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Happy to Be Here: Creative for a century of changes

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Editor’s Note: This column has been updated to reflect that it was painter Charles Ward who served as a source of inspiration for artist Anthony Kulish.

Anthony Kulish turned 100 last week.

He’s an artist living in a house among the trees along the Paunnacussing Creek, next to the farm where he grew up. He attended the Solebury Township one-room schoolhouse at Sawmill and Aquetong roads through eighth grade, and then Doylestown High School.

Not likely training for an artist?

But Tony was inspired by one of the artists who thrived in the Delaware Valley during the 1930s and ‘40s, Charles Ward, whose painting, “Progress and Industry,” was the first New Deal post office mural installed in the country. Tony got to know Ward as he passed the artist’s studio in Carversville on his daily treks to school.

And the Kulishes were immersed in a land of artists, near the idyllic village of Carversville, where the names of Redfield, Garber, Coppedge and Baum have been prominently etched.

World War II was underway when Tony graduated from high school in 1941. After signing up for the Navy Reserve, he worked at the Johnsville Naval Air Station reading blueprints for aircraft assemblies – machine guns to be installed on American planes. When the Navy called him, Tony was sent to colleges for training before flight training at Glenville, Ill. and Pensacola. He was discharged in 1945.

The G.I. Bill gave Tony an opportunity to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Art Institute of Chicago. That’s where he met his future wife.

“I found my locker,” Tony said at his home before his birthday on July 21, “and I looked up and saw this beautiful blonde next to me. ‘This can’t be happening,’ I thought.”

The blonde was Gilbert (Gil) Underwood, daughter of California architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood, designer of National Park lodges and later, supervising architect for the federal government.

Tony and Gil married, to parents’ chagrin, and moved to Bucks County. They bought a small stone house and barn next to Tony’s father’s farm in 1951. The couple expanded the house as their family grew and they raised their two children there.

The house today is crammed with paintings and sculpture by the Kulishes and other local artists and creative people from around the world.

Until Gil’s death, Tony and Gil shared a second-floor studio in the barn The pair made their living as artists, Gil as a painter and later a ceramist, Tony in fabric design and more recently, painting. They were active at Phillips’ Mill and other galleries and the former Riverrun Gallery at the Laceworks in Lambertville, N.J., staged a show of the couple’s paintings and photography in 2003.

When a New Hope gallery owner invited Gil to enter a craft show in 1977, she entered an ashtray, a household item in those days. No ordinary ashtray, it contained cigarettes and lipstick-stained butts, stray ashes and matches so realistic. She became known for her ashtrays and showed them at art and craft exhibitions.

“Initially, the whole idea was a joke that somehow kept going when truly all I wanted was to get back to painting before I am too old to hold a brush, she said.

Tony worked for Moss Rose Manufacturing Company in Philadelphia as a designer of fabrics for major airlines and assistant to the president at the start of his career. He moved on to Chicopee Manufacturing in Massachusetts, where he designed fabrics for the automotive industry, Ford, General Motors, Chrysler and the now gone Studebaker.

Over the years, freelancing for small mills in Philadelphia and New England, Tony designed wallpaper, draperies and fabrics for many uses. His fabrics have been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Tony’s father, Peter, and mother, Alexandra, who died when Tony was 7 years old, emigrated from Ukraine to Philadelphia in 1903. Peter worked at the Baldwin Locomotive works, eventually becoming a farmer at his Bucks County farm, raising cows and chickens and growing tomatoes for Campbell Soup Company.

Tony concentrates on painting today –– in an abstract style. When he paints a flower, he once told reporter Gwen Shrift in an interview, “I just used the shape, the essence of the flower itself.” His prints and paintings have been shown at galleries in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia.

Reaching 100 years old is certainly an occasion to celebrate but Tony said, “The hard thing about getting old is losing so many friends. They’re not replaceable.”


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