Shirley’s birthday, 2013!

Today would have been mom’s 93rd birthday… In her honor, I have posted a new page on this web site — the Artist at Work — which includes a gallery of photos of her creating art: working in the studios in Philadelphia and Morruzze, but also sketching, wherever she happened to be. I will also be posting some more images of her art.

Click here to access the Artist at Work gallery

Here’s a favorite picture, of her working on a self-portrait in the Morruzze studio in 1995

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Shirley’s birthday

Today, August 4,  would have been Shirley’s 92nd birthday. (She shares the date with President Obama!)

In honor of the date, I am posting pictures of more of her work in the Art Works pages.

And here are a couple of pictures showing four of her works that are on longterm loan to the Arcobaleno restaurant in Polino, Italy.

Remembering Shirley Moskowitz on the Fourth Anniversary of Her Death

Sam Gruber has posted on his blog a long appreciation of our mother, Shirley Moskowitz, on the fourth anniversary of her death. I am re-posting it here.

Remembering My Mother, Artist Shirley Moskowitz

Refugees (1942) by Shirley Moskowitz. Marble. Collection of the National Museum of Jewish History

Remembering My Mother, Shirley Moskowitz

by Samuel Gruber

It is hard for me to accept that it has been four years this weekend since my mother, artist Shirley Moskowitz, died in Santa Monica, California at the age of 86.

I’ve written about some of her art on this blog before, and though Jewish themes were not a major preoccupation in her work, I thought I would remember her on this Jewish Art and Monuments Blog by posting a few of her explicitly Jewish works, many of which will be unknown to her friends and even family members. Several of Shirley’s earliest works – or at least those that survive – are of Jewish subjects, reflecting a strong Jewish presence in her life, especially through the Susnitskys, her mother’s extended Texan-Jewish family. Her first published drawing is of her Hebrew teacher, submitted to the Jewish youth magazine Young Israel when she was fifteen.

"Undecided about what to draw, I thought of my first Hebrew teacher who has since passed away," First published drawing by Shirley Moskowitz, Young Israel (1935).

One of her first large works of sculpture is a marble carving (above) from 1942 of two tired seated figures called “Refugees.” If there was any doubt as to the subject of this work, it was made clear when she donated it to the Museum of American Jewish History (now the National Museum of American Jewish History).

Later, in the early 1960s she carved a series of Jewish figures that are essentially nostalgic, and these look back to her childhood memories of attending religious services at her grandfather’s synagogue in Brenham, Texas and perhaps again to her Hebrew teacher. Three works – Der Chazin, The Rabbi and Olenu were carved during a period when she most involved with a Jewish community, but in a thoroughly modern way. My family moved into its second suburban home in 1959, a new split-level house in a new housing development outside of Philadelphia. We three children were soon all attending afternoon Hebrew school twice a week and “Junior Congregation” on Saturdays at the Norristown Jewish Community Center, in nearby Norristown, Pa.

er Chazin (1961) by Shirley Moskowitz. Cherry wood carving. Private Collection.

The Rabbi (1962) by Shirley Moskowitz. Cherry wood carving. Private Collection

Olenu (1963) by Shirley Moskowitz. Walnut wood carving.

These three sculptures were carved during her Wednesday night carving group that met at the studio of Hans Huneke in Norristown, and they reflect Shirley’s then acute awareness of Jewish tradition, but seen through a nostalgic lens. Though I never heard her talk about it, these works might also be as much about a lost Jewish Europe as about a lost Jewish Texas. All her carving companions at Hans’s studio were acutely aware of what had happened in Europe. Artist Steffi Greenbaum was a refugee from Berlin. Hans was a non-Jewish anti-Nazi Socialist from Germany and his wife Dini was Jewish. Bernard and Ruth Petlock were also sometime part of the group, and Bernie was born in Bialystok. Another good friend of this group was local artist and Holocaust scholar Mary Costanza.

After 1963, however, Shirley moved away from these themes and subsequently most of her carving centered on groups of figures, usually with children, representing families. This theme more clearly reflected the suburban world around her, where streets, sidewalks and backyards always seemed full of us babyboom kids.

Bar Mitzvah (ca. 1960). Lino-block or woodcut print by Shirley Moskowitz.

About the same time Shirley was making her “Jewish” carving she also tried made a few collages and several lino-block prints based on Jewish holidays and celebrations. I think the prints were primarily made to have a ready source of gifts for the seemingly-never ending births, weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs of the 1960s.

Most of Shirley’s work during these years was based on her travels, especially long family trips to Europe in 1959, 1962, 1966 and then a three-year stay in Italy from 1970-1973. She tended to sketch and paint landscape and city scenes outside but often work these into collages and, especially after 1970, prints. Though we often visited Jewish sites on our travels, she only sketched a few. One of her favorite pen and ink works is a beautiful view of the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague done when we spent the summer in Czechoslovakia in 1966. She later made fine print from this. She also turned a little sketch of the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem made on a visit to Israel with her mother and aunt in 1971 into a lino-block print, shown here. Later, when two of her three children were involved in the world of Jewish monuments and travel, she made a few more works as I have previously shown.

Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague (1966). Sepia and ink drawing by Shirley Moskowitz

Western Wall '71 (1971). Lino-cut print by Shirley Moskowitz (artist's proof).

In sum, my mother was more an “Artist who was Jewish” than a “Jewish Artist.” She would not reject the title but would insist – correctly – that while her Jewish work was important to her, it is not representative in quantity or quality of her artistic output as whole. She was, however, as Rabbi Laura Geller stated in her eulogy four years ago, a woman of valor in the Jewish tradition.

Article on the Nocara exhibit

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The following article appeared in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent on Sept. 23, but I forgot to post it here!

 

Italian Village Honors Work of Philly Artist

September 23, 2010

Ruth Ellen Gruber
Jewish Exponent Feature

NOCARA, Italy

Shirley Moskowitz

During the 1970s and ’80s, my parents spent considerable chunks of time in southern Italy, documenting local life in Nocara, a wind-swept Calabrian village that clings to the crest of a half-mile-high hill overlooking the Gulf of Taranto.

My father, Jacob W. Gruber, was an anthropologist at Temple University, and was there to carry out an ethnographic study. He visited peasant homes and observed local events, interviewed and photographed people, and took reams of notes about local customs, traditions and beliefs.

My mother, the artist Shirley Moskowitz, recorded village life her own way.

Setting up her easel in odd corners of the town, she painted dozens of landscapes, townscapes and portraits that keenly captured both the harshness of the sunbaked uplands and the living face of a village that was just emerging from an age-old traditional lifestyle into modernity.

My mother died in 2007.

This past August, on what would have been her 90th birthday, Nocara honored her memory and her creativity by opening a permanent exhibit of some 40 of her artworks in the main chamber of the local town hall.

My father, who is now 89, and my brother, Sam, flew to Italy, and together we drove eight hours south from my home in Umbria to be guests of honor at the opening ceremony.

As we walked through Nocara’s narrow streets, Dad was accosted by villagers who remembered “il professore” and my mother from the old days. Some of them now are middle-aged adults whose likenesses my mother had drawn when they were children.

Many angles of town leaped out at us as if from one of Mom’s paintings: a rough stone archway, the flat face of a chapel in its little piazza, steep stone lanes and tiled roofs.

Much has changed, of course. Pigs no longer graze in Nocara’s streets, as I recall seeing them do when I visited my parents there decades ago. And donkeys are no longer a major means of transport. Moreover, Nocara now has gas, running water and other modern utilities, including Internet access.

A Posthumous Thanks
“Shirley Moskowitz’s paintings represent a piece of Nocara, at a special time in its history,” Mayor Franco Trebisacce told the several dozen people who attended the ceremony. “We have an obligation to display them here, and to offer our posthumous thanks to an artist who loved this town, and to her family.”

Synagogue collage by artist Shirley Moskowitz

The exhibit, in fact, was a long time coming.

My parents had donated Mom’s art works to Nocara a decade ago.

The gift had made headlines in local newspapers at the time, but the works were never permanently displayed, and for the past eight years or so they had languished in storage, almost forgotten.

Mayor Trebisacce, who came to office last year, remembered them, however, and became curious about their fate. Earlier this summer, he and his aides found them in a closet, packed away in their original shipping case.

A Google search took them to the Web site that my family had created about my mother’s art after her death — shirleymoskowitz.wordpress.com — and they contacted us by leaving a comment on the site.

Many of the works that Mom donated to Nocara had already been exhibited at several major shows in Philadelphia, including a landmark retrospective at the University of the Arts in 1996 that had showcased more than half-a-century of my mother’s life in art.

Her work encompassed a variety of media — from simple line drawings and sketches to sculpture, oils and the joyously complex, multilayered collages that, since the 1960s, had become her signature style.

Some of her paintings and drawings now on display in Nocara, in fact, formed the basis of several of her major collages, such as “Wedding Procession,” dating from 1988.

Looking back, Mom was an intensely Jewish artist, but not a “Jewish artist,” per se.

She never created Jewish ritual art, though she frequently turned to Jewish themes and subject matter.

One of her first sculptures, dating from 1942, is a study of a huddled man and woman called “Refugees,” and other sculptures, prints and paintings depict a cantor, a rabbi, Jewish holidays and life-cycle events, even a solemn moment from the Aleinu prayer.

A collage she created as a sort of multi-textured self-portrait prominently included Shabbat candlesticks, even though she herself was not observant.

And following a trip she took with me in Eastern Europe in 1992, she produced a particularly powerful series of monotype prints of some of the ruined synagogues and Jewish cemeteries that we visited.

But these — like her Judaism itself — were all part of the much broader kaleidoscope of her life. Her work, in fact, embraced and reflected the wide variety of landscapes, friends, family and experiences that made up her world.

Her collages in particular mixed dreams and reality to project a richly textured vision of life as she lived and perceived it, among her family, friends, neighbors and the local environment.

As she once put it, they were based “on personal experience and are composed to affect the viewer from a distance while at the same time inviting him to participate in the action — to experience through color, dynamic contrasts of light and dark, and various techniques, a reality that may seem fantastic but is still real.”

 

Nocara — Exhibit Opening and Conference

The event in Nocara August 4 opening the permanent exhibit of works that Shirley Moskowitz did there in the 1970s and 1980s and donated to the village 10 years ago was a great success – and lots of fun. The art works — townscapes, landscapes and portraits, mainly in watercolor, ink or pencil — are hung in the Town Council meeting room, and this, says Mayor Franco Trebisacce, is where they will remain, as a testament to the history of the village at a time when it was just on the verge of change from the age-old traditional lifestyle to modernity.

The speakers — two professors from the University of Cosenza and Vincenzo Salerno, the former longtime mayor of Nocara — discussed both the context of the works as well as the development of the village and the importance of the collection, and what it represents, for the town. Salerno recalled that Mom and Dad visited Nocara for lengthy periods of time over several years, at various seasons of the year. He noted that back then, it was still a largely peasant society, where donkeys were used for transport and animals were kept in town. Few men under retirement age lived in town, as most had immigrated northward to find work. Sam then spoke about the art itself. And we were presented with an engraved plaque as thanks for Mom’s work.

Dad gave a very moving little speech about Mom and her life as an artist — I recorded it and will try to post as an mp3.

There was an enthusiastic turnout, including a number of people who remembered Mom and Dad from the old days. Many people came up to Dad to reminisce — and Dad’s Italian rose to the occasion. The few people I knew from my own two visits to Nocara many years ago were there — and even to me recognizable, including Vincenzo Salerno, his brother Cici, and Giuseppe and Maria De Mateo.

Vincenzo Salerno, Dad, Cici Salerno

There were several people in attendance who now, as adults, were able to see the portraits Mom did of them as children. Few of these people still live in Nocara (though some were back for  summer vacation). Ernesto (shown here) is one of the few younger people who still lives in the town. We kept hearing over and over that Nocara is now was just “a town of old people.”

Ernesto, then and now

The event kicked off the annual summer pork festival (Festa del Maiale) — and the evening concluded amid an outdoor grilled feast,  loud music, and dancing in the piazza. (Including with Cici Salerno — with whom I remember dancing in the piazza in 1981!)

Mayor Trebisacce

The festival culminates with a big religious procession of the Madonna on August 15, either to or from the old monastery chapel of Santa Maria degli Antropici way down a very winding road from the village.

Nocara on top of its hill

Shepherd and his dog and Vespa outside the monastery

Nocara

The exhibit opening and conference are tonight — it would have been Mom’s 90th birthday.

Today, Dad and Sam and I tooled around this barren but beautiful part of the world — a vast landscape that comprises but a small part of the instep of the Italian boot.We stopped in Rocca  Imperiale, topped by its great semi-ruined castle,

and then Oriolo, a spectacular old town on a crag in a sort of cupped valley.

At at a great agriturismo that served local meats, cheese (including a cloudlike ricotta of mixed cow and goat milk), homemade pasta (three types) etc. Dramatic mountain storm while we ate.

On all our walks though Nocara, it has been wonderful to see how many people come up to Dad and tell him that they remember him and Mom. Quite a few of them are the subjects of the portraits Mom did and which are hanging in the exhibit.

It will be great to compare them with the people as they are today, 30 or evern 40 years later…….