Gene Kloss

Alice Geneva (Gene) Glasier Kloss (1903–1996) was born in Oakland, California. Gene’s parents were from the Midwest and had two older children. In 1925, she married Phillips W. Kloss, a poet and composer, a man she became acquainted with at the Plymouth Congregational Church. The two artists worked both on their own and collaborated on some books with Gene illustrating Phillips poems or texts or Phillips adding commentary to her paintings or etchings [1].

She graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with honors in the Department of Art in 1924 just prior to getting married.  Gene continued studies at the California School of fine Arts, currently the San Francisco Art Institute.  Her mentors were Ray Boynton who taught design, modern feeling, and color; and Perham Nahl who taught anatomy, life drawing, and etching.  Etching became her preferred medium [2].

The couple honeymooned in Taos Canyon camping for two weeks. They fell in love with the area.  Around 1939, they bought property and by the 1950’s were spending more time in Taos. In Berkeley, the Kloss’ commissioned architect, Frederick Reimers, to create an open studio/home space.  One of the two large press’ from Sturgis Company in Chicago was in Berkeley and another in Taos. 

In her 1964 interview with Sylvia Loomis, Gene said that they managed to have enough exhibitions and sales to continue the work that they loved.  Margaret Lefranc and Gene Kloss exhibited in many of the same venues in Santa Fe and shared the love of the Southwest [3].

Gene like so many others was employed by the Public Works of Art Project Region 13. She completed nine etchings with editions of 35 prints each. These were distributed in public places. Later she worked for the Works Progress Administration under Vernon Hunter. There were editions of 50 each of the three or four pieces she etched, in addition to paintings in oil and watercolor. These pieces went to galleries, museums, and Washington D.C. for offices, veteran’s hospitals and other public places. Mesa Verde has one of these treasures. She loved having complete freedom of expression and a chance to experiment during this period of federal support for the arts. 

In the interview with Loomis, they discuss their wish for the federal government to institute a similar program that would boost the interest in regional works based more on naturalism, rather than the abstract, non-representational, international style of art. 

While she worked in drypoint and etching, she became interested in aquatint. Her “Eve of the Green Corn Ceremony” received the Eyre Medal of 1936 from the Philadelphia Watercolor Society, with news coming via telegram to the main store in Taos. 

Gene’s commentary on living among the Indians, Spanish-Americans, and Anglos from their earliest contact is of a world so different from today. In her interview, she said that the Indians had very decided characteristics living as they had been for centuries. The Spanish-American life was organized around the Catholic Church calendar cycle of ceremonies, some taking place through the night and some that involved walking and singing in a minor key. At that time, many were Penitientes who have almost all disappeared. Both groups’ religious observations were not for others. Gene never pried or used imagery that was forbidden, though her art was infused and informed by their respective characteristics. She continues that World War II changed everything. 

Gratefully her work lives on of the landscape and people as they were and is part of major collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New Mexico Museum of Art, the Denver Art Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Academy of Design, the Dallas Art Museum, the New York Public Library, and the Library of Congress among others. Gene first was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1950 and by 1972 was a National Academician. In 1935, along with Ernest Blumenshein and Howard Cook, they were the only three Taos artists asked to be part of the Parisian exhibition, “Three Centuries of Art in the United States.”

[1] Phillips Wray Kloss.  Selected Poems of Phillips Kloss. Published by Sunstone Press, 1983. Phillips Kloss, With Etchings by Gene Kloss.  The Great Kiva:  A Poetic Critique of Religion.  Published by Sunstone Press, Santa Fe. 1980. See abebooks.co.uk for other volumes of his work. 

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_Kloss

[3] Oral History Interview with Gene Kloss, from 1964 June (http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-gene-kloss-11934), Archives of American Art, Smithsonian.