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Noted muralist's artwork unveiled at public open house

March 26, 2010

KALAMAZOO--Conrad Kaufman didn't start out to be a full-time muralist, but the local artist's love for painting recently brought him back to his alma mater in a grand way.

Kaufman, who earned a bachelor's degree in anthropology from Western Michigan University in 1986, became a full-time artist in 1995. Now a widely admired painter of landscapes and murals, he spent eight weeks on campus from December through February as a visiting artist in residence.

During his residency, Kaufman completed a major mural project in the third-floor suite of Wood Hall that is occupied by the Environmental Studies Program. The artwork features a continuum of landscapes in the Kalamazoo area, from urban to agricultural to wilderness.

Open house and reception

The mural will be officially unveiled during a public open house and reception from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Friday, April 2, in Suite 3900 of Wood Hall. The open house will be one of the final events in WMU's 2010 Earth Week celebration.

"Kaufman's landscapes depict a sense of place that honors the natural world. His landscape murals have a strong ecological consciousness, and highlight the critical role of art in regional conservation and sustainability," says Dr. Lynne Heasley, interim director of the Environmental Studies Program. "We hope the mural will encourage students, faculty and visitors to gather in the our environmental studies suite. Students, especially, have been extremely enthusiastic as the mural has unfolded."

Money from WMU's College of Arts and Sciences and the Environmental Studies Gwen Frostic Endowment funded Kaufman's residency, which also included the designing and building of a conference table for the environmental studies suite.

Kaufman has more than a student link to WMU. His father, Maynard, taught comparative religion and environmental studies at the University from 1963 to 1987. The elder Kaufman also co-founded WMU's Environmental Studies Program in 1972 and served as its first director. He and his wife, Barbara, now live "off the grid" in an independently sustained home in Bangor, Mich.

The younger Kaufman owns and operates Fence Rows studio in Galesburg, Mich., which serves as his painting studio and a base for conducting art classes in pottery, painting and woodworking. The self-taught artist learned woodworking at an early age from his father and maternal grandfather, who were both furniture makers.

Kaufman's artwork

Kaufman murals can be found throughout the local area and elsewhere in Michigan on the walls of public places and private businesses, plus more than 100 residential buildings. Murals he already has undertaken at WMU include those in the Hoekje-Bigelow dining hall and Meditation Room of the Health and Human Services Building.

His work also adorns such local buildings as the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, Portage and Kalamazoo Public libraries, Radisson Plaza Hotel & Suites, West Michigan Cancer Center, People's Food Co-op, Tiffany's Wine and Spirit Shop, and Food Dance Café. Other examples of his work can be seen on Kalamazoo's northeast gateway and at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Battle Creek's industrial park, Washington Elementary School in Otsego, Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, and the farmer's market in South Haven.

Kaufman strayed from his intended career after becoming interested in poetry, calligraphy and illuminated manuscripts while working on a master's degree in anthropology. Just short of completing his degree, he realized that he enjoyed combing those three passions--and people were willing to purchase his illuminated pieces of calligraphy. In 1992, the budding artist did his first mural, one for the Kalamazoo Public Library. Kaufman started receiving an increasing number of requests for that type of art and three years later, creating that type of art became his career.

About WMU's Environmental Studies Program

The Environmental Studies Program at WMU is one of the oldest such programs in the nation. It consists of a "coordinate" major, which requires that students enroll in a second major of their choice, and minors in environmental studies as well as in environmental studies teaching.

The program's academic offerings provide rigorous pre-professional training that prepares students for careers in a wide range of environmental fields. These offerings also promote concern for the long-term health and well-being of planet Earth and encourage students to develop a personally fulfilling, environmentally responsible way of living.

For more information about Kaufman's artist-in-residence projects, contact Lynne Heasley at lynne.heasley@wmich.edu or (269) 387-2778. More information about Kaufman's artwork is available by visiting his Web site at fencerows.com or calling him at (269) 344-9501.

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Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

WMU News
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Western Michigan University
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