A BRIEF BIOGRAPHy
Kate Harland Kelly (1882-1964) was an accomplished and award-winning sculptor who explored etching and developed a brilliant eye for taking amazing photographs. Her photos are primarily of local people who they met in their circle of friends and neighbors.
Born in a mining town in Northern California, Kate moved to Berkeley with her mother and two sisters after the death of her father. Kate was drawn to the arts as well to activism. She was a talented pianist who also sang and loved the theater. While she was in High School, she helped her mother advocate for women’s rights.
Her mother, Hester Harland, headed the Suffrage Rights of Berkeley and had traveled on horseback throughout Northern California with Susan B. Anthony advocating for women’s right to vote. California secured this right in 1911, a decade before the 19th Amendment. An educator, Hester was also instrumental in the formation of the Parent Teacher Association.
Kate met john through mutual friends. They married in 1908 and lived in San Francisco in an artist community.
After art school, Kate and John lived in Berkeley until in 1923 when they relocated to Hawai’i. There, Kate took an etching class at the University of Hawai’i under Huc Lucquiens. John watched as Kate bit a copper plate and he was hooked. He began experimenting with the media and never stopped. By the middle of the following year there had been two exhibits of their etchings.
Kate etched a small body of work, but sculpture remained her primary focus.
Kate was commissioned to produce numerous bronze plaques commemorating historical people and places Her most famous honored Queen Liliou’kalani and Amelia Earhart, featured in Life Magazine.
In 1926, Kate and John purchased a small lot on a wind-swept lava flow on the far side of Diamond Head, where they slowly built their home. They each had a studio and were able to concentrate on their art full time. She was an avid gardener and coaxed plants to flourish even this dry and rocky terrain.
Kate was drawn to the culture of the Hawaiian people in her community and became one of the first haole (foreigner) to study hula with a halau (school of traditional hula.) She was able to sell her popular miniature sculptures that helped to support the two artists and their young son.
Several of Kate's sculptures are of family friends. Two of these sculptures are at the Honolulu Museum of Art.
Kate soon realized that even as a former “advertising man” John no interest in promoting his own work. He was completely focused on creating art. Consequently, Kate became instrumental in getting John’s work seen. She arranged gallery showings at their home and secured two exhibits in New York. The enthusiastic praise in the reviews of these exhibits were instrumental in establishing Kelly as a gifted master printmaker.
She also helped John enter printmaking competitions in California and the Midwest. He won awards, high praise and recognition with every entry.
Kate produced art throughout her life. She created a warm and welcoming home atmosphere enjoyed by many guests. Her representation of Hawaiian culture and people is her lasting legacy to Hawai’i.