While Stan Kephart’s death this past December 2 came far too soon for us at U.S. 1, the celebration of his life came at a perfect time. Kephart, the artist who helped us design the covers here at U.S. 1 for the past 20 years, always had a great sense of timing — he arrived just prior to our deadline, got his work done quickly and quietly, and was gone before we knew it.
The memorial service on the Saturday before New Year’s prompted me to recall my long association with Kephart and think back to our first meeting. He had not yet begun to work for U.S. 1, but he was a neighbor of mine on Park Place, and he left at my door an invitation to an art show he was having.
I was so struck by the show that I wrote an article about it in the January, 1986, issue of U.S. 1, distributed just a few days before New Year’s Eve. Herewith the account from late 1985:
When was the last time you carried through a New Year’s resolution, day in, day out, every single day of the year?
Aspiring novelists know how hard it is, because every one of them has heard the simple advice that if they write just one page a day, every day for a year, at the end of it they will have a novel, or at least the rough draft of a novel.
Anyone who has ever gotten one of those word-a-day calendars for Christmas knows how hard it is, too. Think of how many of those calendars you see early each new year. Then try to remember when you saw one in November or December. The truth is that even the simple task of learning a new word a day becomes too great an obligation for most people.
Last New Year’s Day Stan Kephart of Princeton, an artist working as an illustrator and graphic designer at the Home News in New Brunswick, set out to create a piece of art every day for 365 days. His goal was to create a vertical composition on a canvas panel 18 by 24 inches — each and every day of the year.
On Tuesday, December 31, Kephart plans to produce his 365th work. By that time the entire year’s production will be spread around the storefront studio he has rented on Nassau Street. All you would-be novelists, lapsed word-a-day calendar students, and all the rest of us who try but soon fail to keep our New Year’s resolutions ought to raise a toast to a man who has followed through for a whole year.
“I knew I could do it,” said Kephart, speaking on a day when he still had 17 pieces to go. “Some have taken minutes, some hours. Some of the best have taken the least amount of time.” Even though he still had more than two weeks to go, Kephart sounded like a man confident of fulfilling his resolution. “For 20 years I’ve been doing a lot of drawing.”
Raised in southern New Jersey, Kephart worked in his father’s office supply business and then moved to New York, where he did paste-ups and mechanicals for a modeling agency. His recent newspaper experience, he surmises, encouraged him to focus on each day. Walk around the two-room studio on Nassau Street and you sense what Kephart, and the rest of us, went through in the past year. The collage of blue and white and red forms — income tax returns, filled in with pencil — are an artistic tribute to April 15.
The watercolor of the sun was painted June 21, the longest day of the year. Another watercolor shows a square-jawed, stern- faced gentleman dressed in orange and white blazer with an orange tie. He’s a Princetonian, in town for Reunions and captured by Kephart on June 7.
A street scene in New York was painted while visiting his daughter, a student at New York University, September 11; a vision of a missing child was created from a supermarket shopping bag on August 20. The painting of a roman candle superimposed on the Declaration of Independence had to be the work of July 4. A study of black on black, created after viewing a Louise Nevelson exhibit at the Princeton Gallery of Fine Art, was painted June 26.
On June 30 he painted an abstract. That was the day he left the Home News and began to work fulltime at what until then had been his avocation. He hopes to paint “a lot more landscapes and portraits. I don’t know that I would do one a day.” But he does hope to make his living doing it.
The pieces in Kephart’s 1985 series sell for $85 apiece, as you might have guessed, plus one cent for each day into the year. The one he paints on New Year’s Eve will sell for $88.65.
On the day of my visit I ask Kephart what he will paint that day: “I don’t know yet,” he answers. “We’ll have to see.”
Later I return and find that he did a pencil drawing of the people who visited him that day, including me and members of a rock band called “Dirty Secrets,” in town to play at Princeton University.
His one-man gallery has attracted a small but eclectic audience. One day, he relates, an art therapist came in and studied the work carefully. “She said, ‘it’s interesting how you reveal yourself’.” But was it good or bad? “She didn’t say,” Kephart says. “They never say. But she was smiling. I think she felt it was healthy.”
— Richard K. Rein
A December 31, 2007, postscript to the above column from late 1985. Kephart got the design job at U.S. 1 because, unlike all the other graphic artists who made presentations to me back then, he alone presented mock-ups of U.S. 1 as it would appear with advertisements on the pages. Some of the others had fabulous graphics, but they left no room for the practical element that would keep our fledgling venture alive.
Kephart kept the job all those years because of that even temperament that enabled him to knock off a piece of art every day of the year. During that year some days had to be more inspiring for the artist than others, but every day got something. In the 800-plus covers that Stan designed for U.S. 1, some were accompanied by vibrant photographs or dynamic story lines, others by awkward stories or lifeless images. Stan made something out of it, whatever it was.
On his last day here, as he was literally walking out the door, I asked him what he thought about a graphic design I had slapped together for our newspaper vending boxes. Stan took a quick look at it, and said, “Make the type bold.”
So that’s my resolution for 2008: Make it bold. Check with me in November or December to see how I am doing.