Hadiya F.: My father, Harry Kirchner, was born July 2, 1912 in Philadelphia. His mother died when he was five years old and his sister raised him. I think that he was always drawing, he would draw on the wallpaper if nothing else was available. He used to tell us about skipping school to go to the zoo to draw the animals. And indeed, when we cleaned out his studio shortly before his death, we found a folder with drawings from 1928, many of them zoo animals. There were also illustrations. He was already quite proficient.
Janice A: I have some very old works he did that go way back to the 1920's. These are signed "Kirchner" and there is a piece from 1930 which is signed "Kane" so he must have changed his name around then. As a young man, he went to New York with a group of friends from Philadelphia to work as an artist. Although he had no formal training and was basically self-taught, he did study and work diligently to improve his art and learn. He frequented museums and learned from the masters and also from his artist friends.
HF: He was pretty much self-taught and self-educated. He spent much time in museums, read extensively and, over time, built up a nice collection of art books. The early years through the Great Depression were not easy ones, our mother remembers he and his roommate having a fight over an egg, thus demonstrating the poverty they were experiencing. He eventually began getting work and did make a good living as a commercial artist. Some of his early work included detective comics, also westerns.
JA: Before WWII he and our mom lived in Greenwich Village. During the war he was in the army and was stationed in Hawaii for a time where he did quite a bit of artwork. After the war he returned to New York where housing was hard to come by, so they bought a house in Queens, which is where we grew up.
Harry Kane, Illustrator
Some thoughts, memories and photos shared by his daughters,
JA: I don't know when he started working at the studio on E. 52nd St., but growing up, I know that he always worked there for as long as I could remember. Besides working mostly at the 52nd St. studio, he also worked frequently at our house in Queens, in a little art studio he had in the basement, usually at night and always with a cigarette - my mom was never able to get him to quit! He worked on many illustrations there, including some for The Three Investigators. I would go down there at night to watch him and he would tell me what he was working on, describing the stories. I do have some now-vague memories of watching him work on some of The Three Investigators drawings. As you are aware, he did a huge amount of artwork for books and magazines, all kinds of advertising and I specifically remember two large, elaborate movie posters along with his covers for "Gourmet" magazine which, like so many other pieces, are among those lost to us. He worked at the 52nd St. studio up until he and mom split up in 1970. He moved into an apartment at 310 E. 49th St. and it served as his studio as well. I moved away from New York in the early '70's, so I had less contact with him after that.
HF: I left New York in 1969 but I remember his apartment was right near the U.N. It was a nice little place with really good light. Since he only worked at home occasionally I did not see the entire process, though I do remember them (Three Investigators illustrations). I don't know if he used models for The Three Investigators or not, he kept files of reference materials, but he used models extensively, myself included, and the actress Ellen Burstyn posed for him regularly in the 1950's. In the late 1960's he was having difficulty finding work. Print was no longer the only means of advertising and photography had replaced illustration to a large degree. He was versatile and was able to alter his style to suit the needs of a job, but even so, work was not plentiful. I think he was discouraged and began looking at other options. He did story boards as well as the book illustrations. He was studying set design and film making and was working on an animation. Unfortunately, I lost what I had of this stuff in a 1993 house fire. Despite the high praise Random House gave him for the quality of his work on The Three Investigators books, he felt he wasn't being adequately compensated for his efforts so he stopped doing them.
HF: There were three of us children. My brother, Eugene, born in 1941, myself and Janice. Our brother has been seriously mentally ill all his life. It was dad who made it possible for him to have a life. It was probably because of our brother's illness that we did not get to spend as much time with dad. However, he always encouraged us and would always buy us the best art supplies. Right up until the time dad became ill he would meet our brother every Sunday afternoon. In the summers they would go to a park and listen to music on an old portable record player, in the winters they went to the Whitney Museum. Even a few years ago I took my brother there and some of the guards remembered them and asked about my dad.
My father was not very impressed with Abstract art, but he admired Picasso, many American artists like John Marin, Stuart Davis, Robert Henri, Eakins, Hassam, and others early 20th Century, Ash Can, impressionism. He admired NC Wyeth quite a lot. He made fun of Pollack and Pop artists like Warhol. Yet he was very interested in the theories of Marshall Mcluhan.
Harry, Eugene and Minna. Circa 1945.
JA: By the early '80's I knew he was slowing down, he was working on just a few things before he gave it up. He still kept his drawing table set-up in his apartment. In the mid '80's his health was starting to fail. He had a bad case of emphysema and was having small strokes. In December 1987 he had a stroke and was hospitalized, later he was moved to a nursing home near Fort Tryon Park. Hadiya and I went to New York in February 1988 to clean out his apartment and salvage what little was left. So much of his work, in fact, much of his best work was gone, but what we did find, we boxed up and had shipped out to us. We were able to visit him before he died, at the nursing home. I remember talking with him and that he was really glad to see us. He had an aneurysm and died in mid-March. I was glad to be able to obtain some of his personal possessions -- mainly some of his art supplies. I also have a collection of sketches that I remember he did in the 60's of some whimsical animals he called "alphabeasts". My sister and I both kept copies of some of The Three Investigators books, a couple of books from the Boy's Life series and another book, "The Beaver Hunters". I would have loved to have the original illustrations from that book because I remember when he worked on those (1963) and I remember him talking about it quite a bit.
HF: We spent two days sorting through his things on that trip in February. I don't know what happened to all the illustrations, most everything was gone. He seemed to have saved everything else, there were lots of letters, many from my mother when he was in the army. We went through all the photographs of his work. It was an amazing experience for me, I felt closer to him than I ever had. He had spent so much time with my brother that I did not get to spend very much time with him, although we had some really nice long lunches in either the restaurant at the Modern or the cafeteria at the Met. As an adult I guess I could see things differently. At the nursing home, it was a good visit. At first he looked so thin and drawn that I didn't recognize him. But in talking to him he was still there, joking the way he always did. He had been joking with the nurses when he died. That's one thing about my dad, his sense of humor. You could sometimes see it in the expressions on faces in illustrations. He was always joking, it was sometimes hard to get a straight answer from him.
JA: Our mom, Minna Kirchner, is living out here now, near us, she will be 93 this month (March 2006). Thank you for your interest in my father and your appreciation of his work.
STS: My sincere thanks to both Hadiya and Janice, artists themselves. They can be found on-line at the following web sites: BarefootBird.com and Brown-Rabbit.com
Harry Kane with family and friends (Coney Island?). Circa early 1950's.