L. Brent Kington: Mythic Metalsmith
While the range of Kington's art work over the last forty years is represented in this exhibition, his epic contribution to the American Studio Craft Movement is not as visible: L. Brent Kington is one of only thirty nine people in the United States to date to receive the American Craft Council's “Gold Medal,” the highest award bestowed to individual artists.
In 1961, after finishing his Master of Fine Arts degree in Metalsmithing from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, Kington arrived in Carbondale to head up the Metals Program at Southern Illinois University's Art Department. Kington's passion for developing the Metals Program at SIUC led to establishing the one and only available Masters of Fine Arts degree in blacksmithing offered today in the United States.
Throughout most of his career, Kington has been honored with numerous prestigious awards. Perhaps the most important award of Kington's career and lifetime came in 2006 through an anonymous donor who established a permanent “L. Brent Kington Chair” at the School of Art and Design at SIUC with a one-million dollar endowment.
In 1970, Kington hosted the first American university-based conference on blacksmithing in Carbondale, Illinois, with 60 people from around the country attending. In 1976, a second blacksmithing conference was held in Carbondale with 450 attendees including people from Canada, England and Italy. Between these two conferences, the Artist Blacksmith Association of North America (ABANA) was formed with essentially the same group of people attending the Carbondale conferences. Kington was elected to its board of directors and served until 1978. ABANA now draws about 5,000 attendees to its annual conferences.
Another founding endeavor Kington participated in was the formation of the Society of North American Goldsmiths; he served as the society's first president in 1969. The Penland School of Crafts, a craft education center of national distinction located in the North Carolina mountains, offered its first iron class taught by L. Brent Kington in 1978.
The American Craft Council has honored L. Brent Kington with three awards. The “Academy of Fellows” award, which signifies an artist of outstanding ability, was presented to Kington in 1978. After several years of serving as a trustee to the organization (1976 — 1980), he was honored with the “Trustee Emeriti” award in 1994. In 2000, they presented him with the “Gold Medal” award.
In 1978, Sam Maloof, the revered contemporary American woodworker and furniture maker, and L. Brent Kington were invited to speak at a conference on craft at the Vatican. Other speakers included: Charles Hummel, curator of the Winterthur Museum; Paul Smith, director of the American Craft Museum; and Lloyd Herman, director of the Renwick Gallery. Both Kington and Maloof showed their work in an exhibition at the Vatican conference. The conference was sponsored by the Friends of the American Museum in the Vatican.
In 1999, Kington was asked to serve on a national steering committee for the new Kentucky School of Craft. He also served as a board member for 10 years at the National Ornamental Metal Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.
In the year 2000, L. Brent Kington was chosen as 'one of the most prominent 100 artists and key figures in American craft' for the Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project administered by the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution. The interview conducted by Mary Douglas has proved to be an invaluable resource documenting much of Kington's career.
More recently in 2003, through support by the Windgate Foundation, the “smithy” at SIUC was enlarged and renovated and formally named “The L. Brent Kington Smithy.”
During Kington's 35 years at SIUC, he served as Chairperson of the School of Art and Design for ten years before retiring in 1997. He has participated in over 370 exhibitions, has had at least 22 solo exhibitions, was a visiting lecturer 83 times, spoke at 26 conferences, and was an exhibition juror over 40 times. Kington continues to participate as an artist, pursuing his work from his home in Makanda, Illinois.
L. Brent Kington is most proud of his former students, a extraordinary large number of whom are the nation's most celebrated and renowned contemporary metalsmiths and blacksmiths today.