By Cindy Mindell
If the pen is indeed mighty, Arthur Szyk is surely one of the 20th century’s most venerable warriors.
On Sunday, Oct. 24, the University of Hartford and the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies, in partnership with the New Britain Museum of American Art (NBMAA), will open a new exhibition to honor the artist’s life and work. “A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Swords: The Art of Arthur Szyk,” will be launched with a lecture and reception at the NBMAA.
The event, part of a series of programming to celebrate the Greenberg Center’s 25th anniversary year, will feature Steven Luckert, curator of the permanent exhibition at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The exhibition will remain on view through Jan. 30, 2011 and will feature a series of four public programs at the New Britain Museum, as well as a second exhibition to open at the George and Lottie Sherman Museum of Jewish Civilization at the University of Hartford on Nov. 8, 2010.
The 25th anniversary of the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies will combine Judaica exhibitions and accompanying lectures, both on campus and throughout the greater Hartford community. Past events have included the “Precious Legacy” exhibition at the Wadsworth Athenaeum and lectures by Elie Wiesel; Sir Martin Gilbert; Dan Bahat, Chief Archaeologist of Jerusalem; Aharon Barak, Chief Justice of Israel’s Supreme Court, and Israeli President Shimon Peres.
“It is very fitting that the Greenberg Center’s 25th-anniversary programming will feature collaborative exhibitions and lectures in participation with major local museums and institutions such as the New Britain Museum of American Art, the Mandell Jewish Community Center of Greater Hartford and the Charter Oak Cultural Center in downtown Hartford, says Prof. Richard Freund, director of the Greenberg Center. “Exhibitions and lectures for the public and collaboration with local institutions have been a hallmark of the Greenberg Center’s programming since it was founded in 1985.”
Arthur Szyk (pronounced Shick), was born to a Jewish family in 1894, in Russian-occupied Poland, and died Sept. 13, 1951 in New Canaan, Conn. Szyk dedicated his work to democracy, freedom, tolerance, and an end to political injustice and human suffering, saying of his work, “Art is not my aim, it is my means.”
“Szyk is an amazing individual, if you look at him as having been shaped by 20th-century events,” says Avinoam Patt, the Philip D. Feltman Professor of Modern Jewish History at the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies, and director of the Sherman Museum of Jewish Civilization. He is the curator of “A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Swords.” “Szyk is a perfect figure to celebrate the Greenberg Center,” Patt says. “He captures the scope of the work we do.”
And the New Britain museum is the perfect place to honor Szyk, adds Patt.
“One of the ideas we’re celebrating this year is 25 years of engaging the community,” he says. “It’s perfect to have the exhibition at the New Britain Museum as a way to bring this art to greater Hartford. Szyk’s art is modern art and American art, and the museum is a beautiful site, so it seemed like the perfect place to partner with.”
Over the coming year, the University of Hartford is collaborating on other exhibitions with the New Britain Museum, Patt says.
During World War I, after studying art in Paris, Szyk returned to Poland to fight in the Russian army. He witnessed the creation of the independent republic of Poland. Inspired by the concept of the illuminated manuscript, he developed his style as an illustrator, creating a series dedicated to democratic Poland, based on the 1264 Statute of Kalisz, which granted rights to Jews.
The NBMAA exhibition will include work from Szyk’s 1930 series, “Washington and His Times,” which earned him the George Washington Medal.
Szyk fled the European continent in 1937, settling in London. He completed his famous Haggadah in 1940, presenting the first copy to King George VI. The Times Literary Supplement described the work as “worthy to be placed among the most beautiful of books that the hand of man has produced.” Szyk immigrated to the U.S. later that year, after a brief interlude in Ottawa.
Once settled, he used his illustrations to support the country’s entry into the war and bring attention to the mass murder of European Jews. His anti-Nazi propaganda and wartime illustrations made him a full-fledged “soldier” in the struggle against the Axis powers and sought to win support for the Allied cause. Szyk devoted his energies to defeating Nazi Germany and its allies and calling the world’s attention to the mass murder of Europe’s Jews. His wartime cartoons and caricatures filled the pages of American newspapers and magazines, leading Eleanor Roosevelt to dub him a “one-man army” in the Allied cause. By 1943, Szyk had become perhaps America’s leading artistic advocate for Jewish rescue from Nazi Europe. His images appeared in Collier’s, Esquire, Time, Look, The New York Times, the New York Post, and the Chicago Sun. Szyk’s work was so well-known among American soldiers during the war, Patt says, that a 1941 Esquire Magazine survey supposedly found that the political cartoons and anti-Nazi propaganda were more popular than pinup queens of the day.
“He was very committed to this ideal of democracy and freedom of religion,” Patt says. A lithograph of Szyk’s illustrated “Declaration of Independence,” one of his most famous works, will be on display at the Sherman Museum show. “There’s always this political component in his work,” says Patt. “He believed that he had to use art in service of what he believed in, to support democracy and freedom and end political injustice and human suffering.”
After the war, Szyk the passionate Zionist turned his artistic talents to supporting the creation of the Jewish state. A selection from that series, as well as his illustrations of U.S. leaders, will be featured at the New Britain Museum of American Art.
Szyk died in 1951. In his collection of works, “Ink and Blood,” published in 1946, he wrote, “Words and pictures are bullets whose flight never ends. Their trajectory knows no down curve. They endure long after the guns are silenced.”
All the works to be included in the NBMAA and Sherman Museum exhibitions are on loan from The Gregg and Michelle Philipson Collection, Austin, TX. The NBMAA show will include seven works that have never been on display.
The Philipsons own one of the largest private collections of original Szyk creations, along with hundreds of other works, including prints, posters, books, and magazines. Much of the Philipsons’ collections include works by and about those who stood up and took action against injustice and intolerance.
Philipson says that he and his wife make their Szyk collection accessible in order to educate others about the dangers of being a bystander. “Both our families were affected by the Holocaust and other incidents like turmoil in Russia,” he says. “We know about the price that’s paid; our families have paid it and we have friends in Israel who continue to pay it. We believe that the way to stop injustice is through education on tolerance and not being a bystander. The world can’t afford for any of us to be bystanders. Our collection is an educational resource, and we encourage people to come, learn, and borrow.”
Gregg Philipson will be part of a panel discussion, “The Art of Collecting,” at the NBMAA on Nov. 7. He will also deliver the keynote lecture at the opening of the Sherman Museum of Jewish Civilization’s parallel exhibition opening, “A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Swords: The Art of Arthur Szyk and Dr. Seuss” on Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. in the 1877 Club at the University of Hartford.
The University of Hartford’s Sherman Museum will feature a satellite exhibition of the illustrations of Arthur Szyk and Dr. Seuss, a fellow American illustrator who used his art to draw attention to contemporary issues. Like Szyk, Theodore Geisel, a native of Springfield, Mass., used the pen to take on the effort to defeat the Nazis and the fate of the Jews of Europe. “The Illustrations of Szyk and Seuss” will open on Nov. 8 and remain on display through Jan. 27, 2011.
EXHIBITION AND LECTURE PROGRAM
“A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Swords: The Art of Arthur Szyk”
New Britain Museum of American Art, 56 Lexington St., New Britain
Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010, 2 p.m.
Dr. Steven Luckert, Curator, Permanent Exhibition, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C. (USHMM)
“The Art and Politics of Arthur Szyk”
Steven Luckert most recently curated the USHMM’s newest major exhibition, “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda.” Luckert curated “The Art and Politics of Arthur Szyk,” which was on display at USHMM from Apr. 10-Oct. 14, 2002 and presented 145 original pieces of Szyk’s work during the course of the show. Unlike any previous exhibition, “The Art and Politics of Arthur Szyk” explored Szyk’s life and work within the context of Holocaust history. Luckert’s lecture will open the exhibition.
Sunday, Nov. 7, 2:30 p.m.
New Britain Museum of American Art and the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies Joint Symposium: “The Art of Collecting”
Cheryl Chase, NBMAA, Chair
Gregg Philipson, Austin, TX
Joel Grae & SusAnna Grae, New York
Respondent: Sherry Buckberrough, Chair,
Department of Art History, University of Hartford
All the artwork to be exhibited at the NBMAA and the Sherman Museum is on loan from The Gregg and Michelle Philipson Collection, Austin, TX. Many of the works were previously exhibited at the Holocaust Museum Houston, in a show entitled, “A One Man Army: The Art of Arthur Szyk.” Philipson and his wife Michelle are avid art and stamp collectors and have many collections relating to a wide variety of subjects including the Holocaust, Jewish military history, and the Warsaw Ghetto. Joel Grae and SusAnna Bernard-Grae own the Joel and SusAnna Grae Mediterranean Collection, currently on loan to the University of Hartford’s Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies, The collection covers 3,000 years of Jewish and Middle Eastern history, with items from the ancient, medieval, and modern periods in Israel, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece. The panel discussion, chaired by Cheryl Chase, also a serious art collector, will explore the motivations of major art collectors and the relationship between collectors and museums. Sherry Buckberrough, chair of the department of art history at the University of Hartford, will contextualize the discussion from the perspective of the academic field of art history.
Thursday, Dec. 2, 6 p.m.
Professor Avinoam Patt, University of Hartford
“Szyk: An American Jewish Original”
Avinoam Patt is the Philip D. Feltman Professor of Modern Jewish History at the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies, University of Hartford, where he is also director of the Sherman Museum of Jewish Civilization. He is the curator of “A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Swords” and will speak on the unique political, cultural, and social influences of Arthur Szyk who stood at the intersection of the most important events in modern Jewish history. Patt is the author of two books, “Finding Home and Homeland: Jewish Youth and Zionism in the Aftermath of the Holocaust,” and “We Are Here: New Approaches to Jewish Displaced Persons in Postwar Germany.”
Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011, 6 p.m.
Prof. Walter Metz, Southern Illinois University
“The Art of Illustrating in a Time of Persecution:
Arthur Szyk and Dr. Seuss”
Walter C. Metz is the chair and associate professor in Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s department of cinema and photography. Metz is the author of two books, “Engaging Film Criticism: Film History and Contemporary American Cinema,” and “Bewitched,” an in-depth analysis of the hit television series and its cultural impact. He is also the author of 30 journal articles and book chapters, many of which center on the relationship between films and the novels they are based on. His lecture, which coincides with International Holocaust Memorial Day, will examine the relationship between Arthur Szyk and Dr. Seuss’s representations of the Holocaust and their reception by the public.
For further information on the Greenberg Center’s 25th anniversary-year
programming, including the special patrons’ preview event at the NBMAA on Oct. 21 for sponsors of the Szyk exhibition:
www.hartford.edu/greenberg / (860) 768-4964 / firstname.lastname@example.org