• Meredith Jack

Robert "Rabbit Rancher" Kurkowski

Robert E. (Rabbit Rancher) Kurkowski - 1944-2011

Many of you will probably wonder why I would be posting this, you don't know him and could care less. But as usual, it has something to do with the majority of people who would visit this site, and an object lesson for all who would try to be an artist in hard times.

Bob Kurkowski was a student of mine at the University of Minnesota, Morris, MN and a good friend. He was my assistant in sculpture and ceramics, and lived in my house for a year, because his wife moved to a North Dakota farm that she had inherited before he graduated and they couldn't afford two residences.

I got to know him early on in my tenure in Minnesota, he came into my office one day, shut the door and pulled out a joint and said "I think we need to get know one another". He was really a painter and an accomplished draughtsman. But he learned ceramics well because it was a "fluid and plastic" medium, similar to painting. But the reason I write this is what he did after he graduated in 1974 and moved to his wife's farm in Christine, ND a few miles south of Fargo.

Many of you might be wondering what you are going to do after graduation; Bob had the same problem, how to be an artist and make a living? He worked a couple of small jobs in the ceramics field, but he saw a need for a communal arts studio, with facilities for he and others to work with. He somehow talked the Fargo public school system into giving him a space in the basement of a grade school and an old electric kiln, and he became the art department for the school. Within a few years he, and the artists who joined him, were the art department for the entire Fargo Public School system.

He built facilities for ceramics and photography, was given classroom space for drawing and painting, a small gallery space, and they had a functional art department for the entire city. Soon after that, the state authorities became aware of him and he expanded the system statewide.

He did workshops all over the state, for all level schools, but it wasn't wide enough distribution; North Dakota isn't as big as Texas, but it's a long way across. So he became the producer of videos about art, processes and aesthetics. He used the occasion of a foundry workshop that Phil Fitzpatrick and I did, to video the casting process.

The moral of the story is that you are going to have to be as creative at survival as you are with your work. Kurkowski did it, so can you.

And, the reason he is referred to as "Rabbit Rancher" is that he is the only person I've ever known who bought two rabbits (different genders) and didn't get any "kits" for the first five years. But, patience paid off in many rabbit dinners at the farm in Christine. May you too have the creativity and patience to be a success.

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