Jacob Kass


painted scenes of urban New York, rural Vermont, and Florida on more than one hundred saws and other tools, following his retirement at age 63. He painted peopleat work as well as at leisure, and his art reflected a reverence and respect for nature. His subjects include subway and pushcart scenes, children playing baseball, planting and harvesting scenes, and people ice skating in the moonlight. The vision of America that Kass presented was an optimistic view.A second-generation artisan truck and letter painter, for more than 40 years (from the 1940s to 1970s) Kass owned William Kass and Sons, a truck-painting business located in Brooklyn, New York. Kass’s father, Wilhelm, immigrated to America from Germany, and started the business as a carriage and wagon paint shopin 1910.When Kass retired from the business, he said, “I didn’t want to pick up a paintbrush again.” But his interest in painting was rekindled after he moved to Vershire,Vermont, where he began to buy old tools and furniture at flea markets, to fix them up for resale. He discovered that people responded particularly well to his paintedmilk cans, frying pans, saws, and other tools. This positive reinforcement stimulated his enthusiasm to paint.The artist worked by first making a drawing of each tool, tracing it on paper. Then he prepared the surfaces meticulously, as if they were the truck surfaces he usedto paint and decorate. The metal blades of his tools were sanded smooth to remove all traces of rust. An undercoat was painted, and then with acrylic paint he workedup the scene he had sketched in the traced drawing, adding or deleting details as he painted. Occasionally, Kass also added details on the final varnish coat that heapplied over the finished surface of each piece.Because of his skill as a master letter-painter, Kass understood how to manipulate color and shadows to make his images stand out. His understanding of color anddesign, from years of experience, were utilized in creating his painted tools. Just as Grandma Moses and William Hawkins kept a cache of drawings, printed materials,and photographs from newspapers, magazines, greeting cards, and other popular sources to use as references, Kass kept organized files full of pictures of trees, ships,animals, buildings, landscapes, seascapes, and subway stations.In 1981 Kass received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The Tampa Museum of Art (in 1994), the Mennello Museum of Folk Art (from 1999– 2000), and the American Folk Art Museum (in 2002) have each staged one-person exhibitions of Kass’s painted saws.

Mennello Museum of American Folk Art.
Saws, Sickles, Squares, and Tongs.
Orlando, Fla., 1999.Kogan, Lee. “Jacob Kass/Painted Saws.”
Folk Art,
vol. 27, no. 2 (summer 2002): 46–51. ——.
Jacob Kass/Painted Saws.
New York, 2002