The Life and Art Career of Zena Kavin (1912-2003)


By Victoria Chick


ON BIG BLEND RADIO: Contemporary figurative artist Victoria Chick discusses the fascinating life and art career of Zena Kavin. Listen here in the YouTube player or download the podcast on Spreaker, PodBean, or SoundCloud.

People who read the “Saturday Evening Post” in the mid-20th century may recall cartoons by Corka. The KA in Corka was Zena Kavin who produced cartoons with her husband Jon Cornin for the “Saturday Evening Post” and “New Yorker Magazine.”

But Zena Kavin’s art interests were much broader than cartooning. She was also a sculptor, wood engraver, and lithographer during her art career. She studied at the California School of Fine Art (precursor of the San Francisco Art Institute) and with A. Kravchenko in Moscow. She resided in Berkley/Oakland, California area all her life except for the brief Moscow study period and for four years in New Mexico where she was involved in the government Fine Arts Project as a graphic artist during the late 1930s.

Zena Kavin seems to have liked birds of any kind and they appear in most of her lithographs. Kavin’s lithographs with inventive, surreal images are the works for which she is acclaimed and quite different from the lithographs of her artist compatriots. During the Depression years, many artists worked in lithography. Subjects often depicted were scenes of everyday work or social commentary in a realistic style.

Zena Kavin is admired for her surrealist figures that express narratives influenced by myths and folk tales. Her anthropomorphic figures have stylized bird-like heads but engage in human actions and often are surrounded by objects that bring a mystery to be solved.  She was a master of the lithographic medium in producing a wide range of delicate tones in black and white to produce her works.

Her work was displayed at the California-Pacific International Exposition in San Diego in 1935 and was part of the inaugural opening exhibition of the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1953, both venues attesting to the respect for her art.

Victoria Chick is the founder of the Cow Trail Art Studio in southwest New Mexico. She received a B.A. in Art from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and awarded an M.F.A. in Painting from Kent State University in Ohio. Visit her website at where you can also see the pictured  Zena Kavin “Rooster” lithograph in Victoria’s early 19th/20th century print collection.

Artist Victoria Chick

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About the Author:

Victoria Chick is the founder of the Cow Trail Art Studio in southwest New Mexico.

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