Curated by Jessica Demers
It was 1960. Zeljko Kujundzic, a fifth generation artist from former Yugoslavia with a sometimes fiery disposition, was hired as the first principal of the newly formed Nelson School of Fine Arts’ three-year diploma program. Over the next 4 years, Kujundzic would impart his rigorous European “studio method” of instruction in which teacher and student work together on commissioned projects, much like the Renaissance model of apprenticeship. Kujundzic emphasized the use of local materials, practical skills in a wide array of mediums and the study of literature and philosophy to enrich cultural depth. Students would learn to make their own art materials using locally sourced clay for sculpture, mineral pigments for mixing paints and metals for jewelery. The school began to attract a diverse cross section of students, from hippies and homemakers to young artists from across Canada and abroad, drawn in part by Kujundzic’s reputation as well as the breadth of the courses offered. Although he was only there for a relatively short period of time, his influence marked the beginnings not only of KSA, but perhaps also of Nelson’s re-invention as the “Best Little Arts Town” in Canada.
With his bold lines, iconic imagery and strong compositions, Kujundzic’s artistic practice reflected not only his European “studio method” training, but also aesthetics of the times. Kujundzic’s artistic practice included ceramic sculpture, painting, printmaking, metalwork, jewelry, tapestries and numerous public art commissions. His interest in the cultural and spiritual roots of artistic production led to an early fascination with First Nations art, and he befriended and mentored many young aboriginal artists throughout BC.
In this exhibition, the history of KSA is explored through a collection of rare archival photographs, original course calendars and a timeline that traces the tenatious, and at times tumultuous evolution of Nelson’s cherished art education institution. Join us for this retrospective exhibit that explores Kujundzic’s diverse artistic practices, and the history of the now iconic Kootenay School of the Arts.
Kujundzic’s life story is one of struggle and resiliency. Born in 1920 in former Yugoslavia, during WWII Kujundzic was active in a student resistance cell, and taken prisoner first by Germans, then the Russians, escaping both times. The second time he trekked back a thousand miles through the Ukraine and Romania to Yugoslavia. After the war he relocated to Britain, then Scotland and eventually immigrated to Canada with his wife Ann in 1958, settling in Cranbrook. The following year he moved to Nelson, and began teaching art at L.V. Rogers, as well as the Nelson School of Fine Arts summer program. He was then invited to help establish what is now KSA, and was hired as the first principal.
An internationally acclaimed artist throughout the 1960’s to ‘80’s, Kujundzic was incredibly driven and prolific. Beyond his contribution to the establishment of KSA, his influence was felt wherever he lived and worked. After he moved to Kelowna in 1964, Kujundzic established the Art Centre, the Okanagan Summer Arts Festival and formed the Contemporary Okanagan Artists group with five other artists. He also taught at Pennsylvania State University and moved between there and the Okanagan from 1968-1992. Kujundzic completed many commissions, including Thunderbird sculptures for UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium, the Fink Fountain in Cranbrook and the Gate of Life monument in Pennsylvania which commemorates Jewish people killed in the holocaust. Other accomplishments include inventing a solar kiln in 1975 and creating sculpture for the Canadian Pavilion at Expo ’87. Kujundzic held solo shows in Edinburgh, London, Paris, Mexico, Pennsylvania, Japan and Oslo.
Kujundzic Biographical Summary