Bold Mix Exhibit Shows How Great Depression Brought Black, Jewish Artists Together
Murphy, Jean, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Jean Murphy Daily Herald Correspondent
The Great Depression is portrayed in history as a time of terrible hunger and desperation. And it was.
But there were also positive outcomes from that difficult decade.
Huge public works projects brought electricity to Appalachia and many other remote areas of the country. Dams and bridges were built. The government decided to insure individuals' bank deposits. Social Security was born.
And in Chicago, two groups of artists - immigrant Jews whose families had run from pogroms in Russia and eastern Europe and blacks who had moved from the South to avoid lynch mobs, Jim Crow laws and the boll weevil insect which destroyed the cotton crop - met and cooperated.
For years that association was forgotten or ignored and the individual pieces of art were distributed far and wide to museums and private collectors.
But now, for the first time, they have been tracked down and brought together for an exhibit. The Koehnline Museum of Arts at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines is displaying the art through March 28 in an exhibit titled "Convergence: Jewish and African-American Artists in Depression-era Chicago." The museum, located at 1600 E. Golf Road, Des Plaines, is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.
The exhibit features paintings, sculptures and works on paper focusing on Chicago's urban landscape, the state of a nation facing a depression and the human factor. Some of the later pieces also depict civil and social rights struggles, according to Nathan Harpaz, curator of the Koehnline.
Sixty-six pieces were assembled from seven different museums and a number of private collections for the exhibit, Harpaz said.
It took two years to track down and assemble the exhibit, working like detectives, following various leads, he admitted.
"Many of these pieces have never been shown publicly before because they are owned by relatives of the artists and they were reluctant to part with them, even for a short time," Harpaz said.
So while he expects many requests for the exhibit to travel to other museums after its time at Oakton, Harpaz admitted that it would be difficult to get all of the different sources to agree to such a tour. Consequently, this will probably be the only time the exhibit will be shown in its entirety.
The story of the exhibit began several years ago when the Koehnline was given a portfolio of wood cuts made by 14 Jewish artists in Chicago in 1937, Harpaz explained. …