Remembering James Kuiper through a lifetime of art in ‘Notes From a Spanish Dutchman’ exhibition


Alejandra Solorio

A wooded suspended sculpture inspired by boats. Most of the pieces of wood are found from repurposed wood found at yard sales.

With over 300 attendees from remote locations, James Kuiper’sNotes From a Spanish Dutchman exhibition at the Museum of Northern California Art (MONCA) brought friends, family, former colleagues and students to remember the artist’s role in each of their lives. The show opened Thursday and will remain open to the public until Dec. 31.

Kuiper, a long-time faculty member and Department Chair of Chico State’s Art Department, died in February. His memorial celebration opened to the public at the MONCA on Saturday at 4 p.m. to commemorate his lifetime collection of art. The arrangement of African-inspired wooden masks and thick-layered oil paintings about nature, fishing and his family brought a sense of his presence his loved ones would remember him by.

“People drove from so far away from home,” said Hannah Kuiper, James Kuiper’s daughter. “It’s nice to have people come up to me and say, ‘You don’t know me but your dad was amazing and changed my life.’ He changed (students’) lives and switched their direction of thinking to where they’re more positive, to go out and live.”

The memorial celebration featured speeches from his closest faculty members, wife and friends. Following the speeches came a piano and song duet performance by two of Hannah Kuiper’s friends. The evening was filled with joy and laughter as the people’s lives he touched reminisced on the creativity, generosity and humor that he emanated.

MONCA board member and James Kuiper’s close friend David Hopper recognized there was a huge body of work sitting in the back of an empty studio and it was obvious what he needed to do. The retrospective exhibition was the perfect opportunity to display Kuiper’s artistic talents from the ’80s to the 2010s.

Elizabeth Kuiper, James Kuiper’s wife, selected and arranged the body of works. She designed each room as a unit of time. The first room displayed large oil paintings made as early as the ’80s and the second room on the adjacent side of the museum displayed his later works.

MONCA’s tall white walls accentuated the large canvas size and wooden sculptures Kuiper focused on.

“(The community) was just astounded. A lot of us haven’t seen these huge pieces before,” said Pat Macias, MONCA Board Director.

Kuiper received his MFA from Michigan State University and began his teaching career shortly afterwards. He led a very mutable life, changing his location quite frequently. Eventually, his life would take a drastic turn from living in Texas to Northern California where he became the Professor and Chair of the Art Department at Chico State.

James taught painting, drawing, and design and hosted seminars in art-making and theory. His art visually reflects his well-rounded experience from travels to Alaska, Texas, Africa and Spain to Chico.

Alejandra Solorio can be reached at [email protected] or @alesolorio8 on Twitter.