In the month of April, the Greenbelt Museum will remember, honor, and celebrate artist Benjamin Abramowitz (1917–2011), who lived and worked in Greenbelt for 60 years. Susan Abramowitz Rosenbaum, his daughter and a frequent subject in his paintings and other works of art will present the April 2015 FOGM lecture on her father’s life and legacy on Tuesday, April 21, 2015, at 7:30 pm at the Greenbelt City Community Center. The lecture will coincide with the unveiling of two Abramowitz paintings donated to the Greenbelt Museum by Pamela Gregory and Richard Marcus, long-time friends of the Museum. “The Greenbelt Museum is truly honored to receive the gift of these two important Benjamin Abramowitz paintings from Pamela Gregory and Richard Marcus,” says Megan Searing Young, Director of the Greenbelt Museum. Rosenbaum herself is the subject of one of the paintings, a study of neighborhood children playing in a sandbox, absorbed in their imaginary world.
In 1917, Abramowitz was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Russian immigrants. As a young child he was enraptured by art, and in 1936, he joined the Work Projects Administration (WPA). He was 19 years old. Today, many of those works are in the collections of major museums. The Metropolitan Museum in New York holds eleven lithographs from the young artist. By the time he was in his early 30s, Abramowitz had become a celebrated star in the growing Washington, D.C.-Baltimore regional art scene. Major regional collections such as the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Phillips Collection began to purchase his work. The Corcoran Gallery of Art selected his work for its biennial exhibitions and featured two major solo exhibitions. The Ford Foundation sent him throughout the country as an artist-in-residence to lecture and conduct seminars and critiques.
His output as an artist was prodigious. He created more than 7,000 works including 175 sculptures, 470 paintings, and thousands of watercolors, ink drawings, sketches, and prints. In the last decades of her father’s life, Rosenbaum catalogued these works and his papers, aided by her father’s memory and his detailed notes.
Abramowitz created many pieces that depicted social issues, such as poverty, racism, and the costs of war to soldiers and their families. These paintings and works on paper bristle with the passion, outrage at injustice, and social consciousness of Käthe Kollwitz or Ben Shahn. Abramowitz also depicted lighter, more intimate subjects such as the people, green spaces, and comfortable houses of his adopted hometown—with the bold, rich color palette and monumentality of Cezanne’s depictions of Aix-en-Provence. In his later life, partly because of his deteriorating vision, Abramowitz explored abstraction and color, a line of inquiry that also preoccupied painters such as Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, and other regional artists of the Washington Color School.
It is perhaps fitting that Abramowitz chose to live most of his life in the planned New Deal community of Greenbelt, where he raised a family and worked out of a two-story studio at the back of his home. The Greenbelt Veteran’s Cooperative—later known as Greenbelt Homes, Incorporated was not spared his sharp judgment and keen intelligence, but he was widely regarded in the community as a beloved neighbor, friend, parent, and teacher. The Greenbelt Library first presented a solo exhibition of his paintings and lithographs in 1944, and he also organized the First Annual Labor Day Festival Art Fair, a tradition that still continues.
Abramowitz’s paintings will enhance the collection and programming of the Greenbelt Museum, delighting visitors from Greenbelt’s early days and showing newcomers what life was like in one of the Green Towns. “The paintings embody so much of what is important about Greenbelt, its origins as a New Deal community, which provided relief work to hundreds, just as the WPA did; its emphasis on community, and its careful integration of architecture with green space, which, among many other benefits, provided children with ample, safe places to play,” adds Searing Young. “All of these elements are beautifully and movingly captured in these two Abramowitz paintings and we are immensely grateful to be able to share them with the community and beyond.”
The lecture takes place at the Greenbelt City Community Center on 15 Crescent Road in Greenbelt, Maryland. This event is free, open to the public, and organized by the Friends of the Greenbelt Museum.
This article was written by FOGM Board member, Anna Socrates, with assistance from Susan Abramowitz Rosenbaum