Friedolin Kessler (1913-1995) was a multi-talented artist well known in the San Jose (CA) area, where he lived the majority of his life. He was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the only son of Czech and German immigrants. His talent became clear early in life: When Friedolin was 12 he won admission and tuition to Washington University for an 8 foot by 4 foot chalk drawing he made on his classroom’s chalk board. It took Friedolin a week to complete the drawing, which was to be part of the room’s decoration for Washington’s birthday. The drawing was brought to the attention of the County Superintendent of Schools and to Senator George H. Williams, who were instrumental in obtaining his admission and free tuition to the University, which he entered at age 16 to study art.
After graduating, Friedolin came to California by way of joining the Missouri Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a Depression-era federal program which along with the WPA, has generated a remarkable roster of exceptional artists. Friedolin is among these. In 1935, his entire camp was transferred to California, to the area now known as New Almaden Quicksilver County Park. He was the resident camp artist, hired to document life in the CCC. His work during this time is preserved in many of the linoleum cuts, paintings and drawings that he created.
In 1938, Friedolin took a solitary bike journey down the coast of California, visiting every one of the historical Spanish Missions from Sonoma to San Diego. Upon returning to San Jose, he spent more than a year making linoleum cuts of each mission, using the photographs and drawings he’d made during his trip. The ensuing prints were exhibited several times to critical acclaim, including at the World’s Fair in Treasure Island and the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, and remain o the only contemporary record of the state of these Missions in the 1930s.
Along with his former wife and artist, Carol Kessler, Friedolin helped found the San Jose Art League in 1938. He was also an art instructor at Stanford University and San Jose State University. He was accomplished in oil and acrylic painting, charcoal, watercolors, linoleum cuts, photography and woodworking, including wood turning. He also produced large murals, both painted and of wood or stone mosaic, that are found throughout buildings in the San Jose area. His “Mission” series of linoleum cuts was acclaimed at the time of their creation and after. He made these after taking a solitary bicycle trip from Sonoma south, visiting every on of the historic Spanish Missions in California, photographing and drawing each, and then rendering them on linoleum cuts of unusual depth and detail.
In later years, his favorite medium was wood and his wood art works were among his personal favorites. He had a particular passion and empathy for wood, and used it to create beautiful wall hangings formed with small pieces of wood he gathered during his travels, then “sliced”, prepared and colored with epoxy. These range from strong geometric patterns to free-flowing mosaica.
Friedolin was still working on his wood pieces when he died of cancer in 1995 at the age of 82. His artwork spanned a period of over 60 years!