Ray Kass

Artist & Founder — Mt Lake Workshop



PAINTED SAWS: A painter's tools
On saws and such, retired artist drew vignettes of America at work and at play

Oct 1, 2006

Jacob Kass spent five decades painting scenes and business logos on the sides of carriages and wagons in New York City.

But his heart wasn't with him. It was far away, in the tranquil setting of rural Vermont. He would escape there on occasion, to his trailer on 10 acres, and dream of making it his full-time home.

After two major heart attacks, Kass decided the quiet life was just what he needed. He retired and moved there with his wife, Juliette, and figured he would do absolutely nothing.

His family balked and came up with a more creative idea – painting.

Sure, it was something Kass had already accomplished. But this time he added a twist. Instead of painting carriages, he brought his collection of antique saws and farm tools to life using vibrant colors.

From the mid-1970s until his death in 2000, Kass painted bucolic scenes of farm life on bucksaws, handsaws, hacksaws, carpenter's squares, circular saw blades and hay knives. City street scenes from New York invade some of the paintings, but most feature farmers plowing, horses grazing, children playing hockey on frozen ponds and playful dogs fetching sticks.

"He thought it was a great idea to paint on saws," said his son, Ray Kass. "He liked the objects, he liked the shape."

Ray Kass, a retired art professor at Virginia Tech who lives in Christiansburg, is keeping his father's love of the arts alive by showcasing his work across the country. An established artist himself, Kass began showing the painted saws in galleries about 1975 alongside his own abstract art. But the popularity of the saws meant solo exhibitions, including one at the American Folk Art Museum in New York.

The latest is at the Meadow Farm Museum Orientation Center in Henrico County. Continuing through May 31, "Jacob Kass: Painted Saws" features about 45 paintings and sketches.

"The paintings really tell a story," said Kim Sicola, curator for historic preservation and museum services for the Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks. "They are a real slice of Americana. He has really captured the peaceful quality of the scene, of the life there."

A few paintings depict Kass' old life in New York. He focused on subway and street scenes, and even painted the outside of his old painting shop on Alabama Avenue. His father, William, had started the business in 1907.

"He didn't love his job, but he received a lot of training through that," Ray Kass said.

Jacob Kass began working at his father's business when he was 9, delivering sandwiches to the workers. When he was older, he designed and painted.

When he retired, he painted on milk cans and frying pans before experimenting on saws.

"It's a surreal object," said Ray Kass, whose artwork is on display at the University of Richmond and the Reynolds Gallery. "You have something where the tool speaks through the painting. He liked the feeling of the work the tool had done."

Most of the saws and farm tools date to the 19th century. Kass chose the tool depending on the scene he wanted to paint. A circular saw blade, for example, gives the feel of movement - the perfect complement for the crashing waves of a beach scene.

"It wasn't until he began showing that he began thinking of himself as an artist," Ray Kass said. "But he's an important American folk artist. He's the best at this. I feel a responsibility to share that with others, and I'm proud to be doing that."

Contact staff writer Janet Caggiano at jcaggiano@timesdispatch.com or (804) 649-6157.

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