HomeFebruary 2011A Legacy of Whimsical Art

A Legacy of Whimsical Art

Knock on the door of Milly Kouzel’s home-studio and you are greeted by a petite, dynamic 88-year-old artist – proud of her age – who ushers you into a gallery of her whimsical creations.

First there are paintings of Greek vases decorated with modern women, incised silhouetted figures with enlivening detail, harkening back to the black figures of the Athenian vase painters, a take on Hellenistic art.

“Instead of male warriors,” Milly explained, “these are the female warriors of the 70s, leading the advancement of the female in an emerging society.” The figures, secretaries armed with typewriters, are dressed in biking and theatrical attire.

Turn left into the living room, and on view are 3D sculpted pictures of Greek Erechtheion-like temples. The sculptured pillars supporting the beam on their heads, satirizing the original “Porch of the Maidens,” are graceful, sexy modern women attired in high-heeled fish net sandals and two-piece, swim-looking suits: Today’s female activists.

“Art is part of my life; it reflects what is going on. It started out more personal, more about me.” Milly said.   “Gradually it became what was going on outside of myself, politics and changes in society; a reflection on what was going on with Women’s Rights. Most rewarding is the freedom of expression of thoughts and ideas.”

She added, “As I began to emerge from the introspective phase in my life and became more concerned with political and environmental issues, the Greek vases appeared as a vehicle for analogy of contemporary life with that of the Greek Genre life.”

Milly announced, “I’m one of those late bloomers as an artist.” Her parents emigrated from the Ukraine where her father served in the Czar’s army. She grew up during the depression when she “took whatever education I could get beyond high school.” Offerings were nursing, secretary or teacher.  “I chose nursing, but I always wanted to study art,” she said.  “We lived in New Haven, Connecticut, where there was no public art.”

Upon the completion of her three years of nurse’s training, she answered President Roosevelt’s call for Nurse Replacements and joined the army at the end of World War II. After the war ended, heading for the South Pacific, her ship broke down, doomed to dock in Panama. Instead, she was sent to Germany to serve in a venereal disease ward at an army hospital in Wurzburg.

Under the GI Bill, Milly earned a degree in public health nursing at NYU, then as a nurse at a summer camp in Connecticut, she bonded with a counselor, her future husband, Bernard Kouzel. A research chemical engineer, Kouzel landed a job in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where they settled and raised their three daughters, Ilene, (deceased, victim of ALS), Lynn and Janet, mother of grandchildren Melissa and Aaron. Then she went on to Long Beach State University for a B.A. and M.A. as an art major when her youngest started school.

“I started as a drawing and painting major and went on to sculpture when I couldn’t get a painting class at a convenient time. I was hooked! My masters project was a series of small cast relief sculptures of theatrical like settings with genre figures. I referred to Rennaisance sculptors like Donatello and ancient Greek as well as contemporary Italian sculptor, Mansu, and American George Segal as inspiration.”

This interest in cast bronze segued into what has become her legacy. In 1982 Mildred Kouzel received a commission to create the Ark doors for Temple Beth Tikvah in Fullerton. The sculptured cast bronze bas relief pictures twelve figures, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, waiting for Moses and reaching for the holy tablets descending from a cloud above the mountain.

The crowning glory is the three surrounding stained glass windows that Milly designed in 1984. The wooden pulpits on the bimah are also Milly’s creations.

In 1988, Milly received a commission from Home Savings in Irwindale for a bronze life-sized sculpture of a family – father, mother and children, a logo for the now defunct savings and loan. Sadly, the cast bronze sculpture is in storage, never displayed.

“I went on to take survey courses in printmaking, ceramic and crafts. During the seventies, my awareness of the Women’s Liberation movement and personal concerns about aging and life changes were reflected in a series of cast sculptures and monoprints exploring these ideas in figurative works,” Milly explained.

After a three-year hiatus as a result of widowhood and knee replacement surgery, Milly declared, “I am back into a continuation of the vase series and am incorporating my recent life changes in some of the work.”

Multi-media disciplines are now convening in her present body of work of Greek vases. They are relief constructions of plywood bases in an assortment of media, including photocopy art, metal drawing and acrylic. “I feel an affinity to the sociological settings of Red Brooms and screens of Masami Teraoka, whose work became known to me after my vase series was in progress,” she said.

Milly’s studio is a setting of whimsy. Always a jazz fan, there’s a painting of Dizzy Gillepsie, appearing as a Greek statue, blowing trumpet. Center stage is a personalized world map with Milly mounted into her favorite destinations. Hanging on another wall is a series of paintings of street scenes of funky houses, with Starbucks featured in each. Another is one of ready-mades, a la Duchamp, of water valves and hydrants.

Milly’s studio is also used for drawing sessions from hired models with fellow artists. She has organized an Artist’s Circle Critique Group under the sponsorship of Woman’s Caucus of the Arts.

Mildred Kouzel’s art may be viewed and bought online from Art Bridges Gallery, a gallery of 15 artists, at www.artbridgesgallery.com. Milly is listed under three-dimentional art.

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  1. Hi Milly,
    I stumbled on this by accident and am greatly impressed. Your work and vision is wonderful and you can be very proud of yourself. I know that I am.
    I wonder if you are aware that Dr. Matrin Graffman in Fullerton is a cousin. He is the grandson of Eva Satinsky, your father-in-law’s sister.


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