University of Arizona

Ken Wolfgang: Portrait of an Independent Arizona Filmmaker

Ken Wolfgang: Portrait of an Independent Arizona Filmmaker

Ken Wolfgang was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1931.  In 1958 he founded Kensharo Productions and in 1964 he moved to Sonoita, AZ to make filmmaking his full time profession.  The travelogue films Wolfgang produced between 1958-1982 document a breadth of regions and their cultures ranging from Mexico, Thailand, Japan, India, Singapore, Austria, and the American desert southwest.  With his films, Wolfgang strove to document the cultural perspective of his subjects without reinforcing the negative stereotypes of foreign cultures that were held by members of the American culture.  Wolfgang stated that he sought to avoid traditional tourist highlights which most travelogue films documented, and instead  sought to provide insightful perspectives into the lives' of the film's subjects.

The University of Arizona Special Collections Library received the Ken Wolfgang Collection in August, 2012 and the collection was processed within the next six months. The collection consists of a myriad of striking audiovisual primary source materials, including 16mm Kodachrome film prints, outtake footage, 1/4" audio tape, and photographs.  Also housed within the collection are scrapbooks compiled by Wolfgang that provide valuable insight into his creative as well as production process.  The collection also contains some surprises like the hand crafted Samurai swords and Samurai dolls which played  lead roles in his film The Japanese Sword as the Soul of the Samurai

Special Collections created a digital exhibit dedicated to the collection which highlights materials from the collection including film clips, correspondence, photographs, and ephemera.  Students from a graduate English class utilized the content from this exhibit to compose essays which they presented at an end of the semester symposium honoring the collection that was held at Special Collections. 

The Ken Wolfgang collection is an invaluable addition to the holdings housed at Special Collections.  The collection not only provides researchers access to primary source materials created by an early Arizona independent filmmaker, but also provides visual documentation of cultures and their traditions that the travelogue genre habitually overlooked.

Ken Wolfgang Filming on a Narrow Gauge Train in Austria