 1980, p. 12). Although he does not use any stain or paint in his compositions, the term “stained glass” remains the vernacular to describe his glass pieces. Kehlmann was also one of the first advocates of the autonomous or non-architectural glass panel. His panels are never created to function as a window; instead they are meant to be hung on or in front of a wall.
Kehlmann’s glass compositions have been exhibited in museums and galleries across the world, including: Toledo Museum of Art, Corning Museum of Glass, Hermitage Museum, Hokkaido Museum of Art, Victoria and Albert Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He received National Endowment for the Arts grants both for his work in glass (Craftsmen’s Fellowship Grant, 1977) and for his critical writings (Art Critic’s Fellowship Grant, 1978). His essays on contemporary glass have appeared in numerous publications from the United States, Europe and Japan. From 1981 to 1984 he edited the Glass Art Society Journal and served on the Society’s Board of Directors for over a decade. In 1994 he was awarded an Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award from the Glass Art Society. He is also the author of two books: Twentieth Century Stained Glass: A New Definition (1992) and The Inner Light: Sculpture by Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová.
Frantz, S.K., & Warmus, W. (1996). Robert Kehlmann: Painting with glass. Moraga, CA: St. Mary’s College of California.
Three Californians in glass. (1980). The Museum of California, 3(7), 10-12.
Waggoner, S. (1993). The content of creation: The work and writings of Robert Kehlmann. Glass Art Magazine, 8(2), 38-42.