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The Art of William Kortlander

Lancaster's Decorative Arts Center of Ohio highlights the pioneering Ohio artist.

Take a step back into 1960s America, and see how Ohio artist William Kortlander channeled the social and political events of the time into colorful and modern works of art. Walking through the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio exhibition gives the impression that Don Draper and his Madison Avenue pals could walk around the corner at any moment. “If you look at a lot of his paintings, they look like they are right out of ‘Mad Men,’ ” says the artist’s son, John Kortlander, who co-curated the exhibition.

The Artist:
Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Kortlander taught art history at the University of Texas before moving to Ohio in 1961 for a position at Ohio University that allowed him to focus on studio art. “He was realizing that there was some really good energy going on here,” says John Kortlander.

The Works: John says the women’s liberation and civil rights movements inspired his father’s art, adding that the figurative art style was a departure from the abstract works popular at the time. “He needed to touch base with the human form to really do the energetic work that he felt the 1960s called for,” John explains. Kortlander began transitioning to landscape painting in the 1970s.

The Exhibition:
Titled “Blue Walk,” after a painting from Kortlander’s transitional period (left), the exhibition features more than 60 paintings and numerous drawings curated by John and his sister, S. Elizabeth Kortlander. They started planning the show after their father’s death in 2014. “We had this estate and all of this artwork needed to be gone through,” John recalls. “As we were going through it, we realized we wanted to show the entirety of the work.”   

The exhibition runs Jan. 23, 2016–Apr. 24, 2016 at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio, 145 E. Main St., Lancaster 43130, 740/681-1423. For more information, visit