A published author and director of Southern Arkansas University Honors College, Dr. Ed Kardas is a beloved figure on campus and a favorite psychology professor who teaches from textbooks that he has written.
In spite of his own vast accomplishments, awards and successful grants, most who know Kardas or encounter this sandal-footed, laid-back and stoic personality may never guess of his creative and prestigious lineage.
World War II Cairo would be the unlikely matchmaker for his parents, a Polish-speaking American soldier in the counter-intelligence corps from Philadelphia, and a beautiful half-Italian, half-Egyptian woman, who happened to be the daughter of the leader of the modern art revival in Egypt. Mohamed Hassan (1892-1961), Kardas’ grandfather is recognized as Egypt’s First Generation of artists and a modern art master.
Hassan met his Italian wife in Mussolini-controlled Italy in the 1930s. The couple settled in Egypt, where he would take on responsibilities in prestigious art institutions and shape an important role art history. So important is his role in modern art that Hassan is recognized on the official Egyptian government web site.
Kardas’ father and mother met and fell in love while he was stationed in Egypt. When his father’s tour with the U.S. Army was finished, he took a job with the U.S Department of State in Egypt where his new wife (who spoke six languages) would become an interpreter for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Kardas’ childhood was interesting and active, as his family traveled the world from Egypt to South America to Africa and back to Washington, D.C. He has few memories of time spent with his famous forebear, but his grandfather’s art was as much a part of his life as the air he breathed for as long as he can remember.
“My mother must have had it since we left Cairo in the early 1950s. It’s always been there,” said Kardas.
Since his parents moved from Egypt when he was just a toddler, Kardas has few memories of his grandfather, but the ones he has are precious to him.
Kardas tells of one such memory that was made due to an unfortunate dispute between his parents.
“Mom and dad had a fight and my mother took me to Italy (Naples) where [grandfather] had an apartment,” Kardas recounted. “He gave me a fez and a stuffed toy elephant that I rode. I have pictures of me riding it and still have it to this day.”
His most prominent memory is one of his grandfather Hassan coming to his rescue with his natural creative flair.
“I had done something wrong and my mother was after me with a feather duster,” he said. “He took that away from her and made it into a bow and arrow, using the feathers from the duster for the fletching. He was very open and friendly, but commanded the room.”
Of the stained glass, sculptures and oil paintings in the personal family collection, Kardas’ favorite is also the simplest – a small drawing on paper done by his grandfather’s hand.
“It’s dated 1917,” said Kardas. “It is a window into the past that gives me a sense of continuity.”
His Nelson Hall office at SAU is adorned with his personal collection of Hassan’s original works. They offset the casual atmosphere with their rich warmth and elegance, prominently hung on the walls or carefully perched on bookcase shelves. They seem almost out of place until you understand their significance to the learned man whose casual and informal nature has become his trademark.
A quick search reveals that Hassan was important to modern Egyptian art. His oil paintings, pastels, sculptures, caricatures and other art are among national and international archives. Mohamed Hassan’s name is prominent in Egyptian art history. In fact, his biographical information is included on the official Egyptian government web site. His curriculum vita and accomplishments are distinguished and abundant.
As one of the first distinguished artists of Egypt, Hassan’s art is a part of noble collections. Two of his sculptures installed at the Cairo Opera House are nationally cherished as they are the only items to survive a second fire in 1972 (The first fire at the opera house was during the black Sunday riots of 1952).
Hassan began at the Fine Arts School in Egypt in 1908 and before he even graduated, he became a teacher of painting at the newly formed Institute for Decoration established by the Egyptian government. After teaching for seven years, he was sent on a scholarship to the London Central School of Arts and Crafts followed by more teaching at the School of Egyptian Arts and Decoration. He moved up quickly to become the school’s deputy.
After studies in Italy, he came back to Egypt as its most commissioned artist. In 1937 he took the helm of the Applied Arts School and then moved on to become director of the Egyptian Academy of Arts. He died of a heart attack in his early 60s in the Fine Arts Museum of Alexandria where he was director.
Kardas appreciates the fact that he grew up around great artwork. His wife, Julie (McCuller) and three children, Christian, Clay and Cara realize the significance of and cherish Hassan’s legacy. Clay, an Arkansas State University Honors College sophomore, is even bringing home a piece in his possession for the month-long exhibit in Brinson Art Gallery.
“The Art of Mohamed Hassan” exhibit in Brinson Art Gallery begins Nov. 1 and will be on display throughout the month of November. There will be two related receptions for the art exhibit. The first is slated for the new Honors College lounge open house in Nelson Hall at 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 31. The second is set for Nov. 5 in Brinson.
A self-portrait of Kardas’ grandfather, an unfinished portrait of his grandmother, some sculptures, a painting of a Nubian model and the only abstract piece in the family collection depicting boatmen on the Nile will be included in the exhibit. Kardas acknowledges the odd fact that there is a single piece of abstract art in the family collection, considering that his grandfather was a modern artist.
To view Mohamed Hassan’s impressive biography, his art and to understand his role in modern art, visit the Egyptian government’s website.