“Maxwell King and Louise Lippincott have achieved something quite remarkable with their insightful and balanced examination of a most extraordinary man whose talent enabled him to elevate fleeting moments of ordinary life to works of art for the ages.”
Andrew E. Masich, president and CEO, Senator John Heinz History Center
In conversation with Sylvia Rhor, Director and Curator of the University Art Gallery (UAG) at the University of Pittsburgh
American Workman presents a comprehensive, novel reassessment of the life and work of one of America’s most influential self-taught artists, John Kane. With a full account of Kane’s life as a working man, including his time as a steelworker, coal miner, street paver, and commercial painter in and around Pittsburgh in the early twentieth century, the authors explore how these occupations shaped his development as an artist and his breakthrough success in the modern art world. A rough-and-tumble blue-collar man prone to brawling and drinking, Kane also sought out beauty in the industrial world he inhabited. This Kane paradox—brawny and tough, sensitive and creative—was at the heart of much of the public’s interest in Kane as a person. The allure of the Kane saga was heightened all the more by the fact that he did not achieve renown until he was at the age at which most people are retiring from their professions. Kane’s dedication to painting resulted in a fascinating body of work that has ended up in some of America’s most important museums and private collections.
Maxwell King is the former editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and president of the Heinz Endowments. He is the author of the poetry collection Crossing Laurel Run and the New York Times-bestselling Mister Rogers biography The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers. He is the past president of The Pittsburgh Foundation.
Louise Lippincott is a historian and former curator specializing in American and European art from the Enlightenment to the modern era. She focuses on artists outside the mainstream, and the historical contexts that give meaning to their work. As curator of fine arts at Carnegie Museum of Art, she managed the largest John Kane collection in the United States.
“When Andy Warhol first hit the art world, he was only the second most famous painter to come out of Pittsburgh. John Kane, steelworker and housepainter, had garnered his own headlines in the 1920s, when museums discovered his ‘primitive’ oils. Almost a century later, Maxwell King and Louise Lippincott are giving Kane the attention he deserves.”