German-born artist Karl Hagedorn, of Center City

Posted: November 01, 2005

Karl Hagedorn, 83, a German-born artist whose paintings integrated body parts, geometric forms, numerical symbols and color images into "symbolic abstraction," died of esophageal cancer Saturday at Hahnemann University Hospital. He had lived in Center City for six years since moving from New York.

Mr. Hagedorn's artistic life began in Guentersberge, a small village in the Harz Mountains in what was then the Weimar Republic. The son of a sawmill owner, he grew up around machinery, gears, wood grains, and kaleidoscopes of geometrical planes. When Mr. Hagedorn was 5, his father's sawmill burst into flames and burned for a week. This memory stayed with him and exploded into his abstract art later in life.

Meanwhile, political events took over. First the Nazis, the swastikas and slogans. Then, after World War II, his village was part of the Russian zone, which became East Germany. Art became more of a dream than a reality as Mr. Hagedorn worked in the sawmill until the family escaped to West Berlin in 1953.

Mr. Hagedorn studied art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich from 1953 until 1959. For the first time, he saw the abstract art of Picasso, Fernand Lger, Henri Matisse and Joan Mir, which jolted his artistic spirit.

He immigrated to St. Paul, Minn., in 1959 under the sponsorship of the Minnesota World Council of Churches. He taught art at Hamline University and the St. Paul Art Center, and supplemented his income by creating mosaics, murals and stained-glass windows.

After a one-man show of his abstract art at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the New York art scene tugged at Mr. Hagedorn.

"I had made an American salary and lived like a European," he said. At 50, he moved into a loft in Soho and made art. Soon he was represented by the Gimpel & Weitzenhoffer Gallery, and his art began to sell.

His work reflected an intertwining of his life in Europe and New York. His paintings united bold colors in abstract elements of the human figure, geometric forms, graphic symbols and words. They were exhibited in galleries in the United States and Europe, including the New York Public Library, Kunsthalle Nurnberg in Germany, Goethe Institute in New York, and the Brooklyn Museum.

In 1981, he married Diana Cavallo, who was teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, and the couple moved to Center City in 1999.

Mr. Hagedorn is represented by Newman Galleries in Center City and Garrubbo Bazan Gallery in West Chester. His works have been displayed in numerous shows in Philadelphia and hang in many private and corporate collections.

Mr. Hagedorn has no survivors except his wife.

Services are private.

Contact staff writer Gayle Ronan Sims at 215-854-4185 or

A gallery of Karl Hagedorn's work can be viewed at

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