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Articles on this Page
- 04/25/14--11:17: _Helène Aylon
- 05/02/14--08:47: _Ruth Weisberg
- 05/21/14--07:58: _Louise Nevelson
- 06/10/14--09:21: _Hannah Wilke
- 06/13/14--08:16: _Sarah Bernhardt
- 06/18/14--08:05: _Katherine M. Cohen
- 07/18/14--07:21: _Sylvia Goulston Dre...
- 07/24/14--13:28: _Temima Gezari
- 07/31/14--09:35: _Mary Frank
- 08/15/14--08:22: _Eva Hesse
- 09/29/14--10:14: _Rose Kohler
- 12/24/14--08:49: _Birth of sculptor L...
- 12/30/14--12:44: _Lillian Nassau
- 01/20/15--11:13: _Virginia Morris Pollak
- 02/03/15--10:13: _Colette Roberts
- 02/11/15--12:29: _Miriam Schapiro
- 03/18/15--07:21: _Ziva Amishai-Maisels
- 03/18/15--12:16: _Tatjana Barbakoff
- 07/09/12--11:48: _War memorial by Bas...
- 02/17/15--13:10: _Katherine M. Cohen
- 04/25/14--11:17: Helène Aylon
- 05/02/14--08:47: Ruth Weisberg
- 05/21/14--07:58: Louise Nevelson
- 06/10/14--09:21: Hannah Wilke
- 06/13/14--08:16: Sarah Bernhardt
- 06/18/14--08:05: Katherine M. Cohen
- 07/18/14--07:21: Sylvia Goulston Dreyfus
- 07/24/14--13:28: Temima Gezari
- 07/31/14--09:35: Mary Frank
- 08/15/14--08:22: Eva Hesse
- 09/29/14--10:14: Rose Kohler
- 12/24/14--08:49: Birth of sculptor Louise Nevelson
- 12/30/14--12:44: Lillian Nassau
- 01/20/15--11:13: Virginia Morris Pollak
- 02/03/15--10:13: Colette Roberts
- 02/11/15--12:29: Miriam Schapiro
- 03/18/15--07:21: Ziva Amishai-Maisels
- 03/18/15--12:16: Tatjana Barbakoff
- 07/09/12--11:48: War memorial by Bashka Paeff dedicated in Kittery, Maine
- 02/17/15--13:10: Katherine M. Cohen
Through her art, Helène Aylon explored the intersectionality among her feminism, the Orthodox Judaism of her upbringing, and her place in a war-torn world. Married to an Orthodox rabbi at 18 and widowed at 30, Aylon investigated her faith and her feminism through installation art and performance art. In “The Liberation of G-d,” she highlighted misogynistic passages attributed to God by male speakers in the Torah. In “My Bridal Chamber: My Marriage Bed/My Clean Days,” she projected shifting images onto a white bedsheet to represent menstrual impurity while a cascade of voice recordings counted the waiting times between periods and ritual baths. In 1982, as part of an eco–feminist performance piece to rescue the earth, she drove an “Earth Ambulance” across the country, stopping at nuclear bases to “rescue” earth in pillowcases donated by hundreds of women. Her work is in the permanent collections of several museums, including the Jewish Museum, MoMA, and the Whitney Museum.
Ruth Weisberg’s art helped bring the Reform Movement’s Open Door Haggadah to life with inclusive, feminist imagery. Weisberg studied art in Italy and Paris before returning to the US to teach and open her own studio. Weisberg’s work spans drawing, painting, and large-scale installations, such as her “Sisters and Brothers,” which featured a Stonehenge-like structure made of panels showing siblings in moments of separation and connection. She has had over 70 solo shows and 160 group exhibitions, and her work is featured in the collections of 60 museums and universities worldwide. In 1990, she became the first woman president of the College Art Association. She viewed her work on the Open Door Haggadah as an opportunity to reimagine and interpret the most illustrated text in the Jewish tradition. A documentary about her life and art, Ruth Weisberg: On the Journey, won a gold medal at the Aurora Film and Video Festival in 2003. She has served as dean of fine arts at the University of Southern California since 1995.
Louise Nevelson transformed the concept of sculpture from an object the audience walks around to a space the audience can enter into. Nevelson studied modernist and cubist styles with painter Hans Hofman in Munich in 1931, taking on his aesthetics of the “push and pull” of balanced composition and translating it to sculpture. To support herself, she began teaching for the Education Alliance School of Art in New York in 1937. In a bold move, she marched into the famed Nierendorf Gallery in 1941 and demanded an exhibition, gaining the gallery director’s representation and four solo shows on the strength of her work. Later, depressed by lack of sales, she destroyed many of her sculptures. In the 1950s, she began working with massive wall installations using found pieces of wood that were collaged in geometric grids and covered in paint for a uniform look, emphasizing the relationship of the shapes to one another. Several of these pieces are now owned by the Whitney, the Brooklyn Museum, and MOMA. In the 1970s, she began working with Cor-Ten steel, which rusts on the outside but keeps its structural integrity, allowing her to create sculptures in outside environments around the country.
Hannah Wilke used her art to transform perceptions of the vagina, the nude female form, and her own cancer-ridden body. Wilke’s first formal pieces in the 1960s were shapes folded like fortune cookies to represent vulvas, a form she repeated with terra cotta, lint, chewing gum, and other items, using the repetition of form to take some of the taboo out of female genitalia and the disposable materials to reclaim the negative as art. In 1974, she began her Starification series, photographing herself semi-nude and covered with vaginal-shaped pieces of chewing gum that appear like scars, and began teaching at the School for Visual Arts. In 1987, after she was diagnosed with lymphoma, she showed a series of abstract watercolors she had been painting on her face as B.C., before consciousness of her cancer. In 1991, she collaborated with her husband, Donald Goddard, on what she had hoped to call Cured but finally titled Intra-Venus, a series of photographs and mixed-media documenting her illness.
Hailed as “the Divine Sarah” and celebrated around the world for her acting talents, Sarah Bernhardt lived as vivid a life as any character she portrayed onstage. Bernhardt debuted in the title role of Racine’s Iphigénie at the national theater, the Comédie Française, in 1862 and slowly built a reputation in smaller venues as a versatile actress with an expressive voice and poetic gestures. In 1872 she returned to the Comédie Française as a celebrity, hailed for her performances of Racine’s Phèdre in 1874 and of Victor Hugo’s Hernani in 1877. Bernhardt counted some of the greatest artists and writers of the age as friends or lovers, and two journalists who criticized her were challenged to duels. Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, she pursued multiple careers, buying a series of French theaters to produce modern experimental plays while touring Europe, the US, Latin America, and Canada to great acclaim. She also wrote poetry, plays, and fiction; painted; and sculpted. During a 1905 performance in Rio de Janeiro, Bernhardt badly injured her knee, which finally required amputation in 1915. Despite her injury, Bernhardt continued performing on stage and in films until weeks before her death.
Defying biblical prohibitions against graven images, Katherine M. Cohen created sculptures that explored Jewish themes and earned respect in both American and European circles. Cohen studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts under painter Thomas Eakins and worked at the Art Student League in New York as a workshop assistant to the sculptor August Saint-Gaudens before opening her own studio in Philadelphia in 1884. Cohen’s commissions included creating the seal of Gratz College and sculpting portrait busts of prominent Philadelphia Jews. She also chaired the choir of Mikveh Israel, a prominent Philadelphia synagogue. In 1893, Cohen travelled to the Chicago World’s Fair, where she spoke at the Women’s Pavilion on the lack of support for the arts in America and her frustration that artists had to travel to Europe to learn their craft. In 1887, she travelled to Paris to work under sculptors Puech and Mercie. While in France, she was elected an honorary member of the American Art Association, whose jury chose her sculpture The Israelite for the 1896 Paris Salon. Cohen resisted modernist and cubist trends, preferring more traditional approaches, and enjoyed great success for her ambitious works such as the multifigured Vision of Rabbi Ibn Ezra.
Sylvia Goulston Dreyfus worked to improve Boston both through community activism and through her support of art and music. Dreyfus graduated Wellesley in 1914 and supported the college throughout her life as a member of the alumni association’s publication committee and their vice–chairman for national publicity. She was president of the Hecht Neighborhood House (inspired by Jane Addams’s Hull House in Chicago), which offered classes, health services, and vocational training to Jews. Dreyfus also served as a trustee of the New England Conservatory of Music and honorary chair of the Palestine Orchestra (later the Israeli Philharmonic) Fund, and sat on the advisory board of the Berkshire Music Festival. She wrote an account of her friendship with Serge Koussevitzky, who became conductor of Tanglewood’s summer music concerts in 1936. Despite her lifelong passion for music, she did not perform, although she did become involved in the arts as a bas-relief sculptor.
Temima Gezari made a lasting impact on Jewish education through her vivid artwork and illustrations of children’s books as well as her many years of teaching pedagogy. Gezari earned degrees from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1925 and the Master Institute of United Arts in 1930 before becoming director of art education for the Board of Jewish Education in 1940. For over sixty years in that post, she created workshops and resources for Hebrew school and day school teachers, organized annual citywide exhibitions of children’s art, and oversaw the publication of Brush and Color, a bulletin for art teachers. She also taught art education and art history at JTS’s Teacher’s Institute from 1935–1977. A painter and sculptor, Gezari had solo exhibitions throughout the US and Israel, and was commissioned to create a mural for the Society for the Advancement of Judaism in New York and a sculpture for Yad Vashem. She illustrated a variety of children’s books, including Gateway to Jewish Song, and wrote articles and books on using art to teach Jewish subjects, including Footprints and New Worlds: Experiences in Art with Child and Adult.
Mary Frank’s love of dance informed her compelling sculptures and paintings, with their focus on the human body in motion. Frank studied dance with the famed Martha Graham from 1945 until 1950 when she married the photographer Robert Frank and switched from dance to art. Her drawings and sculptures reflected elements of both her dance training and her husband’s photographs of the Southwest—stark black figures frozen in mid-movement against pale backgrounds. Early on, Frank sculpted in various media, but she began working in clay in 1969, creating human forms made of disjointed or interlocking pieces, as though the person were rising from the surface of the earth or being assembled out of the air. In 1974 her daughter was killed in a plane crash and a year later her son was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. Frank’s grief showed in her art through a series of busts of young women with closed eyes, wreathed with ferns or flower petals. In the 1980s she switched from sculpting to painting, creating works of vivid color. She has taught as artist in residence at a variety of institutions, and her work is in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian, among many others.
Eva Hesse’s innovative sculptures and installations were respected throughout the art world for their dichotomies of lightness and weight, order and chaos, and mechanical and organic forms. Hesse and her family fled Germany in 1938, settling in New York a year later. She threw herself into art at an early age, studying at both the Pratt Institute of Design and Cooper Union, graduating in 1957. She earned a BFA from the Yale School of Art in 1959 and returned to New York, where she drew, painted, studied, and connected with fellow artists such as Sol LeWitt. In 1960 she began creating small, abstract, ink and gouache works on paper. While she persisted (with increasing frustration) in painting, it was these drawings that would lead her to sculpture. In 1964, on a trip to Germany, her husband, Tom Doyle, urged her to stop painting and work instead with plaster and string. It was a revelation. Hesse began creating forms that were minimal and abstract but carried emotional weight and a sense of motion. Her new work was featured in major shows at venues like the Graham Gallery and the Fischbach Gallery, including the historic “9 at Leo Castelli” show in 1967.
A celebrated artist and a gifted educator, Rose Kohler wrote extensively on the power of art to influence emotion and ideology for good or ill. Rose Kohler studied painting and sculpture at Hunter, the Cincinnati Arts Academy, and the Art Students League of New York, and had shows at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the National Academy of Design in New York, among many others. Her two most famous pieces were a bust of her father, Rabbi Kaufmann Kohler (president of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati), and a medallion called The Spirit of the Synagogue. She later served as an educator and chair of religious schools for the Cincinnati chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women. She wrote extensively on the importance of Jewish education, as well as on the origins and evolution of Jewish religious art and its potential to spark a passion for Jewish culture and ideals in both Jews and non-Jews. She also explored the dark side of art’s power to influence hearts and minds, documenting examples of anti-Semitic art that was used to incite pogroms in Europe.
Louise Nevelson’s artwork began as tabletop collages of found wood, then grew through wall sculptures before metamorphosing into complete environments. Beginning her work with the Federal Arts Project of the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, she then incorporated cubism and surrealism imported from Europe, combined with her personal vision and experience, to lead the avant-garde art world of America in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Nevelson’s personal life began in hardship and loneliness before a similar metamorphosis into that of a rich New York society matron. Born in the shtetl of Pereyaslav, fifty miles southeast of Kiev, on this date in 1900, her family moved to Rockland, Maine in 1905. Isolated even from the other two dozen Jewish families in the town, Louise excelled in art in high school and wanted to attend the Pratt Institute in New York. But after the wealthy businessman Charles Nevelson proposed to her, the couple married and moved to 300 Central Park West in New York City.
After giving birth to her only son Myron (Mike) Irving Nevelson, Nevelson embarked on an increasingly bohemian lifestyle, exploring Eastern religious movements and spiritualism, studying art at the Art Students League and theatre with Princess Matchabelli. In the 1931, she travelled to Munich to study with painter Hans Hofman, where she found the element of cubism that would become her guiding light: the structuring of abstract compositional elements within a geometric grid, bringing order to seeming chaos. As she said later, “If an object is in the right place, it is enhanced to grandeur. More than that, it pleases the inner being and that, I think, is very important. That equals harmony.”
Returning to America, she took part in her first exhibition in 1935, showing small semiabstract figures modeled in clay. In 1941, she convinced gallery owner Karl Nierendorf to represent her, resulting in four solo exhibitions of her work. She divorced her husband and moved into her own house on East 30th Street. She encountered monumental totemic sculptures of the Mayan culture on trips to Mexico and began to work on a larger scale in her own work, with sculptures that encompassed the viewer. Her work began to be acquired by institutions like the Whitney and Brooklyn Museums and the Museum of Modern Art.
In the 1960s Nevelson designed works for the Jewish Museum in New York, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan. When asked about designing a Christian chapel as a Jew, Nevelson replied, “To me there is no distinction between a church and a synagogue. If you go deep enough into any religion you arrive at the same point of harmony.”
In the 1970s, she began to work with the medium of Cor-Ten steel, a durable metal that rusts on the exterior but retains its internal integrity. Nevelson was able to design numerous monumental outdoor works, including Atmosphere and Environment X. In 1978, a small plot in lower Manhattan was renamed Louise Nevelson Square, and seven tree-shaped monumental steel pieces were installed there by the artist.
Louise Nevelson died on April 17, 1988, at her home in New York City. In 1994, the Nevelson-Berliawsky Gallery of 20th Century Art opened at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Nevelson’s hometown of Rockland, Maine.
Art historian Robin Clark observed, “Louise Nevelson took her identity as a Russian-born American Jewish woman artist and used it as raw material to construct both a myth and a body of work that speaks hyperbolically to the binary opposites of which she was made: extravagance and asceticism, clarity and confusion, darkness and light.”
Source: “Louise Nevelson,”Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
Antique dealer Lillian Nassau rekindled the public’s enthusiasm for art deco and art nouveau at a time when Tiffany lamps were being destroyed for their bronze. Nassau studied journalism at Columbia University, but gave up any thought of a career when she married in 1920. When she divorced in the late 1930s, at the height of the Depression, she supported her two children by selling jewelry door to door on Long Island. She opened her first Manhattan shop in 1945, specializing in antiques from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In 1956 she bought her first Tiffany lamp for $175 and began creating interest among buyers for art nouveau pieces ranging from Liberty silver to American decorative pottery. Her discernment not only made her shop a major hub for collectors, it also revived interest in European artists like René Lalique, Georg Jensen, Emile Gallé, Josef Hoffman, Louis Majorelle, and Carlo Bugatti. Although she retired at age eighty-three, leaving her gallery to her surviving son, she continued working as a consultant until her death.
Virginia Morris Pollak’s artistic career and her longtime community service collided in WWII when she used her deep understanding of clay, plaster, and metal to revolutionize reconstructive surgery for wounded servicemen. Pollak studied sculpture at the Art Students League in New York and at Yale, but after her father’s death, she abandoned her creative pursuits to manage his women’s clothing firm. In 1939 she left the company to marry Leo L. Pollak, an engineer. She began volunteering for the Red Cross, teaching art to wounded servicemen at Halloran Hospital in Staten Island, before founding a medical laboratory at the hospital. There she worked with plastic surgeons to create quick-setting clays for reconstructive surgery molds and modeled skull plates that allowed the wounded to heal from devastating injuries in mere weeks. She earned a presidential citation and an appointment to JFK’s Commission for the Employment of the Handicapped. In her artistic career, she went on to co-found Alva Studios, creating high-quality replicas of museum pieces, and in 1960 chaired the Norfolk Fine Arts Commission, an extension of her father’s work to beautify the city, creating an outdoor sculpture museum at the Botanic Garden.
Colette Roberts helped shape our understanding of modern art both through her art criticism and through her unconventional teaching methods, bringing students into artists’ studios to talk with them about their work. Roberts graduated from the University of Paris, but also studied at the Louvre and other art schools. During WWII she immigrated to New York, where she lectured and wrote for French journals. In the 1940s she helped organize Franco-American cultural exchanges and became director of the National Association of Women Artists while serving as secretary to a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She wrote art criticism and monographs on modern artists in America and exhibited her own art in France. From 1952–1968 she directed the Grand Central Moderns gallery, bringing attention to previously unfashionable artists like Louise Nevelson. In 1957 she began teaching at NYU, personally introducing her students to Nevelson, Willem de Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein, and other artists. In 1969 she also became director of the Hofstra University Art Gallery. To help further popular understanding of art, she published Pocket Museum in 1964.
Miriam Schapiro helped pioneer the feminist art movement, both through her own pushing of creative boundaries and by creating opportunities for other women artists. Schapiro attended weekend classes at the Museum of Modern Art as a teenager. She earned multiple degrees from the State University of Iowa, culminating in her MFA in 1949. She taught at the University of Missouri from 1950–1952, worked as a children’s art teacher, then became a full-time artist in 1955. In 1967 she began teaching at UC San Diego and created the experimental OX, a computer-generated painting that became an icon of feminist art. In 1971 she and Judy Chicago co-founded the first feminist art program at the California Institute of the Arts, and in 1972 created Womanhouse, a collaborative feminist art space. Schapiro’s contribution was Dollhouse, in which every tiny room showed some aspect of women’s work. She went on to invent “femmage” in the 1970s: collages created from objects made or cherished by women, combined through sewing, lacemaking, and other traditionally feminine craft techniques. Through her art and scholarship, as well as her role as co-founder of the feminist art journal Heresies, she showcased the importance of past and present women artists to the art world.
As an art historian and curator for Yad Vashem, Ziva Amishai-Maisels became known for her insights into the impact of the Holocaust on modern art. Amishai-Maisels earned a BA in art history from Barnard in 1961 and her MA from Columbia in 1962. That year she made Aliyah and began teaching art history at Hebrew University, where she earned her PhD in 1970. In 1975 she became chair of the department. From 1976–1978 she served on the Ministry of Education and Culture’s art committee, and since 1974 she has been on the editorial board of the Journal of Jewish Art. She also helped create the Society for Jewish Art in 1979. While she wrote important books on Marc Chagall and Jacob Steinhardt, her writing has been heavily influenced by her work since the early 1980s as a member of the art committee of Yad Vashem, selecting work for the Holocaust memorial. After twenty years of research, Amishai-Maisels published The Influence of the Holocaust on the Visual Arts in 1993. She argued that while artists who were not survivors used metaphoric imagery to explore the emotional aspects of the Holocaust, survivors tended to use art to document their experiences more literally. She was awarded the Israel Prize in 2004.
The daughter of a Chinese mother and a Russian Jewish father, Tatjana Barbakoff used her mixed heritage as inspiration for stunning and innovative dance performances. Born Cilly Edelberg, Barbakoff began learning ballet and performing Chinese dances at age ten. At nineteen she joined the Berlin literary cabaret Schall und Rauch, changing her name and performing a mix of Russian- and Chinese-inspired dances. She debuted as a soloist in 1925 and toured throughout Germany and France, dancing in costumes inspired by the rich brocades and silks of her mixed background. Her expressive technique entranced critics, while her costumes inspired dozens of painters and sculptors to capture her likeness. In 1927 she began more formal ballet training under the ballerina Catherine Devilliers and expanded her repertoire to include dances like Church Images of Old Russia, Mongolian Flag Bearer, Chatting Women, and By the Waters of Babylon. She fled Germany for Paris in 1933 and continued performing to packed audiences, but was imprisoned after the German invasion in 1940. Freed during the armistice, she fled to Nice, but was captured again in 1944 and sent to Auschwitz. Interest in her work revived in 2005, when an extensive collection of artwork she had inspired was exhibited in Germany.
On May 31, 1926, a bas-relief bronze and granite memorial to the sailors and soldiers from Maine who died in World War I was dedicated in the coastal town of Kittery. It depicted a woman fiercely protecting her child, a dramatic departure from most war memorials that feature soldiers and guns. The sculptor was Bashka Paeff, a Jewish woman, whose family had emigrated from Russia to escape the pogroms.
Born in 1893, she grew up in Boston’s crowded North End. She studied at the Massachusetts Normal Art School, the Boston Museum School, and at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. She financed her studies working as a toll collector on the Boston subways.
After a state-sponsored competition, Gov. Percival P. Baxter had commissioned the work. It took one and a half years to create and earned Paeff a $15,000 fee, including the costs of casting and installing the sculpture.
In the years after World War I, when feelings about pacifism and militarism ran high, the work became controversial. When it was almost completed, the man who succeeded Baxter as governor objected to it as “too pacifistic.” Paeff compromised by adding a few soldiers in low relief in the background, as well as military inscriptions. While she called the statue “The Horrors of War,” it was officially named “Sacrifices of War.” Most Mainers know it as the “Sailors and Soldiers Memorial.” See photos of the memorial here.
Bashka Paeff clearly intended the sculpture to be a statement against war. “I have some decided opinions about war memorials,” she said. “I hope most of all that we shall not erect memorials to glorify war… We forget what suffering and horror it brought. We should set up memorials that would make us loathe war instead of admire it.”
Paeff produced another war memorial, this one in the Massachusetts State House honoring Bay State chaplains who died during World War I. She also created a relief sculpture of the Minutemen who fought in the first battle of the American Revolution. Her other works include busts of Martin Luther King, Jane Addams, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Ellen Richards. She made a marble bust of Louis Brandeis.
The home and studio Paeff occupied on the north slope of Beacon Hill still stands. Passersby can see the large windows that brought light into her work space.
Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein, American Women Sculptors: A History of Women Working in Three Dimensions, Boston, G.K.Hall, 1990; Jennifer Wingate, “Motherhood, Memorials, and Anti-Militarism: Bashka Paeff’s “Sacrifices of War, Women’s Art Journal, Vol. 29, no. 2, page 31.