Smithsonian Artist Leon Kennedy





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Published on Apr 26, 2010

In 1997, the Smithsonian Institution purchased 200 significant works from the renowned Rosenak collection for an undisclosed sum estimated around $2M. This acquisition included a bed-sheet by Kennedy. The Folk Art Messenger, Vol. 10, No.3, reports the acquisition makes the Smithsonian American Art Museum "the world's preeminent repository for American self-taught art."

"It is our desire to see them as part of the history of 20th-century American art," said Chuck Rosenak.

Mentioning self-taught Kennedy, the article notes these works were the first American collection exhibited at the Collection de l'Art Brut, Switzerland, which "testifies to its quality and uniqueness." The Leon Kennedy masterwork now resides at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, while photos of Kennedy and other materials of Kennedy's are available for study at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Kennedy is a spiritual painter, moved by God. While Howard Finster preaches religion through his many of his works, Kennedy's works are sublimely religious: soulful, meditative and giving praise. There is no hell in Leon's work, only heaven on earth. Through his paintings Kennedy emanates God's love. For Kennedy, each work speaks a message direct from God; a divine inspiration. The spiritual fervor is sublimated through wonderful painting technique and symbolic poetry. Kennedy is a painter's painter; with beautiful raw brut figuration, a Van Gough color sensibility, original technical approaches and compositions--each painting a totally new exploration. This is why the Smithsonian picked his work to form the cornerstone collection of the American Art Museum (formerly the National Museum of American Art.) Kennedy's works are authentic and inspired manifestations of the spiritual experience in the urban landscape through the eyes of an intuitive African American master.

Permanent collections

1997 Smithsonian American Art Museum (then the National Museum of American Art) acquisition.

1990 The House of Blues, multiple acquisitions.

Tryworks Collection

Rosenak Collection

NOHO Modern

Ames Gallery, Berkeley

Bomani Gallery, San Francisco

Solo Exhibitions

2009 A440 Gallery, San Francisco, CA

2005 Kings Gallery, San Francisco Unitarian Universalist Church

2000 Oakland City Hall, Oakland, CA

1996 Good Samaritan Baptist Church, Oakland, CA

1995 La Pena Cultural Center, Berkeley, CA

1992 West Berkeley Senior Citizens Center, Berkeley, CA

1988 Richmond City Hall, Richmond, CA

Group Shows

2009 New York Outsider Art Fair

2007 Revolving Museum, Lowell, MA, "Race Class Gender"

2006 American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, MD, "Race Class Gender"

2005 Robert Cargo Gallery, PA, "The Dream Lives On"

2005 Richmond Art Center, Richmond, CA

2003 Black Box, Oakland, CA, "Absolute Reflection"

2000 San Francisco Arts Commission "Extraordinary Artists," curated by Bonnie Grossman, The Ames Gallery

2000 SOMArts Gallery, San Francisco, CA

1999 Visual Aid's "Big Deal"

1997 Collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne, Switzerland

1996 Sheppard Art Gallery, University of Nevada, Reno, NV, "Memories and Visions: Self-Taught and Outsider Artists West of the Rockies"

1994 African American Museum, Dallas, TX

1994 Skyline College, San Bruno, CA, "Emerging Talent: African American Artists of California"

1992 California State University, Hayward, CA, "Vernacular Art"

1992 2000 (annually) Berkeley Civic Arts Commission, Berkeley, CA (Windows Project)

1991 Creative Growth Art Center, Oakland, CA, "The Gospel Connection" with Louis Estape


Contemporary American Folk Art: A Collectors Guide. ROSENAK, CHUCK and JAN ROSENAK, New York: Abbeville, 1996.

The Folk Art Messenger. Vol. 10, No. 3, Spring, Summer 1997.

Self Taught, Outsider, and Folk Art. Betty-Carol Sellen, (McFarland & Company, 1999).

Black Creation: A Quarterly Review of Black Arts and Letters. Vol. 4 (Fall 1972). Beauford, Fred, ed.

The Black Artist in America: An Index to Reproductions, THOMISON, DENNIS. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1991.

Slotin Auction Catalogs

National Archives in Washington, D.C.



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