Anooshavan Kurkjian, 91; painted 'high-oil' portraits
By Tom Long, Globe Staff
Boston Globe, MA
Sept 2 2004
Anooshavan Kurkjian's paintings are treasured by many, but few know his name. His "high-oil" portraits of business leaders, brides, and retiring judges were executed over photographs that bear the names of photography studios, not the artist.
"A bride would have her picture taken and he would be given a sepia or black-and-white photograph to paint over, " Elizabeth Kurkjian-Henry of Winchester said yesterday of her father, who died at 91 of congestive heart failure Tuesday in Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge.
Mr. Kurkjian spent long hours under bright lights in smock and eyeshade, bent over an easel in the Arcade Art Studio in the Little Building in downtown Boston, trying to breathe life into a black-and-white photograph.
"It was absolute concentration," said his daughter. "I'd watch his hands as he'd skillfully add just the right shading and the right gradations of colors."
She said he rarely got to meet his subjects, but "after spending hours staring into their eyes he sometimes felt as if he knew them."
That was certainly true when he created a portrait of Paul R. McLaughlin after the assistant attorney general was assassinated in 1995.
"He said he came to love and respect the prosecutor who was killed so young," said his daughter.
"That painting of Paul meant so much to me and Paul's father," former lieutenant governor Edward F. McLaughlin, the prosecutor's mother, Elizabeth McLaughlin, said yesterday. "It captured his expression perfectly and when we had it in our home for a few days it felt like Paul was home."
That portrait now hangs on the wall of the attorney general's office in the McCormack Building.
Mr. Kurkjian also did the portrait of John F. Kennedy that hangs at the Dorchester Boys and Girls Club and a painting of Pope John Paul II that hung in the window of the Jordan Marsh department store in downtown Boston when the pope visited the city in 1979.
Mr. Kurkjian was a graduate of Watertown High School, where he was active in sports and earned the nickname that would follow him through life: "Flash."
He was encouraged to pursue his interest in art by a teacher at Watertown High, who also suggested that he enter a contest to create a logo for a photography studio. Mr. Kurkjian's entry, "Shoot with a camera, not with a gun," won the competition.
After graduating from Watertown High School, he graduated from the Vesper George School of Art.
A tousle-haired man with a deeply cleft chin and a perpetual twinkle in his blue eyes, Mr. Kurkjian kept in shape by playing handball nights at the Boston Young Men's Christian Union and the L Street Bathhouse, where he beat athletes half his age.
He was also a gifted musician who loved to sing and play the saxophone. He was fond of jazz, particularly the swing music of the 1930s and '40s.
Though he rarely spoke of it, Mr. Kurkjian was a survivor of the Armenian genocide. When he was 3, all the adult males in his family -- his father, uncle, and grandfather -- were taken from the family home in the mountain village of Kigi and murdered by Turkish militiamen.
His mother led the remainder of the family on a 300-mile trek to safety, during which his brother and sister died of cholera.
He was the father of Boston Globe senior assistant Metro editor Stephen Kurkjian, who accompanied his father on a return trip to his homeland and wrote of the experience in a 1993 Globe magazine story titled "Roots of Sorrow." Mr. Kurkjian located the former site of his family's home, said a prayer for his father, and washed his face in a brook that ran behind the house.
When his son asked him what the experience meant to him, he said, simply, "It will help me in my drawing."
Yesterday, his son said Mr. Kurkjian did indeed sketch the countryside, but he never placed himself in drawings. "I think he was so small when it happened, he was just blocked," said his son. "He couldn't get to a place where he felt at peace with it."
In addition to his son and daughter, Mr. Kurkjian leaves his wife, Rosella (Gureghian); another daughter, Karolyn Kurkjian-Jones of Boston; a sister, Mae Avakian of Watertown; and six grandchildren.
A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday in St. James Armenian Church in Watertown. Burial will be in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.