Donald Kennedy, an artist who lived almost his entire life in East Hampton, died in early February of reasons still unknown. A service celebrating his life was held on Tuesday at the Amagansett Presbyterian Church.
Much of Mr. Kennedy’s past remains a mystery, along with the cause of death and why his body remained at the county coroner’s office for three months.
What is known is that Mr. Kennedy was born in New York City in 1937, but after he was hit by a car at the age of 10, his parents decided to move the family to Mill Hill Lane in East Hampton.
He graduated from East Hampton High School in 1955. After school, he worked at Don Braider’s Books and Music, a local store that carried first editions and had a gallery in the back that featured the work of up-and-coming artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Ibram Lassaw, and Perle Fine.
During summer break from his studies at the University of Oklahoma, Mr. Kennedy worked at the Signa Gallery, an artist-owned spot started by Alfonso Ossorio, John Little, and Elizabeth Parker. Mr. Kennedy, on his Web site, referred to these early jobs as “a highly advanced course in contemporary art.” While at college, he also had the chance to work with Amelio Amero, a world-renowned lithographer and muralist.
Fresh out of college, Mr. Kennedy found employment in the conservation department of the Guggenheim Museum, followed by an apprenticeship with Frederick Kiesler, the avant-garde architect. From there, Mr. Kennedy worked for the Paper Mill Playhouse and then shortly after became the master carpenter and set builder for the Negro Ensemble Company.
After operating and then closing his own stage scenery business, the Shop, Mr. Kennedy returned to East Hampton in 1973. In his new house on three and a half acres in Springs, Mr. Kennedy had the time and space to concentrate on building monumental metal sculptures. He also painted a series of transparent watercolors, pastels, and oils reflecting his fascination with farm trucks and equipment. Over the following years, his work was shown at most of the galleries and museums on the South Fork, and one of his watercolors is now in the Brandywine River Museum in Pennsylvania.
Shortly after his mother’s death, Mr. Kennedy parted from metal to experiment with wood and built a piece, “Interjacence,” which is in the permanent collection of Columbia University on the Harriman campus. The piece is dedicated to his mother.
Still, Mr. Kennedy will probably be best remembered by his friends, fellow artists, and patrons for his large metal sculptures, especially “Keys to My Heart,” which featured a hollow heart, made from welded keys, exhibited on a brass column.