Kent Blossom Art History | Kent State University

Kent Blossom Art History

Kent State University’s Kent Blossom Art program has a rich history as a pioneering and immersive visual art experience for students.  The program was initially called the Blossom-Kent Art Program and was a part of the Blossom Festival School, an intensive arts education initiative that included visual arts, music and theater. Since the inception of the program in 1968, the School of Art has invited an exciting array of professional visiting artists from around the country to work with students at Kent State during these summer intensives in various studio disciplines. As we celebrate this fifty-year legacy, we take time to look back on all the amazing artists who have worked with our students throughout the years, helping them grow as artists and expand their visions in their chosen disciplines.

The program was started when the Cleveland Orchestra moved to a new summer home at Blossom Music Center, just north of Akron, and about 15 miles from the Kent State Campus.  Some very important decisions were made at this time, notably the concept of creating not only a music program for Northeastern Ohio, but expanding this to a genuine cultural center.  Under an agreement with the Cleveland Musical Arts Association, Kent State University instituted two new programs; an intensive musical apprenticeship program, using the Cleveland Orchestra members, together with visiting musicians, and an equally intensive art program with carefully selected students and a distinguished group of visiting artists. A theater program was added in the summer of 1969, which is now known as Porthouse Theatre.  Students were encouraged to participate in as many facets of the Blossom programs as possible, which includes attending visiting artist lectures and demonstrations of techniques. University bus services were used to transport students to Blossom Music Center from campus and attend free concerts. 

Harold Kitner, a painting professor at the School of Art, founded the Blossom-Kent Art Program.  He wrote the original proposal for the program and served as its director for many years.  He also taught adult drawing and painting classes on the Blossom grounds as a part of the program.  Kitner served as art critic for the Akron Beacon Journal.  

Within the first decade, an impressive roster of visiting artists had formed, including Richard Anuszkiewicz, Philip Pearlstein, Wayne Thiebaud, Otto Piene, Alex Katz, Richard Hunt, Larry Zox, Julian Stanczak, and Arline Fisch. The School of Art has hosted numerous talented and distinguished artists in each of the studio areas: ceramics, drawing/painting, jewelry/metals/enameling, glass, sculpture, printmaking and textiles.  Divisions of the School of Art also once included filmmaking/cinematography, graphic design and illustration.  Artists specializing in performance, papermaking, computer art and book arts, as well as art historians and critics also participated in the program during its fifty-year legacy. 

The addition of a gallery space called Eells Gallery was built in 1974 at Blossom Music Center by architect Peter van Dijk and exhibited artwork from many visiting artists who participated in the Kent Blossom Art program.  The gallery was made possible through a gift from William H. Eells, a retired Ford Motor Co. executive and a gift of Ford Motor Co. Before a permanent space was built, exhibitions were held in tents on the grounds as well as displays of outdoor sculpture. Eells Gallery was also used for artist talks throughout the summer.  The gallery spaces on the Kent campus often showed work by visiting artists as well as student work that resulted from the program. The School of Art Galleries and Collection has also acquired numerous artworks from these visiting artists throughout the years, which can be found in the over 4,000-piece collection. 

Although some aspects of the program have changed over the years, many of the core values remain intact.  The main objectives being “to provide for the infusion of new ideas and attitudes through the introduction of major visiting artists as teachers and to increase art exposure and motivation of the Kent students” in diverse classes of undergraduate, graduate, and a selected group of non-Kent students and artists.