But Kaplan, 73, takes these common articles and arranges them into assemblages and collages, works of art. Each one is carefully designed in a wooden box to tell a particular story, centered around a certain theme.
“Something that I see in a flea market will trigger an idea for a box and I’ll develop around it,” Kaplan said. “They are little worlds, little environments that have a nostalgic feel.”
His garage is packed with boxes carefully marked for the valuable contents inside, the items he uses to make his creations. Designing collages and assemblages is more than a hobby to the Tamarac artist, who has been doing them for 25 years. It’s a second career.
Collages and assemblages are two distinct works. A collage is primarily a composition on paper that gets it name from the French word “coller,” which means to glue. An assemblage is a collage where an artist takes objects and through his imagination gives them a new identity in a new arrangement, Kaplan explained, “combines a person’s memorabilia into something he can hang on a wall and treasure rather than keep in a drawer where they can get lost.”
He is paid between $1,500 and $15,000 on his creations and has been featured in 650 public, private and corporate collections nationwide including the Alan Brown Gallery in Hartsdale, New York; Oxford Gallery in Rochester, New York; and the Barbara Gillman Gallery in Miami.
Article in Woodlands Magazine about Leo Kaplan:
Kaplan has also won several awards at art shows such as the Merit Award in the Annual Hortt Memorial Competition and Exhibition in Fort Lauderdale and the Best of Show Award at the Brockport State University show. He has traveled to Spain, Japan, China, England, and Africa collecting pieces that would eventually become part of an assemblage. Kaplan started his career making assemblages in deep frames of ash, maple or cherry wood.
Each type of wood has its own feel, designed to compliment the items in a particular composition. “Something about wood type is that it could whisper or shout ,” he said. “I felt they worked better when they were confined in a box,” he said. “They relate better and become more a part of a complete composition.”
Kaplan has always been interested in art. He attended Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and graduated as a commercial artist. Although he did some painting in college, it never held his interest.
“I get no satisfaction from painting, but I feel more or less a feeling of accomplishment when I complete a box and somebody wants to own it.”
He worked for the Great Lakes Press, a Rochester-based color lithographing firm, for 30 years and designed annual reports, catalogues, advertising literature, displays and packages. He was the company’s art director for 20 years and the creative director for the remaining 10.
During his tenure with the company, Kaplan combined both careers, occassionally using an assemblage for the cover of an annual report. He worked on his collages and assemblages during the evenings and weekends. When he retired and moved to Tamarac seven years ago, it became a full-time job.
Kaplan has been married for 44 years and considers his wife, Jane, one of his greatest supporters. Remember, what may be junk to others is not junk to Kaplan but part of a work of art.
“There’s nothing that you can’t use,” he said."