Jeff Kahm, a renowned painter and professor at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, died Friday in a car crash, according to students and colleagues.
The authorities told the school they believe Kahm had a medical incident of some sort while driving, causing his car to overturn at Cerrillos and Ocate roads on the city’s south side.
“Jeff was on his way to school,” said Eric Davis, a spokesman for IAIA. “He didn’t make class, and people started looking for him.”
Kahm was born in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1968 and moved to Santa Fe in the 1990s to study painting and photography at IAIA.
He finished his undergraduate studies at the Kansas City Art Institute and later earned a master’s degree at the University of Alberta. He had taught at IAIA since 2005.
“His feedback was always some of the most valuable,” said Brian Fleetwood, an assistant professor at IAIA. “There are a lot of people who come in with an ego, and despite his incredible technical ability and his knowledge of art history and painting in particular, he always came at a critique without a chip on his shoulder that a lot of people bring.”
Kahm was humble, soft-spoken and “had a tremendous work ethic and commitment to the school,” Fleetwood said.
On his website, Kahm described his paintings as being “rooted in Indigenous abstraction and Modernist aesthetics.” His work has been displayed in galleries across the U.S., Canada, Russia and Switzerland.
“We really are heartbroken about this loss,” said IAIA President Robert Martin. “It’s been a real blessing to know an artist that is so talented and creative but also is very generous with his time.”
Matt Eaton, a sculpture professor at IAIA, said: “Jeff was really good with his students, and he was a genuinely humble person. He was so important to our faculty.”
Kahm had tribal affiliations with the Plains Cree and Little Pine First Nation of Saskatchewan. Bryson Meyers, a senior at IAIA, said Kahm was one of his favorite teachers.
“He was a really good friend of mine because we both come from the same area of Canada,” Meyers said. “He was more than a teacher to me. … He was the only other [person] on campus who used our language.”
Tahnee Ahtoneharjo-Growingthunder, a former student of Kahm’s, said the two stayed in touch after she graduated.
“Right away we discovered we had relatives in common,” she said. “Jeff always found a way to talk about home with us, which I know he didn’t have that relationship with other students — to talk about old powwow songs or just to laugh and tease in the old tribal language.”