Boutique Design - September 2017 - 12
Jesse Kalisher, founder and president of the art company bearing his name
and an award-winning artist in his own right, passed away July 20 in Chapel
Hill, North Carolina, after a battle with cancer. He was 55 years old. Our
condolences go out to his wife, Helen, their two children, Jordan and Tamar,
and everyone whose life was touched by this extraordinary man.
News of his death came during the gathering of hospitality design leaders
at the Boutique Design Summer Forum in Sonoma, California. "We are
saddened by Jesse's passing. He will always be remembered for his passion for
art and our industry, a truly remarkable man who inspired and mentored so
many in the hospitality community. His mantra of 'art is love' will live on and
forever embody his spirit," said Michelle Finn, president, Hospitality Media
Group (HMG), and senior vice president, ST Media Group.
Finn called for a moment of silence. Then it really hit. Although Kalisher's
work life was all about the visual world, what I remember most about him
was what he had to say. There was no "five minutes with..." kind of conversation with this photographer-turned-art entrepreneur. His passion for
exploring, sharing and shaping art, as well as his energy for every project he
took on (including some amazing exhibits and panel discussions at our trade
fairs, BDNY and BDwest), meant there were no quick chats.
The best part was that he always had a lot to say. No small talk. No rhetoric.
No filler. Talking with Kalisher was always interesting and intense. After a few
hour-long calls on various occasions, it felt like coming out of a film. He always
gave me so much to think about-from how to make a "local" statement by
creating a collage of hundreds of photos to how art is changing in the digital age.
I wasn't the only one who felt that way. Kalisher brought together a topnotch panel for BDNY. His time slot was 4 p.m. on a Sunday. At 5 p.m., the
SRO crowd-consisting of insiders from sectors ranging from design to
ownership-wasn't budging, despite the staff at the Javits walking by and
tapping their watches. Even after the panel ended, it was clear that attendees
were buzzing about art on their way to the doors.
Kalisher had a way of drawing everyone into his world. That included his
personal and professional life. He met the woman who would become his
wife when she was an artist and graphic designer in Guatemala and each was
traveling the world. With their complementary skills, Jesse and Helen began a
business partnership in 1999. By 2005, they were expanding a mass merchandise line, partnering with big-box stores and hiring their first employee.
Two years later, Kalisher made his foray into the hospitality industry with
the mission of "creating art for everyone." Along with a team that included
Helen and longtime colleagues and friends, Sarah Elder (now chief operating
officer, Kalisher) and David Winton (now the firm's president) , they built
Kalisher into one of the top art consulting firms in the industry and the only
boutiquedesign.com SEPTEMBER 2017
one entirely owned and run by artists. Today, Kalisher has grown to more
than 100 employees, with offices in 11 cities worldwide.
His understanding was rooted in his career as an artist. He got his first
camera on his sixth birthday as a present from his father, celebrated photographer Simpson Kalisher. Although he first followed a career in advertising,
Jesse returned to his camera in his early 30s and began traveling. It was then
he felt that "everything changed. Where I expected to see a snapshot, I saw
instead a photograph. Where I expected to see memories, I found meaning.
Where I expected to see something frivolous, I found my voice instead."
Jesse's photography is now in the permanent collections of museums all
over the world, including The Louvre and The Smithsonian. He forever credits
his clients for his art, without whom, he said, it would not exist. Jesse was
also known in the design industry for his tireless, pragmatic mentorship, his
introspective stories behind the pictures and his passionate exploration of
the world in which we live.
"Everything he created was about and for other people," said Elder. "Everything he created, he created to share. This spirit defined him, and we will
grow with him in our DNA every day."
"Everything Jesse said or did inspired his colleagues, helped define an
industry, and worked to make the world more beautiful and joyful," said
Winton. "We have all been so lucky to know him, but I am most thankful for
what he stood for. He lived life for the journey, rather than any end."
We at Boutique Design (BD) also feel so lucky that Jesse chose to lend his
talent and passion to our industry. Here are some remembrances from our team:
"Hearing of Jesse's untimely passing caused me to pull out a copy of his
second book, 'One World,' which we wrote about upon its release in 2014. And
that, in turn, reminded me that he was not only a great photographer, but
also a pretty darned good wordsmith. Example: Jesse's explanation for why he
felt compelled to always be taking pictures:
'The blessing and curse of my life is that I see stories everywhere, all
around me, all the time. It's a form of noise that never stops screaming at me
to be noticed, to be recognized. My camera provides solace-the stories are
being heard, I have captured them and given them their due.'
We are indeed blessed that Jesse heard the camera's call. Looking again at
the powerful images in his book elicited a profound sense of wonder in me. And
for that I will continue to be grateful to him."
-Matthew Hall, editor, BD
"I met Jesse very briefly at the Opening Reception for BDNY last year. (I recognized him right off the bat from his signature vibrant patterned shirt.) When he
found out who I was, I was shocked that he invited me to come visit Kalisher's
studio and manufacturing facilities in North Carolina, as it was the first time any
photographer or company executive of that caliber had made such a request to me
directly. Shortly after I returned to our home office in Cincinnati, I received an
email-again directly from Jesse-in regard to our conversation. Jesse didn't care
that I was still new to the industry or BD's lowest-level editor. He recognized my role
in our product coverage and wanted me to learn what his company was all about.
-Christina Green, associate editor, BD
Those wishing to commemorate his life can contribute to the scholarship
fund, An Egg A Day, set up by Jesse and Helen.
Here's to our humanity.
Here's to our similarities.
Here's to our strength.
Here's to peace.
By Mary Scoviak, executive editor, BD
HELEN K ALISHER