Karol Kozlowski

 

KOZLOWSKI, KAROL
(1885–1969)
was a painter of detailed, colorful scenes of both real and imagined locales. He lived with his family in an agricultural region south of Warsaw. Drafted into the Russianarmy in 1907, he was classified by army officials as a“peasant” and “servant worker,” and stationed in Siberia on the Mongolian border. Discharged in 1910,Kozlowski and a brother came to America three years later, and settled in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. Greenpoint was a heavily industrialized area in the earlydecades of the twentieth century, and Kozlowski found work there as a laborer at a baking powder company. He was befriended by a coworker, Edward Gronet,who eventually urged him to move in with his family. The invitation appears to have been prompted primarily by Gronet’s impression of Kozlowski as being naive andchildlike, and his concern for Kozlowski’s welfare. Kozlowski lived with the Gronet family for the remainder of his life.In 1923 Kozlowski began working as a fire cleaner for the Astoria Light, Heat and Power Company in Queens, New York, a job he held until his retirement 27years later. A member of a crew that cleaned a large furnace, in which coal was burned to produce gas, he worked eight-hour days, seven days a week, exceptSaturday, when he worked twelve hours. After work and on Sundays, Kozlowski would retreat to a small, unheated shed without electricity behind the Gronets’house, half of which was reserved for Kozlowski’s use. There he raised exotic birds, built elaborate cages for them, and, beginning in the early 1920s, he started to paint. Painting in oil over detailed, preparatory pencil drawings on canvases often measuring more than four feet in length, his subjects included Manhattan; variouslandscapes and gardens; people enjoying the beach, countryside, or promenading on city streets; foreign cities; and vistas that appear to be imagined views, rather than being derived from printed sources. In Kozlowski’s paintings, it is always summertime, birds fill the air and waters, trees are green, and the sun shines brightly on citiesof sparkling buildings carefully aligned in row upon row.
Never married, Kozlowski lavished attention on his birds, which he considered his children. His birds, painting, and the affection of the Gronet family must have provided him relief from the hot, dirty, dangerous work that occupied his days. Kozlowski’s orderly cities and landscapes, infused with insistent rhythms, patterns, and bright colors, were an alternate world created by the shy and retiring artist, one that offered predictability and reassurance.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Sarno, Martha Taylor.
Karol Kozlowski 1885–1960: Polish-American Folk Painter.
New York, 1985.Rumford, Beatrix T., ed.
American Folk Paintings: Paintings and Drawings Other Than Portraits from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center.
Boston,1988.