Drawing inspiration from teachers Max Beckmann and Sharon Callner, 2 St. Louis artists shape friendship, artwork at UMSL

Dave Kaskowitz and Corey Smith

Members of a community group that meets on campus each week for a figure-drawing session, 92-year-old Dave Kaskowitz (in foreground) and 35-year-old UMSL alumnus Corey Smith have become good friends. Smith credits Kaskowitz, who was a student of Max Beckmann in the late 1940s, with helping him grow as an artist. (Photos by Evie Hemphill)

Corey Smith doesn’t recall exactly when he began spending every Friday morning inside a figure-drawing studio at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. But he’s been doing so for at least four years thanks to someone he really looked up to as an undergraduate student: Sharon Callner.

“She passed away, but she was a professor here at UMSL, and she’s the reason [Friday morning] is so special to me,” says Smith, BFA 2015. “She really got this going, and I came one time – for extra credit in her figure-drawing class – and I just could not stop. This group wraps you in. There are great teachers and people from all walks of life.”

Corey Smith

Corey Smith, who earned his bachelor’s degree in art and art history from UMSL about a year ago, is now pursuing further education toward a career in art therapy. It was one of his UMSL professors, Sharon Callner, who first encouraged him to check out the figure-drawing group. “I keep coming back,” Smith says.

One of about a dozen attendees most weeks, Smith joins a diverse group of community members ranging from UMSL students to retirees. At about 10 a.m., each artist sets up creative shop around a live model in the middle of a room inside the Fine Arts Building, and after warming up with two- and six-minute drawings and poses, they collectively move on to 15- and 20-minute ones.

As focused as everyone is on the task at hand, friendships have developed over time alongside talents. And for Smith, who is 35, some of the most rewarding interactions have been with fellow attendee Dave Kaskowitz, who is 92 years old.

“I’ve learned different techniques from working next to Dave,” says Smith, who is pursuing a career in art therapy. “It’s really inspired me and made my work grow in the field – watercolor, painting – and he’s also shared some of his work with me.”

A number of those works were created decades ago – including when Kaskowitz was studying under German artist Max Beckmann, who taught at Washington University in St. Louis in the late 1940s.

Kaskowitz was an art student there at the time – just back from serving in World War II – and he remembers another Washington University professor telling him how fortunate he was to study under the renowned Beckmann.

Dave Kaskowitz

As an art student at Washington University in the late 1940s, Dave Kaskowitz studied under German artist Max Beckmann, who once had a hand in one of Kaskowitz’s own pieces. “I was still playing around with it, and he said, ‘Can I work on it?’” Kaskowitz remembers. “He took a brush that I had there, and there was some black paint, which he liked to use, and he worked on it. Yeah. I should’ve saved it.”

When asked whether Beckmann’s style influenced his own, Kaskowitz says he thinks so and points to a photo of a piece that features the words “drink up” along with several faces in a tavern-like setting.

“This was done when I was a student of Mr. Beckmann,” Kaskowitz explains. “It’s kind of an expressionist piece, although maybe you could call it something else. We’d go downtown to a tavern or a bar and we sat around and made sketches. And then we’d bring back sketches or paintings [to class].”

Kaskowitz worked on this particular piece for a couple of weeks, and he remembers Beckmann examining its progress one day in class and saying simply, “Finish it.”

“Then I didn’t see him for another week,” continues Kaskowitz, who emigrated from Poland at age 6. “I was still playing around with it, and he said, ‘Can I work on it?’

“He took a brush that I had there, and there was some black paint, which he liked to use, and he worked on it. Yeah. I should’ve saved it. At that time I thought, ‘Well, OK,’ and I just painted over it in white.”

While Kaskowitz worked a commercial job in downtown St. Louis for many years, art has continued to be a lifelong pursuit for him. His late wife was also an artist.

“Dorothy and I used to go out on the weekends down to the riverfront with another friend or two, and we’d paint down there for a few hours,” he recalls. “There was a little restaurant to go and get a sandwich.”

Kaskowitz works

Along with images of several other pieces he’s created over the years, Dave Kaskowitz shared a portrait of his late wife, Dorothy (upper right corner), who was also a longtime artist and St. Louisan. “Dorothy and I used to go out on the weekends down to the riverfront with another friend or two,” Kaskowitz recalls, “and we’d paint down there for a few hours.”

As Kaskowitz reflects on those moments during a quick break from figure drawing one recent Friday morning at UMSL, his friend and fellow artist smiles and chimes in.

“A beautiful thing about his wife’s name is it’s the same name as my mother, Dorothy,” Smith says.

Occasionally, members of the group serve as models for each other – in a pinch or just because. Smith, who is ambidextrous (and credits Callner with helping him develop that skill), drew a portrait of Kaskowitz a couple years ago that meant a lot to the nonagenarian.

It even includes a poem: “An amazing friend he is to me, 90 is his age, and he is filled with glee. Funny, intelligent and shows lots of love. Dave. Dave my number one bud.”

For more information about the Friday morning figure-drawing group, contact UMSL faculty member Dan Younger. And to enjoy a large collection of works by Kaskowitz’s former teacher, Beckmann, look no further than the Saint Louis Art Museum.

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