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Zeljko Kujundzic was born in Subotica, Yugoslavia on October 23, 1920 and was the fifth generation of craftsmen of Turkish descent. He received his Master’s of Fine Arts from the University of Budapest and traveled under a scholarship from the Hungarian Ministry of Education to study Folk Art. During WWII he was captured and held in prison twice, first by the Germans and then by the Russians. His experiences during the war are captured and documented in his autobiography Torn Canvas, published in 1957.
Kujundzic lived and painted in Scotland from 1946 to 1956, and married his first wife Ann Johnson, with whom he had five children. The family then moved to Cranbrook, British Columbia in 1958 where he was a founder of the Kootenay School of Art (KSA) in Nelson, B.C., serving as its director from 1959 to 1963. During this time he painted among the First Nations people of the Kootenay region and conducted a series of workshops in pottery and ceramics with the First Nations peoples of the Caribou and Okanagan under a Koerner Foundation grant from the Anthropology Department of the University of British Columbia. In 1964 Kujundzic established the Art Centre in Kelowna, B.C., the Okanagan Summer Arts Festival, and formed the Contemporary Okanagan Artists group.
In 1968 Kujundzic accepted a position in the United States where he served as the head of the new Arts Department at Pennsylvania State University’s Fayette Campus. Kujundzic often moved between Penn State and the Okanagan between 1968 and 1982, and during this time received several grants and accolades, traveling extensively exhibiting his work and also to study the art of other indigenous cultures including stops in Mexico and Guatemala. He also met his second wife and fellow artist Elizabeth Campbell during this time. He retired from Penn State University with the rank of Professor Emeritus in 1982 and returned to the Okanagan Valley where he continued his artwork and leading workshops in various locations across British Columbia. In 2003, Kujundzic passed away in Osoyoos, British Columbia.
Kujundzic’s artistic media includes clay moulding, painting, woodblock printing, sculpturing, and metal, stained glass and weaving. He was also a writer and inventor, building a working solar kiln in 1976. He exhibited widely and his work has been staged in various parts of the world, including Great Britain, France, Spain, Italy, Canada, the United Stated, Mexico, South America, and Japan. He also completed many significant commissions, including the sculpture for UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium, and the “Gate of Life” holocaust monument in Pennsylvania.