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Herbert and Joelle Kayden

The late Dr. Herbert Kayden with his daughter, Joelle Kayden, MBA '81, in his art-filled New York City home. Kayden made a gift of artwork by Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight to Stanford's Cantor Arts Center. PHOTO: Ron Jautz

Born of Friendship, a Gift of Art

Shortly before he passed away, Herbert Kayden—with his daughter, Joelle Kayden, MBA '81—gave Stanford 26 works of art by Jacob Lawrence. 

Fall 2014

It was in the thriving art scene of 1950s New York City that Dr. Herbert Kayden first met the artist Jacob Lawrence. Both had served in the military—Kayden in the Navy and Lawrence in the Coast Guard—and the two struck up a conversation at a gallery. Kayden immediately took a liking to Lawrence.

That meeting marked the beginning of a half-century-long friendship between two couples: Kayden and his wife, Gabrielle Reem, and Lawrence and his wife, Gwendolyn Knight, also a painter. As their friendship and deep respect blossomed over visits, dinners, and letters, Kayden realized he was in the presence of a remarkable talent, and he and his wife acquired more than two dozen of Lawrence's works.

By the time Lawrence died in 2000, at age 82, he was regarded as one of the foremost African-American painters of the 20th century.

"He painted and drew in a unique way that was very, very appealing," said Kayden in an interview before his death in early August 2014.

In December 2013, Kayden made the decision to gift their entire collection of 26 works of art by Lawrence and one by Lawrence's late wife, Knight, to Stanford's Cantor Arts Center. Soon Stanford students, faculty, and the wider community will have the opportunity to appreciate these works firsthand at the campus museum.

A Good Home

Kayden and Reem—both physician-scientists who taught at New York University School of Medicine—had lent Lawrence's works to traveling exhibitions, but the artwork would always return to their Manhattan apartment. After Reem passed away three years ago, Kayden decided to make a gift of the collection in her memory.

The idea of placing the collection at Stanford came from "the desire to find a good home for the art," says Kayden's daughter, Joelle Kayden, MBA '81. As the family explored options, they discovered that there were very few pieces by Lawrence on display on the West Coast. The San Francisco Bay Area had just one of his paintings in a local museum.

"He is a very important African-American artist whose work has been underrepresented in the Bay Area and on the West Coast," explains Joelle Kayden, an investment manager who lives in Washington, DC, and serves on the business school's advisory council.

Jacob Lawrence (USA, 1917-2000), Construction, 1952. Casein tempera over graphite on paperboard.

Connie Wolf, the John and Jill Freidenrich Director of Cantor Arts Center, went to visit Herbert Kayden at his art-filled home. She told Kayden about the value that the Lawrence collection could add not just for Stanford's students and researchers, but for the entire Northern California community as well.

Also making the case for this gift were two key leaders in the arts at Stanford. Roberta Bowman Denning, '75, MBA '78, chair of the Arts Advisory Council, and her husband, Steven A. Denning, MBA '78, chair of the Stanford University Board of Trustees, described the university's burgeoning campus arts district and new arts curricula for students. Ultimately, Herbert Kayden felt that the university would be an excellent steward of the pieces.

Lesson Plan

"This is a wonderful, significant gift," says Wolf, who is organizing an exhibit for 2015.

Already faculty are crafting lesson plans around this collection. Michele Elam, professor of English and Olivier Nomellini Family University Fellow in Undergraduate Education, looks forward to teaching students about Lawrence's role in African-American arts and culture. She explains that Lawrence, who was raised in Harlem and later lived in Seattle, carried the themes of the Harlem Renaissance—the explosion of African-American artistic expression in the 1920s and 1930s—westward and forward into the 21st century.

"His pieces showcase historical moments in black history, but also show striking alternative portraits of everyday life," Elam says. Lawrence is best known for his series celebrating African-Americans' migration northward and his portraits of famous figures such as Harriet Tubman; his street scenes, Elam suggests, are a window into the average life of black people. Several also offer insight into the history of racial integration.

Herbert Kayden agreed. "African-American art and his work in particular are a part of our culture that should be appreciated and disseminated," he said, hoping that his gift would help Stanford do just that. Now, the gift is a memorial to the Kayden family's love of art as well as Lawrence's great talent.

Learn more about the Jacob Lawrence collection at Cantor Arts Center in Stanford Report.


PAINTING: Gift of Dr. Herbert J. Kayden and Family in memory of Dr. Gabrielle H. Reem, 2013.93. (c) 2014 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.