Kenneth Washburn (1904-1989)

Kenneth Washburn (1904-1989)

Born in Franklinville, New York, in 1904, Kenneth Washburn earned both his B.F.A. and M.F.A. from Cornell University, and showed his dedication to the school’s arts program by teaching there from 1928 to 1950. Aside from a brief stay in Europe in 1927, Washburn’s early artistic style reflected his American training, with themes inspired by what he knew and loved most: the people and towns of central and western New York. This period also coincided with the onset of the Great Depression, but the subsequent creation of the Federal Arts Project enabled painters and sculptors to make ends meet through public art commissions. While Washburn’s position at Cornell certainly must have helped him weather these difficult times, in 1935 he also completed eight murals adorning the upper lobby walls of the Binghamton, New York, Post Office (now the Federal Building and Courthouse) featuring rural and industrial scenes of his home state, paintings that are still on display today. 

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During his decades in Ithaca, Washburn was deeply involved in revitalizing the city’s art scene, joining with other residents to establish the Ithaca Art Association which was open to both professional and amateur artists. He strongly believed that everyone had the capability of creative expression, and he held lectures open to the wider Cornell community on a myriad of subjects, ranging from the work of Grandma Moses to drawing methods to art’s role in society. In addition to his teaching, Washburn exhibited with several arts organizations, including the American Watercolor Society, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the National Academy of Design.

Washburn eventually relocated to California in the early 1950s and continued teaching over the years through positions at San Mateo Junior College, the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, and the Palo Alto Art Club (renamed the Pacific Art League of Palo Alto in 1984), before passing away in 1989. 

References: Falk, Who Was Who in American Art, 1999; The Cornell Daily Sun Digital Archive,; “Ithaca Paints,” Life magazine, Vol. 26, No. 14, April 4, 1949, pp. 68-70.

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