Van and Gert Kaufman:
Van and Gert Kaufman were persuaders, but they used different tools for different aims. Both were very successful at their crafts.
Van Kaufman was an artist whose work was seen by millions of people and who probably helped persuade many thousands of them to buy a Pontiac.
Gert Kaufman, an environmentalist in the days before the term was commonplace, used well-chosen words to persuade not only local, state and federal officials, but also ordinary citizens to
A native of Georgia who grew up in California, Van Justin Kaufman was born in 1918. He loved painting from a very early age and by 10, was taking lessons at Otis Art School — a fresco he created as a student still exists on a wall of his Beverly Hills high school. By the late 1930s, he was working for Walt Disney studios, drawing the animation cells and layouts for such cartoons as Fantasia and Dumbo. “He worked on the famous dancing hippo sequence in Fantasia, and actually created the scene in Dumbo where the gorilla tries to escape his cage — which earned him a bonus,” said his son, Kris Kaufman.
In the late 30s, while attending what is now the California Institute of the Arts, he met fellow student Gertrude Hollingsworth. A native of Glendale, Calif., who was also born in 1918, Hollingsworth was studying dress design. The two were married in 1940.
During World War II he became a sergeant in the Army Air Corps’ First Motion Picture Unit,
Around 1948, the Kaufmans moved to Ridgefield to be close to the large colony of artists that existed in Fairfield County. Van freelanced, worked for Esquire magazine and in the 1950s moved to automobile advertising in the days when both promotional brochures and magazine ads for cars
Art Fitzpatrick, who had begun his career as an automotive designer (he helped design the 1940 Packard sedan, among other cars), asked Kaufman to do the scenics for his car ads. The two became widely known in the business as “Fitz and Van,” with Fitzpatrick painting the cars and Kaufman doing the backgrounds.
“These lush images depicted scenes of glamour and sophistication populated by suave,
Kaufman and Fitzpatrick would regularly fly off to visit many of the world’s most glamorous
“These international locales were a departure from the conventional advertising practice in the
Today, their automobile advertising paintings — often signed “AF VK” — can bring
“The reign of Fitz and Van at Pontiac coincided with the pinnacle of the era of Jet Age glamour and sophistication — an age they exquisitely grasped and captured,” Kraus observed. “Their images remain today as frozen moments in time, reflecting the spirit of idealized gracious living, 1960s style.”
Kris Kaufman once asked his father how long it took him to paint the scenes for the auto ads.
The Kaufmans lived at 100 Cain’s Hill Road (now the home of Howard Sanden, noted
A few years after they moved here, she learned that the state planned not only a four-lane “Super 7” highway up the Route 7 valley near her home, but also a flood control project that would take some of their land. Instead of simply opposing the projects, however, she studied them to determine how they could be accomplished with the least impact. She then successfully led efforts to modify the path of the new road and to eliminate a planned Super 7 interchange at Florida Hill Road.
The state took an acre of their land for the Norwalk River Flood Control Project, which had
But perhaps she was best known for her tireless efforts to establish the Western Connecticut Linear Park, which she described in 1971 as “an attempt to preserve the state’s natural environment for recreation purposes along a major transportation corridor. The greenbelt concept for Route 7 will allow nature trails for hiking, horseback riding, bicycling, and cross-country skiing to be provided along the full 34-mile length of the new highway.”
Kaufman, who became chairman of the Western Connecticut Linear Park Committee, said the
Nonetheless, her concept of a Norwalk-to-Danbury pedestrian park lives today in the efforts to build the The Norwalk River Valley Trail (NRVT), 38 miles of multi-purpose trail connecting Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk and Rogers Park in Danbury, passing through Wilton, Ridgefield, and Redding. In many places it would use state land acquired for Super 7 or flood control. Today, several miles of the trail exist in Norwalk and Wilton and another five or more may be completed this year.
“I won’t be able to ride a bicycle anymore by the time the bike trails are built,” Kaufman quipped in 1977. “But I’m not giving up. We’ve gotten too much, given too much.”
Her work on the linear park earned her much praise, not the least of which came from Richard M. Nixon. “It is a pleasure to learn recently of your efforts … to enhance the environment and provide additional outdoor recreation opportunities for residents of your community,” the president wrote her in 1972. “The successful results you have achieved I know will always be a source of great satisfaction to you and the members of your committee and, even more importantly, to countless Americans who in years to come will enjoy the legacy you have given them.”
Like her husband, Gert Kaufman was an artist — after graduating from art school, she had drawn Woody Woodpecker cartoons for Warner Brothers in Hollywood. Around 1960, Karl S. Nash,
In 1976, after nearly 30 years in Ridgefield, the Kaufmans moved to the Los Angeles area where Gert earned a degree in landscape architecture. After Van died in 1995, she moved to Carmel, Calif. She died there in 2002 at the age of 84.
In an interview in the 1970s, Gert Kaufman explained the drive behind her many years of fighting for the linear park and for conservation. “You can’t give up,” she said. “I think of Ridgefield as surrounded by dikes against which the developers are pushing all the time. They leak in, unless you keep your finger in. If you get tired and move away for just a minute, you’ve lost.”