A Memorial Service will be held on November 4, 2023. Please check back here at a later time for the location and other details about the service.
Ronald “Ron” Slowinski died on Sunday, July 23, 2023; he was ninety-one. Throughout the final weeks of his life, he inspired his family and friends with his presence, humor, and dignity.
For thirty-nine years (1966-2005), Ron was a professor of drawing and painting at the Kansas City Art Institute, and for more than fifty years, he maintained a studio in Kansas City. He spent summers with family and friends hiking and painting in the mountains of Taos, New Mexico. Over the years, in keeping with his love of Native American art and culture, he attended annual ceremonial dances at the Pueblos in the region.
In the early 1960's, he and artist Martha Crow married in New York City. Their union spanned twelve years, and they had two children together. Their son Joseph, a renowned herpetologist, died in 2001; he was thirty-eight. In 2008, Ron traveled to Poland with his daughter Rachel, an accomplished photographer and teacher. Her images of the churches captivated him. His granddaughter Mia was born in 2010, and she often traveled with her parents to New Mexico to meet up with her beloved Grandpa.
Ron valued and nurtured friendships across the country and took pride in his community in Kansas City. He was fond of his neighbors and traveled to the Southwest with groups of friends. He enjoyed shared dinners and holiday celebrations. When he was the host, his eyes twinkled, and the table was always beautifully set.
Ron was an abstractionist. During his early periods as an artist in Chicago and New York City, solid colors and forms – architectonic and geometric – predominated in his works. Paintings of transparent washes, with sharp linear structures and scatterings of gestural elements, followed. Then, sometime around 1975, he shifted to the ethereal watercolor and acrylic paintings for which he is perhaps best known. Ron titled the first group of these luminous works the Pollen Series for the powdery plant substance held sacred by Native Americans of the Southwest and symbolizing peace, happiness, and prosperity.
Born on January 10, 1932, the son of Helen (Lipinski) Slowinski and Franciszek “Francis/Frank” Slowinski, Ronald Jerome Slowinski grew up on Chicago’s west side in a large Polish family of devout Catholics. All four of his grandparents were born in Poland and married in Chicago. As a young man, Ron studied classical piano and organ, and he often played the organ for Sunday’s High Mass at St. Edward Catholic Church. As an emerging visual artist, the city's renowned architecture, including its Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, and the impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces at the Art Institute of Chicago, inspired him.
In 1954, he received a certificate in painting from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and this is where he bonded with the group of young abstract artists who founded the storefront Wells Street Gallery. Ron’s cohort – painters Richard Bogart, Ernest Dieringer, Judith Dolnick, Robert Natkin, Naomi Tatum, Gerald van de Wiele, Donald Vlack, sculptor John Chamberlain, and photographer Aaron Siskind – opened what the Chicago Sunday Tribune tagged as “an avant-garde exhibition place filled with the most advanced abstractions in town.” Although the run of the gallery was brief, 1957-1959, it is remembered for its historic contribution to advancing abstract art in Chicago.
Ron served in the United States Army during the Korean War; following his honorable discharge, he moved to New York City, along with other artists in the Wells Street Group. Chicago critic Franz Schultz wrote from New York in 1961, "[To] no one's surprise, they have been steadily gaining in reputation. The Wells Street Group of Chicago with its unique style of gestural abstraction reached a receptive audience in New York. Most notably Natkin, Bogart, Dolnick, Dieringer and Slowinski were all invited by Elinor Poindexter to join her gallery."
While living in New York, he worked as a preparator at the Guggenheim Museum. Stories from this time include his dumpster dive to recover Frank Lloyd Wright easels the museum had discarded, as well as a Kandinsky romp, with Ron’s youthful sense of humor on full display. In the latter, he was said to have staged the destruction of what appeared to be an authentic Kandinsky painting, throwing it to the ground, stomping on it, and yelling "I hate Kandinsky." Only later did his audience, including a horrified Guggenheim curator, learn the painting was a precise reproduction Ron had created.
Ron taught at Indiana University in Bloomington for a year prior to coming to Kansas City in 1966. In 1968-1969, he was awarded a Fulbright Research Grant to paint and study in Kyoto, and he set up residence with his family in a traditional house with tatami mats, paper windows, and a room dedicated to the tea ceremony. A portable kerosene stove was the only source of heat. Ron not only loved Japanese architecture, he lived it.
A master at both teaching the techniques of drawing and painting and bringing forward larger worlds – the histories of art, architecture, music, and literature – Ron mentored hundreds of students during his tenure at the Kansas City Art Institute. He conversed with them in the classroom, library, and studio, took them to regional museums and performances, and hosted them at his home.
The Philip Johnson-designed Sheldon Museum of Art at the University of Nebraska mounted a twenty-five year retrospective of Ron’s paintings in 1984. The catalogue reads: “Here is an artist whose commitment to the business of art is total, an artist whose activity in our midst establishes a qualitative standard of a high order. The exhibition in itself represents the Sheldon Gallery's commitment to the critical appraisal and endorsement of the best work being done in our region, which is part of the best from anywhere.”
For more than a half-century, Ron Slowinski exhibited in solo and group shows throughout the United States and Japan. Douglas Drake Gallery of Kansas City and New York City represented him from 1974 through 1995 and thereafter privately with Drake Fine Art from Kansas City. He also exhibited at Leedy-Voulkos Gallery in Kansas City, Canfield Gallery and Gebert Contemporary in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the John Molloy Gallery in New York City. His works are in private and public collections, including the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, in Buffalo, New York.
In a 2013 essay for an exhibition of his paintings at the John Molloy Gallery, Elisabeth Kirsch, independent art historian and curator, credited Ron with possessing "a scholar’s knowledge of the writing of Thomas Merton, the poems of St. John of the Cross, Navajo Yei ceremonies, and Hopi religion." Ron expressed his interest in world cultures through the collecting of art; the objects served as touchstones for his own creativity.
During the second half of his life, Ron made his home in a red brick cottage in the Oak Meyer Gardens neighborhood of Kansas City. It was here he was most content. Light glinted off the varnished hardwood floors and onto his paintings, books, antique Japanese lanterns, and Burmese temple gongs. In the living room, two simple Hopi basket trays hung on the wall and a cardboard model of a Polish church sat on a shelf. He took great joy in rotating paintings and objects, sometimes weekly, and friends looked forward to the surprise of what might be on display at any visit. Ron Slowinski valued order, rhythm, and beauty in the everyday.
He is survived by his daughter Rachel Slowinski, son-in-law Daniel Krall, and granddaughter Mia Slowinski-Krall, all of Los Angeles, former wife Martha Crow of Brooklyn, brother Frank Slowen of Albuquerque, New Mexico, brother Richard Slowinski and wife Janet of Chicago, sister Carol Weiss and husband Frank of Buffalo, New York, as well as beloved nieces and nephews, friends, colleagues, and students. He was preceded in death by his son Joseph Slowinski, sister-in-law Rita Slowen and brother-in-law David Jones.
In lieu of flowers or gifts, please consider a donation to the Taos School of Music: https://taosschoolofmusic.com/