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October 11, 1963 - Image 32

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1963-10-11

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

2 Volumes of Ben Shahn's 'Paintings' and 'Graphic
Art,' Edited by Soby, Reveal Artist's Accomplishments

Ben Shahn was only 8 when
he came to the United States
from his native Kovno in 1906,
but at that early age he already
was drawing. While attending
night high school, he worked as
a lithographer's apprentice. He
thus began his career as an
artist very early, and his rise
was rapid. Today he is one of
the unchallenged great graphic
artists and painters.
On Sept. 20, The Jewish News
carried a review of his most
unusual typographical art book,
"The Alphabet of Creation,"
(Pantheon Books), based on a
legend about the Hebrew alpha-
bet in the Zohar.
Now there has been made
available a two-volume set of
the most. impressive of Ben
Shahn's works. George Brazil-
ler, Inc., (215 Fourth, NY3),

ginning of Shahn's awareness
of what art could and should
be for him, he took his first
decided step forward in 1931,
when he completed 12 border
illustrations for an edition of
the Hagadah. Previously he
had made 10 lithographs to il-
lustrate DeQuincey's e s s a y,
Levana,' from `Suspiria De
Profundis,' but these had been
rather mannered and had shown
a residual influence from such
members of the School of Paris
as Roualt. In the Hagadah il-
lustrations, on the contrary,
Shahn's own personality com-
mences to break through the
overlay of acquired stylization
and to reveal an idiosyncratic
impulse."
Shahn was influenced by "the
patent injustice" of the Sacco-
Vanzetti trial and his feelings
were reflected by a series of
pictures. Then came the Tom
Mooney case, the depression,
the war and subsequent events,
many of which left their mark
on the artist and his work.

Shahn's moody "Heighten-
ed with the end of the war.
Some "w id el y emotional"
paintings resulted. Through-
out, however, one of the art-
ist's marked characteristics is
his sense of humor. There are
some drawings and paintings
that can be classed among the
best topics for most humor-
ous cartoons.

BEN SHAHN'S
THIRD ALLEGORY

has just published "Ben Shahn:
Paintings" and "Ben Sh?hn:
His Graphic Art," and both
works are prefaced by scholar-
ly evaluations of the artist's
works by an authority, James
Thrall Soby. •

Shahn had imbibed much
from his early environment,
from his childhood and from
the Jewish impressions which
left indelible marks upon him.
This becomes evident at once
in the reproduction, in the
thoroughly fascinating Bra-
ziller books, of the Hebrew
scripts, the artist's ideas about
the Shofar (Ram's Horn),
the Menorah, and other Jew-
ish designs.

In a 22-page introduction in
which he reviews Shahn's life
work and his artistic achieve-
ments, Soby describes the im-
poverished circumstances of
the artist's life in Brooklyn. We
learn that "as a very young
child in Russia he had' drawn
incessantly, and in Brooklyn he
was often f or c e d by local
toughs to make sidewalk chalk
sketches of various heroes of
the sports world of the day."
For a thorough understand-
ing of the great artist, it is well
to note Soby's additional com-
ment at this point: "It is safe to
assume that the drawings were
not made entirely under duress.
Shahn has always had a pro-
found interest in flamboyant,
contemporary personalities and
in recording them with imagin-
ative rather than literal preci-
sion."

That did not prevent him
from expressing himself when
he painted or drew figures
from ages long past. Among
his most striking watercolors
is one of Maimonides. Soby
writes about it: "The pic-
ture's careful delicacy of de-
tail calls to mind once more
the thoroughness of Shahn's
technical training as a gra-
phic artist; once more he in-
vests typography with a cour-
ageous and inventive profi-
ciency."
The first color plate in

"Shahn: Paintings" is a page of
illustrated Hagadah, and
this is Soby's explanation of
Shahn's rapid progress as an
artist: "If 1929 marked the be-

an

Among the 96 reproductions
of his paintings in the volume
"Paintings," in addition to.
"Maimonides" as well as a de-
tail of the 1VIaimonidean work,
is "Third Allegory," described
by Soby as "thoroughly per-
sonal and fanciful," and as:
"The ox bearing the slabs of
the Ten Commandments be-
comes a chimerical beast wear-
ing a blanket, and behind it
stands a hooded figure blowing
a ram's horn. The hieroglyphics
of the Commandments hold the
center of the composition, be-
tween . the hands of the figure
and the animal's head with
bared fangs and tongue thrust
out. The image is memorable,
and it typifies the cultural
profundity which accounts in
part for the richness of Shahn's
art."
Regarding "Third Allegory"
we also are told that "the pic-
ture refers in symbolic terms to
the story of the ark of the
covenant. a story that had af-
fected Shahn deeply in his
youth. as he has said in the
f o 11 owing reminiscence: 'In
Russia I went to a Jewish
school, of course, where we
really rend the Old Testament.
That story was about the ark
being brought into the temple,
---------

Salem and Plymouth, Mass., Jewries

hauled by six white oxen, and
balanced on a single pole, so
to test their faith He gave
orders that no one was to touch
it, no matter what happened.
One man saw it beginning to
totter, and he rushed up to
help. He was struck dead. I re-
(Special to The Jewish News)
fused to go to school for a
SALEM, Mass. — There is no
week after we read that story. evidence of the witches or the
It seemed so damned unfair. witch-hunts here now. There
And it still does.' "
are, h ow e v e r, evidences of
progress made by the Jewish
The Hebrew "Third Alpha-
community.
bet" in "'Paintings" is worth
noting. It must be linked
While the number of Salem
with two important reproduc-
Jews has declined, it is due to
tions in Shahn's "Graphic
the trek towards the suburbs.
Art,"—"Alphabet" and "Sec-
Nearby Marblehead and Swamp-
ond Alphabet." Together, the
scott have sizeable Jewish com-
trio makes a magnificent col-
munities. There is a fine Jewish
lection of the artist's impres-
school, good adult education
sions of Hebrew lettering.
courses, and Marblehead now
"The Defaced Portrait," 1955, has three new synagogues.
is taken from the collection of
In the Salem Peabody Museum
the Hoke Levins of Detroit. there are old p r i n is of the
The Detroit Art Institute also SS Judah Touro, the ship that
possesses Shahn art works.
was owned and named for the
"Ram's Horn and Menorah," Jewish philanthropist in whose
also with Hebrew lettering, is name the Newport synagogue
among the other impressive now is a national shrine.
Shahn paintings. The bibliogra-
PLYMOUTH, Mass. — Hebrew
phy of Shahn's writings and
statements is a valuable addi- was popular in colonial times,
tion to the volume entitled as is evidenced by the inscrip-
"Paintings" and leads to a tion on the grave of the Massa-
fuller understanding the Shahn chusetts colony's second gover-
creations.

Soby's introductory text in
"Ben Shahn: His Graphic
Art" is much briefer than
the essay in "Paintings." It
comprises 11 pages, but it
adds to the understanding of
Shahn's works. As Soby ex-
plains, Shahn's graphic art
"no less than his paintings
has alternated between real-
ism and heraldry, between
acute observation with satiri-
cal overtones and lyric inven-
tion."

"As a humorist," Soby states,
"Shahn has long been inter-
ested in the temperamental ex-
tremes of rage and conviviality."
The portraits of Dr. Robert
J. Oppenheimer, Sigmund
Freud, Albert Einstein, Lincoln
and other notables enriches
"Graphic Arts." -
In addition to the two Alpha-
bets, this notable work includes
the following Hebraic drawings:
Where There's a Book, a repro-
duction from The Alphabet of
Creation (Pantheon), Today Is
the Birthday of the World,
Tablets of the Law With Lion.
The two Shahn books are
the most impressive art collec-
tions imaginable. Soby's descrip-
tions and evaluations of the
works add much significance to
the collections by one of the
most noted artists. The two
Braziller books are truly a
combined treasure.
—P. S.

Ben-Gurion Announces Project
to Establish College in Neoev

SDE BOKER, (JTA)---Former
Visitors arriving by car were
iPrime Minister David Ben-Gurion stopped some distance from Ben-
celebrated his 77th birthday at 1 Gurion's house by a huge sign
his home here by receiving a which declared: "If the Old Man
host of visitors and well-wishers, walks, you can walk too. Leave
including President Shazar and your car here and proceed on
Premier Levi Eshkol, and by tak- foot." The visitors, -some of
ing part - in a variety of events, whom had arrived by plane, gath-
including the groundbreaking ered in the kibbutz dining hall
ceremonies for the establishment where toasts were drunk to Ben
of a library at this settlement Gurion with cups of fruit juice.
which, he announced, would be
Among the events in which
part of what he described as an the former Premier took part
"Israeli Oxford," a projected was a festive meeting of the
College of the Negev.
Histadrut, Israel's labor/ federa-
The project is sponsored by tion, at which Secretary General
the non-partisan Negev Founda- Aharon Becker announced that
tion which set as a goal a five- the Histadrut would publish a
year construction plan to Cost an volume of Ben-Gurion's writings
estimated two or three million on the Israel labor movement.
pounds per year for a college Other events included a meeting
which would accommodate 1,000 of the Mapai Leadership Bureau
students.
at which Premier Eshkol pre-
The library, construction of sided; the first showing of the
which will begin next week, will film, "Ben-Gurion—the Man and
include Ben - Gurion's library. i His Epoch"; a meeting of the
Funds for the project have been Bible Circle with President
contributed by various groups in- Shazar presiding and a meeting
cluding Bnai Brith and the Hista- of the board of governors of the
Negev Foundation.
drut of North America.

Jewish Committee
Publishes Study on
Vandalism in N.Y. •

NEW YORK, (JTA) — A Co-
lumbia University study, fi-
nanced by the American Jewish
Committee, has established 'that
the young vandals who daubed
swastikas on Jewish religious
buildings in New York during
the wave of swastika smearing
at the end of 1959 were general-
ly of normal intelligence but
came from low delinquency
areas and did poorly at school.
The study analyzed 91 inci-
dents in the city, including de-
facement of Jewish property,
bomb threats, threatening letters
and assaults on Jews. About 60
per cent were found to be anti-
Semitic. Of the b_oys who were
investigated, 43 had been in-
volved in 17 incidents.

nor, William Bradford, in Bury-
ing Hill, the oldest U. S. ceme-
tery. On Bradford's grave were
inscribed three Hebrew words,
now illegible. They are believed
to stand for the excerpt from
Psalm 27: "The Lord is the
light of my life."
Plymouth's Jewish commun-
ity, while it numbers only about
215, is devoted to its school and
synagogue. There are amicable
Christian-Jewish relations here.

Hebrew Corner

The Legend of
the Thirty-Five

Today they are a legend. Today
they are a poem. Today they rest
in -peace under the tombstone!
....This is a legend about 35 young
men who lie under tombstones. Fif-
teen years ago, a platoon of 35
young men went out to break
through a passage to the Etzion
Block. The fighting was difficult.
The people of the Etzion Block were
few in number. They did not have
ammunition. The young men, stu-
dents of the Hebrew University,
tried to save the Block. They tried
to pass through in the dark of the
night.
On the way, they met an old
Arab. They pitied him and did not
kill him, but let him continue on
his way. However, the old man re-
turned to his village. He called for
the- help of hundreds of people
from the area, that closed the way
before the group of thirty-five.
The battle continued for a whole
day, between the 35 youths and the
hundreds of villagers. The youth
fought untilthe last bullet. When
had
m
eso. rie bullets,
fought with
l n soton
oamoengnouseertaa..endfi ifitiwas tiinposanlye
g,to hgmbronl oe
their guns, - so as g nojt
hands of o the. enemy. And dien,
continued to fighit.‘, The
young nienc
they fell dead on the rocks sanetfise
BlJouclit a.h, on the way to the
Hills
Etzion f
Today the last battle of the
thirty-five is told as a legend of a
long time ago. Today the fighters
lie under the cold tombstones. Only
old parents remember the young
sons, throughout . the long days, the
year round.
..._On the spot where the 35 young
men fell arose an additional monu-
ment, a living monument — "The
Lane of the Thirty-Five" — a new
settlement near the Hills of Hebron.
Translation of Hebrew column
published by Brith Ivrith Olamith,
O Jerusalem.

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