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Homegrown artist exhibits work at Dressler Center

| Sunday, April 21, 2002

Kevin Kutz agrees with Pablo Picasso's sentiment that painting is a necessity, like breathing or eating.

A Bedford County artist whose exhibition opened last week at the Philip Dressler Center for the Arts in Somerset, Kutz started to develop his talent in his early years in Somerset County.

Kutz has dedicated his exhibit to the late Jean Slenker, his teacher when he was a boy living in Somerset. Slenker later became an art professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

"She was the first one who watered the seed," Kutz said. "She told my parents I wasn't going to learn much that was in books. I would be an artist instead."

Slenker encouraged Kutz to take an after-school painting class at an old building on Main Street in Somerset, and it was there he gathered some necessary skills for a lifetime of work.

Every Wednesday Kutz walked up an old staircase to the top story of the building, placed $2 in a cigar box, and sat for a few hours with the women in the local art society to work on his paintings.

Slenker taught the community class when Kutz was in the third grade, then Paul Beal taught him in fourth grade and Homer Heinzy in the fifth grade.

"True painters must first become familiar with their medium and learn the necessary tools to fine-tune their art," Kutz said.

He fondly remembers his years in Somerset and the natural surroundings and picturesque countryside have been a theme for his work.

His father, the late Dr. Eugene Kutz, a radiologist at Somerset Hospital, and his mother, the late Barbara "Bobbie" Kutz, moved from Pittsburgh to the borough in 1958, when Kutz was 3.

"I was always outside, running up and down hills and dales with my dog and I feel that gave me the creative exploration necessary for my work," Kutz said. "Even my painting back then reflected Somerset County with trees, barns, farmhouses and hills. And periodically through the years, I have gone back to re-address those places. I call them visual echoes, sometimes you can get a better impression from a memory than a photograph."

In 1966, the Kutz family moved to Bedford and Kevin remembers being homesick for years.

"With art you can express yourself without words," he said. "It has that ineffable quality, words can't describe it."

Kutz chronicles the places, the people, and "what they leave behind." For example, he did a series of paintings of old tourist attractions along Route 30, like the Ship Hotel near Schellsburg, which recently burned.

His wife, Sally, is often a figure in his work and she says that sharing a home with an artist is both interesting and intriguing. Kutz has a daughter Kate Marie, 13, and a stepdaughter, Natalie Lee.

His art studio is located on the third floor of the old Murphy's building in Bedford. The building, now called Founder's Crossing, houses antiques businesses, and Kutz has painted a 60-foot mural inside featuring Bedford area scenes.

Kutz works mostly in oils and watercolors in a Neo-Impressionistic style. He creates about 100 paintings a year , working on upwards of 20 at a time. A gallery in Pittsburgh markets his work.

"I work every chance I get and have to balance my family, my art and the more mundane business aspects of the profession such as framing," he said.

He studied under the American Impressionist Robert Brackman and held a residency at the Vermont Studio Colony. Kutz is a plein- air painter, preferring to work at the scene rather than in his studio.

"It's getting stronger," he said. "I feel that I'm getting closer to my goal to create something universal that will inspire people. I feel guilty if I go a day without painting. It's part of a creative urge, almost a necessity."

His show at the Philip Dressler Center for the Arts, located on the corner of Harrison and Tayman avenues in Somerset, runs through May 15. The gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1 to 4 p.m. on weekends.

"This is an intriguing show and the talent is incredible," said George Fattman, executive director of Laurel Arts. "A visitor could spend hours here just looking at his work. I am still finding things in his paintings that I did not see before."

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