Robert Kulicke, 83, Artist and Frame Maker, Is Dead
By Roberta Smith,
New York Times
Published: December 15, 2007
Robert M. Kulicke, a painter, goldsmith, teacher, businessman and
designer who changed the look of postwar art by modernizing frame
design, died on Friday in Valley Cottage, N.Y. He was 83 and had
lived in Manhattan until about 18 months ago.
Mr. Kulicke’s painting “Four Wedges of Seedless Watermelon on a
Glass Plate on a Grey-Tan Background,” in a frame he made.
The cause was pneumonia, said Roy Davis of Davis & Langdale Company,
the gallery that has represented Mr. Kulicke since 1974, when it was
called Davis & Long.
Garrulous, articulate and confident, Mr. Kulicke was a man of many
talents, interests and passions. He painted and regularly exhibited
small, delicate still lifes of flowers, dollar bills or, often, a
single pear. He helped to revive the ancient cloisonne technique of
granulation and to establish a school for jewelry making. Widely
knowledgeable in art history, he often supported himself and his
businesses by buying and selling medieval art and Coptic textiles.
But for much of his life Mr. Kulicke was the most innovative and
influential picture frame designer in the United States. His
reputation rested primarily on several streamlined frames that were
both widely used and imitated, especially a welded aluminum frame and
a wrap-around clear Lucite “plexibox” frame.
He also designed sectional frames that could be bought and
assembled, sidestepping frame shops completely. In addition, he was a
superb craftsman of reproduction frames, making them for some of the
greatest paintings in this country, including Leonardo da Vinci’s
portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci in the National Gallery of Art in
Washington and Giotto’s “Epiphany” in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Robert Moore Kulicke was born in 1924 in Philadelphia. Since both
his father and older brother were design engineers, design was a
constant topic around the dinner table. He studied art in high school
and advertising design at the Philadelphia College of Art, but later
said that he largely educated himself by reading all the art books at
the Philadelphia Library and studying the collections of the
Philadelphia Museum of Art.
After serving three years in the Army in the Pacific theater during
World War II, he became interested in framing, but found American
framers to be dauntingly secretive about important techniques like
carving and gilding. The experience led him to decide never to patent
He went to Paris on the G.I. Bill with his first wife, Barbara
Boichick, a painter whom he married in 1949. He studied painting in
the atelier of Fernand Leger and apprenticed himself to several
framers. Returning to New York in 1951, he opened Kulicke Frames. He
also became friends with Abstract Expressionist painters like Robert
Motherwell and Franz Kline, who urged him to design thin frames that
would be suitable for their work.
His welded aluminum frame was created in 1956 when the Museum of
Modern Art approached him for a frame to use for traveling
exhibitions. In 1960 he developed the Lucite frame for the Modern’s
photography department. A floating frame he designed for Knoll
Associates, the furniture company, in the late 1950s was used when
the Modern, to some art lovers’ consternation, replaced the older,
bulkier frames on many of its best-known masterpieces after its 1984
But Mr. Kulicke considered painting his life’s work. He said that
while in Paris in the late '40s, he became so discouraged by Leger’s
emphasis on large scale and bold compositions that he stopped
painting. He did not start again until 1957, after the World House
art gallery brought him 300 paintings by Giorgio Morandi to be
framed. The small Morandi paintings of groups of bottles gave Mr.
Kulicke the confidence to work small with modest subjects. He had his
first New York show at the Allan Stone Gallery in 1953.
Around 1970, Mr. Kulicke left Kulicke Frames, which was taken over
by his wife, whom he divorced, and his father-in-law. In 1968, after
years of experimenting, he perfected the granulation technique, which
had been widely used from antiquity to the 11th century and
periodically revived by artisans who did not share its secrets.
He began teaching the technique at the Scarsdale Studio Workshop
School and then at the Kulicke Cloisonne Workshop, which he founded
in his studio on Upper Broadway. In 1974 he founded the Kulicke-Stark
Academy with Jean Stark, his companion at the time. In 1984 the
academy was renamed the Jewelry Arts Institute, and the jeweler
Bessie Jamieson became the director. An exhibition of early paintings
by Mr. Kulicke and recent jewelry by Ms. Jamieson is on view at Davis
& Langdale through Dec. 22.
Mr. Kulicke is survived by his wife, Pam Sheehan of Manhattan; his
son, Michael, of Mount Bethel, Pa.; his daughter, Fredricka Kulicke
of Parsippany, N.J.; his brother, F. W. Kulicke of Horsham, Pa.; and
Mr. Kulicke’s skills and passions sometimes converged. He often made
antique gilt frames for his paintings and occasionally even decorated
these frames with jewels, imitating the medieval icons he loved so
During a 1994 television profile on “Sunday Morning” on CBS, the
correspondent Anthony Mason said that “the name Kulicke was like
Kleenex in the frame world. a standard.”