A Brief Biography Of

John & Kate Kelly

John Melville Kelly, born in Oakland, California, was raised on a ranch outside of Phoenix, Arizona. He returned to the Bay Area when he was a young adult where he attended art school and worked for the San Francisco Examiner as a graphic artist.

In 1923, he travelled to Hawai'i with his artist wife, Kate, and their young son, John Jr.   He was commissioned to help illustrate a new housing development on the Island of O’ahu.  They fell in love with Hawai‘i and never left. 

John was a professional graphic artist who evolved into a master draftsman. Kate was an established sculptor and photographer and  introduced John to the basic  technique of dry point etching.

John Kelly at his press mid 1950's

John and Kate quickly became familiar with many aspects of Native Hawaiian culture and established lasting friendships with local fishermen and their families who lived and worked in their neighborhood. Many of the subjects in his art were their friends. The Kellys’ home became a center of cultural exchange, music, shared meals and much gaiety.

Both John and Kate’s art reflect a deep understanding and a genuine appreciation of Native Hawaiian culture. Kate sculpted the busts of several Hawaiian friends and was commissioned to produce numerous bronze plaques commemorating historic places and people, including Queen Lili’ou’kalani. (COMING SOON:  KATE KELLY IN DEPTH)

Kate Kelly sculpting

Kate Kelly sculpting

John’s images capture the profound beauty of the Islands as well as the hardship for a people adjusting to difficult changes. Hawaiians were being pushed off their lands that were targeted for resort hotels, military bases and yacht harbors. Hawai’i was in transition as tourism steadily emerged as the economic engine for the Islands.

John’s art reflects Native Hawaiian men and women working as lei sellers, fishermen, dancers, and farmers. His work is a testament to the beauty of Polynesian people and to the lives of an indigenous people who have maintained their culture in spite of having been vacated from their homes, farms, fishing grounds and beaches.

Throughout his career, Kelly won countless awards. He was widely  recognized as an extraordinary talent and master printmaker.  His exhibits enjoyed glowing and enthusiastic reviews and included the New York Times, Time Magazine, Chicago Daily News, New York Herald and  Art Digest. 

We hope you enjoy this unique view of Hawai‘i and her people through the eyes of a master printmaker, John Kelly.