Mother’s Day — from Sam Gruber

For Mother’s Day, Sam Gruber, Shirley’s son, writes about Shirley’s work and its Jewish content on his Jewish Arts and Monuments blog.

Top: Shirley Moskowitz. Interior of Synagogue, Pinczow (Poland) and
Below: Cemetery, Rymanow (Poland). Monotypes, 1993.
Collection of Jacob W. Gruber.

Synagogues and Cemeteries by Shirley Moskowitz Gruber
by Samuel D. Gruber

It’s a day after Mother’s Day, but I would like to say something about my own mother, the artist Shirley Moskowitz Gruber (1920-2007). She was a great person and a great mom, but for the purposes of this blog (Jewish art and monuments) I’ll mention some of her artwork. Though she was best known for her landscapes and cityscapes – and especially her work in Italy from the 1970s until shortly before her death in 2007, she also over the years produced a significant number of works devoted to Jewish themes. Shirley was an artist who was Jewish – but not ostensibly or exclusively a Jewish artist. In fact, she never, as far I can recall created any Jewish ritual art or had much interest in it. She did over the years, however, produce several works the subjects of which were Jewish ceremonies. A good example of this is the lino-cut print of children in a Simchas Torah procession made in the early 1960s. This work, like much her output in those years centered on children – especially her own.

Shirley Moskowitz (n.d., early 1960s) Simchath Torah. Lino-cut print.
Collection of Samuel Gruber & Judtih Meighan)

Much later, beginning in the 1990s, she came back to Jewish themes because of the work of two of her children – my sister Ruth and I. In June 1993, she took a break from her work in Italy and traveled with Ruth by car through the Czech Republic and Slovakia to Poland, on her way to surprise me there (where I was leading a tour with Carol Herselle Krinsky sponsored by the World Monuments Fund). Along the way Ruth and Mom stopped at a lot of cemeteries and synagogues which Mom sketched or photographed, and then when she returned to her press in Morruzze (Italy), she produced a series of vivid monoprints recording and interpreting these scenes. A few year later, a visiting friend from Poland saw some of these works and insisted they be shown in Poland, and that began a ten-year traveling itinerary for the works organized by the Jewish Cultural Center in Krakow, that ended at the then-new Jewish Museum in Galicia.

These works have now returned to the family, but I thought I would show some of them here. Today, these scenes and many like them are well-known, but in 1993 they were still a representation of a lost and mostly forgotten world. Its importnat to me that Shirley viewed the remains with a sense of loss, but she also treated them as parts of the landscape as she did the ruins of Italy (or derelict buildings in Philadelphia) which she often painted.

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