George Kagan

kagan_george
 September/October
By Rachel Azark

George Kagan builds on his fascination with wooden radios to create working objects of art

George Kagan’s passion was sparked by a 1997 magazine ad that stated that the German manufacturer Grundig Radios was reintroducing its elegant wooden radio from the 1950s.

Dr. Kagan thought, “If they can do it, I can do it” and thus he began designing and making wooden radios.

“As dentists, we take teeth and dentitions that are falling into decay and disrepair and we restore them. The art of the craftsmanship and woodworking of the radio was falling into disrepair and it was my idea that I wanted to restore it,” said Dr. Kagan, a 1965 graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry.

Dr. Kagan tackled his first project on his kitchen floor: a radio and the cardboard box that it came in. But he quickly decided that working with a wooden box would be much better. Dr. Kagan used wooden wine boxes from the local liquor store, taking them apart to cut holes for the radio and speakers and putting them back together again. He sanded and varnished them all in the kitchen.

It was the challenge and pleasure that drew him to this hobby.

“The actual pleasure of working is called ‘flow’. When you’re working, you really feel good. And I really felt pretty good when I was doing all of this,” said Dr. Kagan.

He visited woodshops at local park districts, where instructors shared helpful hints on how to do all the woodworking parts. For the theory of it all, Dr. Kagan found books at Radio Shack (back when they were a hobby supply store).

“I would go to the woodshop to cut the pieces, sand them and then assemble them,” said Dr. Kagan. “Once I was at home I would stain and varnish and then install all of the things.”

Dr. Kagan’s dental skills came in handy again when he had to solder wires together. The soldering he had learned in dental school.

But it was more than just putting pieces together to make a radio; there was also an art and craftsmanship to it. Dr. Kagan headed to the Chicago Public Library to study design and industrial art. He looked at the various designers and tried to mimic their styles.

A few years into his project, Dr. Kagan temporarily fell ill. However, it brought another opportunity to his door when his friend Laura Shaeffer came by to bring him some food. Ms. Shaeffer saw the radios piling up in Dr. Kagen’s apartment and she got the idea to exhibit them where she worked as a coordinator, the Hyde Park’s Southside Hub of Production (SHoP). The exhibit was curated under the direction of the Hyde Park Kunstverein, a community arts initiative headquartered at SHoP.

The radios then moved to Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, where they are now on display alongside the artist conceptions, measurements and working drawings that Dr. Kagan created when designing the pieces.

“Now they are recognized as objects of art,” said Dr. Kagan, “and that makes me feel good.”

If you are interested in seeing Dr. Kagan’s work on display, the exhibit is running until Jan. 5. For more information, visit http://www.art.org/exhibitions-events/exhibitions.

Ms. Azark is the CDS editorial assistant.