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October 03, 2003 - Image 105

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-10-03

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She recalls him as a "very cute lit-
tle person who had this incredible
amount of energy coming out of his
hands."
"He was just my grandfather," she
says. "I knew him to be this extremely
insecure, humble person. All that he
wanted in life was to paint, and that's
what he did all the time. I felt that, in
a way, he was a very lucky person in
that he always had known what to do
since he was a child."
His paintings became an intimate
patchwork in her life. "They were
like my best friends, as if I was part
of it," she says.
Now, when she sees a painting of his
unexpectedly, she says, "it's strange to
come across such an intimate
encounter in a public space."
Like his art, Chagall and his fami-
ly remained "inherently Jewish,"
Meyer says.
Although he is known for his
vignettes of Russian shed life, Chagall
did not raise his family in the
Orthodox path in which he had been
brought up. He and his wife, Bella
Rosenfeld, stopped practicing Judaism
after they left their childhood homes,
his granddaughter says.
Although she began to increasingly
relate to Judaism later in life, Meyer
says she and her sister were imbued
with a more universal kind of spiritu-
ality. "Even though my grandfather is
very important for the Jewish commu-
nity, and certainly is very Jewish, [and]
my mother is very Jewish, they didn't
celebrate Jewish holidays anymore,"
she explains.
But after Meyer Finished high
school, she lived in Jerusalem for
several months in 1973, and she
continues to visit the holy city from
time to time.
"I had a dream, like many people
there, that there could be peace. I
wanted Jews and Arabs to be able to
have peace," she says. "The mixture of
religions and probably my Judaism
also drew me to Jerusalem. I was
always very sensitive to it."
She also was drawn to Jerusalem
because she wanted to become an
archaeologist, but her artistic upbring-
ing proved to be a more powerful
force. She moved to New York in
1981, drawn to its academic intellec-
tual opportunities, but the move came
much to her grandfather's dismay.
Chagall had spent the years during
World War II in New York and devel-
oped mixed feelings about the city,
Meyer says. "He was invited to come
here, but he hated the idea to leave
France. Finally they did, and he was

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quite impressed with New York."
Nonetheless, she says, "he called New
York, 'Babylon."'
While the Russian Jewish communi-
ty in New York lent a good deal of
support to the artist during those
years, Chagall went through a difficult
period. In 1944, his beloved wife,
Bella, the subject of many of his paint-
ings, died, and Chagall did not work
for nine months.
"He was very unhappy when I
decided to come to America. I don't
•want to say what he said. It wouldn't
be too nice," says Meyer.
But with this major retrospective at
the San Franciso MoMA, Chagall is
back stateside.
"He would say, 'Thank you,"'
Meyer says.
With a doctorate in medieval art
history from the Sorbonne, Meyer,
along with her sister, Meret Meyer, has
picked up where their mother left off.
They continue to carry on their grand-
father's legacy and his deep yearning
for people — especially children — to
know and understand love.
"The only wish he had is that young
people would look at his art and learn
more about love and hope," she says.
Meyer Was 30 and had just been
married when Chagall died in 1985.
"I miss him," she says.
Based in Manhattan with her two
adolescent children, Meyer gives talks
about her grandfather and tries to
teach her children (though they also
teach her) the lessons her grandfather
taught her — "to respect humanity
and life and what it's about.
"That's what his work is about,"
she says. ❑

The Chagall retrospective, featur-
ing 153 paintings and works on
paper, many never before seen in
the United States, runs at the San
Francisco Museum of Modern
Art, 151 Third Street (between
Mission and Howard) through
Nov. 4. Extended hours for the
duration of the exhibit are 10
a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Tuesdays,
10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursdays and
Fridays and 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Saturdays and Sundays (closed
Wednesdays). Admission: $10
adults/$7 seniors 62 and
older/$6 students. There is an
additional $5 ticket for admis-
sion to the Chagall exhibit, and
advance reservations are recom-
mended. (415) 357-4154 or
http://wwvv.sfmoma.org

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