Remembering: Bernard Kester

Remembering: Bernard Kester

The educator, curator, writer, and artist was instrumental in establishing fiber as a medium in contemporary craft.

Bernard Kester Coffee Service

Bernard Kester, coffee service in red-brown stoneware with a rutile, soft-matte glaze

American Craft Council Library & Archives

Educator, curator, writer, and artist Bernard Kester died October 26, 2018. He was 90 years old. 

Coming of age during the California studio craft scene of the 1950s and 1960s, Kester was instrumental in establishing fiber as a medium in contemporary art. He studied at UCLA – both as an undergraduate and a graduate student in ceramics, and he was hired there to teach ceramics courses in 1956. Before long, he took on the instruction of the weaving courses at the university after the weaving instructor left, which led to his further immersion into the medium. Some of Kester’s most prominent students included Neda Al-Hilali and Gerhard Knodel. Kester continued to serve the university for 37 years, eventually acting as dean of the School of the Arts before retiring in 1991.

Kester was also well known as a curator and designer of exhibitions. His curatorial work began in the 1950s at what was then known as Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and Art (now known as LACMA), and Kester maintained a relationship with LACMA for many decades. He curated the exhibition “Deliberate Entanglements” at UCLA’s Wight Gallery in 1971. The exhibition is considered a groundbreaking show in the field of contemporary fiber art. In his role as the in-house exhibition designer at LACMA, Kester was responsible for the design and installation of “Craftsmen USA 66: Southwest Regional Exhibition,” one of six regional exhibitions which culminated in a national competition and exhibition, “Craftsmen USA 66,” sponsored and held at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts (MCC) in New York City. He also served as a guest curator at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, and the Minnesota Museum of Art in St. Paul.

Though his identity as an artist may have been overshadowed by his other accomplishments, his work as a ceramist and textile designer cannot be ignored. His ceramic work tended toward functional stoneware with clean form. Kester’s textile work focused on design, creating distinctive fabrics for interior use that employed large-scale patterns and rich color palettes.

Kester’s involvement with the American Craft Council was lengthy and varied. In 1963 he was asked by MCC director Paul Smith to help organize “Emergence: Student-Craftsmen,” an exhibition of work from select craft school programs. Through the 1960s and 1970s he wrote reviews and other pieces for Craft Horizons, including a regular feature called “Letters from Los Angeles.” He served as president of the Southern California Designer-Craftsmen, president of the Southwest Regional Assembly of the ACC, and a trustee for MCC. In 1980, he was inducted into the ACC College of Fellows, and in 2002 he received the Award of Distinction for significant contributions to the field of craft.