It is with great sadness that I write to tell you that Charles Kleibacker died yesterday morning. He was a beloved member of our Museum family and will be deeply missed by all of us. He had been our Adjunct Curator of Design since 2002, but had been working with us as a guest curator since 1989.
CMA Executive Director
Charles Kleibacker (1921–2010)
Charles John Kleibacker, renowned fashion designer, master of the bias, and Adjunct Curator of Design at the Columbus Museum of Art, died Sunday, January 3, 2010, at the Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio, at age eighty-eight.
Born November 20, 1921, and brought up in the ready-to-wear department of his family’s department store in Cullman, Alabama, Kleibacker graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Notre Dame in 1943. He worked as a newspaper reporter before pursuing graduate studies in retailing at New York University. From there, Kleibacker worked as an advertising copywriter before landing a job with songwriter Anna Sosenko, manager of cabaret star Hildegarde, when he discovered his interest in women’s fashion. Kleibacker worked in Paris and New York as a fashion designer and, in 1960, opened his own studio, KLEIBACKER, in New York City. His designs received critical acclaim from the fashion media and were recognized by major publications, including Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Town and Country, and Women’s Wear Daily. His off-the-rack designs were featured by such retailers as Bergdorf Goodman and Henri Bendel.Kleibacker’s private clients included Mrs. Richard Nixon, Diahann Carroll, Rebekah Harkness, Mary Travers, Mrs. Nelson Rockefeller, and Mrs. Irving Berlin.
After accepting teaching residencies from colleges throughout the country, Kleibacker became a visiting professor at the Ohio State University in the Department of Clothing and Textiles in 1984, closing his New York studio two years later, and staying at the university as Designer-in-Residence until 1995. Kleibacker obtained garments for the Ohio State Collection from notable fashion icons, including Brooke Astor, Jayne Wrightsman, Evangline Bruce, Pamela Harriman, Carroll Baker, and Austine Hearst. Since 2002, Kleibacker had been the Adjunct Curator of Design at the Columbus Museum of Art, where he created numerous significant exhibitions. He continued educational pursuits through his relationship with Mount Mary College, Milwaukee, an adjunct professorship in Kent State University’s School of Fashion Design and Merchandising, and a 2001 teaching appointment at Columbus College of Art and Design. In 2009, he received the University of Notre Dame’s Rev. Anthony J. Lauck, C.S.C, Award for Fine Arts and Visual Arts in honor of his outstanding artistic accomplishments in the field of fashion design. Most recently, Kleibacker was asked to contribute his designs to the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s American Beauty: Aesthetics and Innovation in Fashion exhibition, which opened in New York City in November 2009.
Charles Kleibacker is survived by his sister, Ruth Richard, his nephews, John, Walter, Danny, and Robert Richard, his niece, Mrs. Ruth Anne Knight, and their families as well as by his many friends and admirers. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Charles Kleibacker Endowed Fund for Excellence, Columbus Museum of Art, 480 East Broad Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43215. The fund, established in 2004, honors Charles Kleibacker’s commitment to Columbus and to design. An event celebrating his life is planned for spring 2010.