Renowned artist, Worthington High School graduate dies in Japan at 79
WORTHINGTON -- Clifton "Cliff" Karhu, 79, of Kyoto, Japan, one of the most successful contemporary artists to work in the Japanese woodblock form, died early Saturday in Kanazawa, Japan, where he maintained a studio. He had been diagnosed with li...
WORTHINGTON -- Clifton "Cliff" Karhu, 79, of Kyoto, Japan, one of the most successful contemporary artists to work in the Japanese woodblock form, died early Saturday in Kanazawa, Japan, where he maintained a studio. He had been diagnosed with liver cancer.
Born in 1927 in Duluth, the son of Arne and Anne Karhu, he moved with his family to Worthington and graduated in 1946 from Worthington High School. Karhu first became intrigued by Japan during the late 1940s, when he was stationed at an American army base there. He studied at the Minneapolis Art School from 1950 to 1952.
He returned to Japan initially not as an artist, but as a missionary for the Lutheran church and traveled widely throughout the country selling Bibles. He resigned his missionary status in 1958 and turned again to art, working in oil and watercolor and living in the Gifu area of Japan. He studied with a traditional Japanese woodblock artist and moved to Kyoto in 1963. Finding success in the woodblock medium, Karhu exhibited his works extensively in Japan, the United States and Europe.
According to an artist profile on the www.artelino.com Web site, Karhu's subject matter included "typical Japanese scenes -- often old Japanese houses or details taken from these. The source of his inspiration is the old town of Kyoto, where the artist lives. There he is something like an icon -- a local celebrity. Images of his prints are used on towels, calendars or T-shirts."
Karhu prints are established in major art museums around the world, and the Nobles County Art Center in Worthington boasts several examples in its permanent collection. He completed two murals in Worthington, one at Indian Lake Baptist Church, south of Worthington, and another in the cafeteria at the former Central Elementary School.
Surviving are three children, Beth, New York City, Philip, London, England, and Joel, Japan; and his twin brother, Ray Karhu of Coon Rapids.
The two Karhu brothers celebrated their birthdays together in November in Japan, and Ray also wrote his sibling a letter before his death.
"His daughter read it to him," Ray said. "I addressed it 'Dear Womb Mate' ... The letter is going to be buried with him, along with two cigars, a red bandanna and his Gucci sunglasses."
Karhu will be buried in Japan, in the Gion area of Kyoto.
"It was one of his favorite places to do sketches for his woodblocks," Ray said. "It's near a house that he always wanted to buy and live in."
Karhu was last in Worthington in June 2004, when a reception in his honor was hosted at Michael's Restaurant. At the time, Karhu, dressed in traditional Japanese garb, expressed his intent to spend the remainder of his life in Japan, which he long considered home.
"I like where I am, and where I am is where I'm happiest," he said in an article in the June 10, 2004, Daily Globe. "I don't think I could ever leave Japan now; it's where I'm settled. The only things I really miss about things here are hot roast beef sandwiches and A&W root beer."