She Draws a Knife on the Notion of Age Limitations

Marion Kaminkow gave her pieces away to friends. Then she moved to Asheville and got “discovered.” Photo by Rimas Zailskas

Marion J. Kaminkow, 96, tries to deflect any recognition of her wide-ranging artistic endeavors — including painting, mosaic making, enameling, and needlepoint. But examples of her work in all these areas adorn the shelves and walls of her small apartment
Born in London, Kaminkow briefly attended college, but says she quit in order to become part of the Women’s Land Army during WWII. She drove a tractor for this British civilian organization, which put women to work in agriculture, freeing up the men to serve in the military.

“I met my husband-to-be Jack in London when he was over serving in the U.S. Army,” reveals Kaminkow. “We’d been corresponding for a while after being introduced through a fellow penpal. I met him again when I visited the States in 1948.” They were married in 1954, and for years owned a Baltimore-based company that published genealogy reference books.

Photo by Rimas Zailskas

“I completed a Bachelor of Science degree at Towson State College in Maryland in 1985, when I was 63,” she says with justifiable pride. Kaminkow regularly dismisses age, considering it an arbitrary measure of one’s potential. She was 70 when a man came to her senior center to demonstrate the art of woodcarving, and she ended up taking a handful of classes from him, “starting first with three-dimensional carving and then progressing to two-dimensional.” Afterwards, she bought some chisels and kept improving, focusing primarily on bas-relief work.

She started carving images of my friends’ houses and later “graduated” to making cats and dogs, “sometimes showing them sitting down to share a meal together,” she says. For many years, she made gifts of her carvings, never earning any money from her art.

That changed in the summer of 2011. Kaminkow and her daughter, Joan Cope, brought a few of her relief carvings to American Folk Art & Framing in Asheville — the city that had become the artist’s home after her husband passed away.

Photo by Rimas Zailskas

“The subjects and layout and the handcrafted nature of her carvings just enchanted me,” says gallery owner Betsey-Rose Weiss, who has carried her work ever since. “When you look at Marion’s art, you can feel the pure creative joy.” She adds, “It’s easy to overlook the skill needed to create the depth of perspective in a very unforgiving medium.”

Using just a few chisels — she handles no power tools — Kaminkow transforms the soft basswood that’s been planed down and cut to her specifications by a couple of friends. “I have an idea in mind before I start, and then lay out pictures to trace onto the wood before picking up a chisel.”

“Chiseling wood is not for the faint of heart,” notes Weiss. And Kaminkow does talk about quitting. But it just doesn’t seem likely. “There may be less articulation in her chisel work in recent years,” Weiss allows. “But in the absence of detail, more whimsy has entered.”

“I don’t need the money,” says Kaminkow, “but I must admit, it is exciting to me that people are willing to pay for my carvings.”

Marion Kaminkow, American Folk Art & Framing, 64 Biltmore Ave., Asheville. For more information, call 828-281-2134 or see amerifolk.com.

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