posted by January 4 at 10:00 AMon
Tonight, there will be many art openings in Pioneer Square. But there will also be a quieter event up here on the Hill at Martin-Zambito Fine Art, a small gallery that devotes itself to the relatively thankless but certainly worthwhile task of unearthing artists and artworks that have been lost to history, either by bigotry or simple happenstance paving-over.
Ida Abelman is this month’s featured artist. Above is her 1930s-era print depicting a group of destitute Depression victims under that marvel of modern engineering, the Brooklyn Bridge. Her works often pit weary-looking workers against the hard-angled flash of industrial technology and design.
A good obituary is a great resource, and that’s where I found most of the details of Abelman’s life: her early encouragement by the critic Harold Rosenberg, her brother’s devotion to Eugene V. Debs, her travels putting up murals in post offices around the country for the WPA, and the anti-Semitism she and her family experienced after they relocated from Greenwich Village to Sag Harbor in the 1940s.
According to an online history of Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor, where Abelman lived with her husband, Lawrence, her daughter, Margaret, and her son, Fred, the Abelmans were “proud non-believers.” Lawrence was one of only four Jewish produce wholesalers in Sag Harbor during the ’40s and ’50s, and the family had a hard time fitting in, and getting by. After the WPA work dried up, Ida taught painting to vacationers in the summers. The rest of the year she caned chairs, refinished furniture, and took in sewing.
I wondered what her connection, if any, was to Seattle or the Northwest, until I saw listed in her obituary that her son, Fred, lives in Anacortes. Indeed, when I Google him, I come up with a phone number and address.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum has six Abelmans in its permanent collection, listed and pictured here. SAAM, and many other resources, including Abelman’s obituary, list her year of birth as 1910. Martin-Zambito lists it as 1908. Amazingly, so do the online Suffolk County Death Records from Sag Harbor. Maybe Martin-Zambito corrected that bit of history, too.
I can’t wait to see the rest of the show. Here’s looking at you, Ida.