Playfully sporting a dash of red or blue or green in her hair, Paula Z. Kirkeby loved art—and “artists who mark on paper and those who don’t … Buddhas; motorcycles, leathers, and tattoos; jewelry; writing her emails in all cap letters and always signing off with ‘Love, Paula.’” So recalls Rebecca Schapp, director of the de Saisset Museum at Santa Clara, a place Kirkeby also adored.
Kirkeby had a unique ability to connect artists, and she sought to foster a place for them in museums like the de Saisset. She founded a fine arts press, Smith Andersen Editions, in 1969 in Palo Alto. She brought artists to work in residence. Each time an artist worked at her press, one print was gifted to the de Saisset Museum.
That relationship began three decades ago, when Kirkeby entrusted the de Saisset with the Smith Andersen Editions Archive, representing some of the most important California artists of our time. She facilitated many other gifts as well, of art and self.
Kirkeby grew up in Massachusetts, in a home where many artists and art dealers passed through. She studied fine arts, graduating from Lesley College in 1955, and moved west. She and her second husband, Philip Kirkeby, began collecting art—particularly works from the European avant-garde movement COBRA. In 1969, they opened the Smith Andersen Gallery in Palo Alto, along with the fine arts press.
The gallery became a hub of cultural activity. Artists working in residence could experiment with different methods of printmaking. Smith Andersen Editions represented artists from all over the world yet never neglected local artists, thanks to Paula’s efforts to connect them with friends who could support their work.
Philip passed away five years ago, but Paula carried on operations of the gallery and print studio herself, and hosted exhibitions. She died at her home on the first of April, surrounded by family, two days shy of her 82nd birthday.
At her memorial service, Chancellor William J. Rewak, S.J., asked, in a poem he composed in her honor:
What does it take, this bright beauty that turns the wings?
The University’s former president, Fr. Rewak had known Paula for decades. The poem’s answer to the question:
A deep center of grace where color and form create your days.
An exhibition to celebrate Paula Kirkeby’s gifts is being prepared for spring 2017 at the de Saisset Museum.