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.
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.
For those who would like to know more abut the life and art of Shirley Moskowitz Gruber, the family has recently created a website. On this you can read an essay about her work that I wrote in 1996 for a retrospective exhibition on the occasion of her 75th birthday. There is also a lovely eulogy by Rabbi Laura Geller, and a memorial essay by Ruth Ellen Gruber. This is a work in progress – we are gradually locating her work and having it photographed. If any of my readers have memories of Shirley or her work, we invite you to contribute these to the site.