Shahn, Ben, 1898-1969Alternative names
Painter, photographer; Roosevelt, N.J.
From the description of Ben Shahn interview, 1964 Apr. 14 [sound recording]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 82606033
Artist Ben Shahn was a Russian Jewish immigrant to New York. He apprenticed with a lithographer, studied at several New York colleges, and toured Europe, acquiring the skills to express his artistic ability. He is chiefly remembered as a muralist, painter, photographer, and printmaker, visually chronicling America during the Depression and Prohibition eras. His artistic sensibility was fueled by humanity and a keen social awareness, and his best work reflects his disdain for injustice and his belief in political freedom.
From the description of Ben Shahn letter to Louis Untermeyer, 1964 June 15. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 55059403
Painter and photographer; Roosevelt, N.J.
From the description of Ben Shahn interview, 1965 Oct. 3 [sound recording]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 77837604
Ben Shahn (1898-1969) was a painter, printmaker, and photographer from Roosevelt, N.J.
From the description of Ben Shahn letter, 1958. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 636355041
From the description of Reminiscences of Ben Shahn : oral history, 1960. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 309725295
Ben Shahn (1898-1969) was a painter and photographer from Roosevelt, N.J.
From the description of Oral history interview with Ben Shahn, 1964 Apr. 14. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 646398463
From the description of Oral history interview with Ben Shahn, 1965 Oct. 3 [sound recording]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 458412165
Painter, printmaker, photographer; Roosevelt, N.J.
From the description of Ben Shahn letters and a pamphlet, 1958 and [undated]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122599441
Shahn was a printmaker, photographer and social activist; Roosevelt, N.J.; Goldman, the author of several books on American reform and American art.
From the description of Ben Shahn interview, 1965 Jan. 17. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 83826127
Painter; Roosevelt, N.J.
From the description of Ben Shahn interview, 1968 Sept. 27 [sound recording]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 84043475
Painter, printmaker, photographer, illustrator; Roosevelt, N.J.
Shahn immigrated from Lithuania to the United States in 1906. He apprenticed as a lithographer, 1913-1917, and studied at the National Academy of Design from 1919 to 1922. He had his first solo exhibition at the Downtown Gallery in 1930. Shahn took photographs of rural areas for the Farm Security Administration between 1935 and 1938. During the 1940s, he made posters for the Office of War Information.
From the description of Ben Shahn papers, 1879-1990 (bulk 1933-1970). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 80758433
Ben Shahn (1898-1969) was a social realist painter, muralist, printmaker, photographer, illustrator, and teacher who worked primarily in Brooklyn, New York and New Jersey. He was most active in the 1930s through the 1950s and worked on several federally funded arts projects, including the Farm Security Administration's photographic documentation project of rural America during the Depression.
Ben Shahn was born in Kovno, Lithuania and immigrated with his family to the United States in 1906 where he settled in Brooklyn, and later Roosevelt, New Jersey, after becoming a naturalized citizen in 1918.
Following an apprenticeship as a lithographer from 1913-1917, Shahn studied at New York University, the City College of New York, and the National Academy of Design from 1919-1922. He married Tillie Goldstein in 1922 and they had two children, Judith and Ezra.
Two years after Shahn's first solo exhibition at the Downtown Gallery in 1930, his Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti, a series of 23 gouaches about the Sacco and Vanzetti trial of the 1920s, was exhibited at the Downtown Gallery to critical and public acclaim. The exhibition marked the beginning of Shahn's reputation as one of the most important social realist painters in America. Shahn's commitment to social and political justice found a natural outlet in mural painting when, in 1933, he was hired to assist Diego Rivera on the labor and industry mural Man at the Crossroads, for New York City's Rockefeller Center. The mural was destroyed amid controversy in 1933 before it was completed, but Shahn had learned much about the art of fresco painting during the project and was inspired by the potential of the mural as a unique art form for presenting life's struggles and stories to a large public audience. Between 1933 and 1937 Shahn worked on various murals for other buildings, including New York's Central Park Casino (circa 1934) and Riker's Island Prison (1934), none of which saw completion. In 1937, however, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) commissioned Shahn to execute a mural for the Community Center in the town of Jersey Homesteads, later Roosevelt, New Jersey, which Shahn completed in 1938. Shahn settled in Jersey Homesteads the following year and remained there for the rest of his life. Other important mural commissions followed for the Bronx Central Post office (1939) and the Social Security Building in Washington DC (1942).
One of Shahn's assistants on the Jersey Homesteads mural was Bernarda Bryson, whom he had met in 1933 when she came to New York to interview Rivera about the Rockefeller Center mural controversy for an Ohio newspaper. Shahn and Bryson became lifetime companions and had three children, Susanna, Jonathan and Abigail, although they did not marry until shortly before Shahn's death in 1969. Shahn and Tillie Goldstein were divorced in 1944.
Shahn had enrolled with the federal Public Works of Art Project in 1934, and between 1935 and 1938 he and Bryson travelled across country as Shahn photographed poverty-stricken areas and documented rural life for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and the Resettlement Agency. Shahn's interest in photography developed in the early 1930s when, encouraged by his friendship with Walker Evans, he began photographing street scenes and people in New York City. He later used the images as the basis for many of his prints and paintings.
In 1942 Shahn began working for the Office of War Information (OWI) and was instructed to produce posters and pamphlets explaining to citizens the necessities of wartime, such as the need for secrecy and food rationing. Ultimately, only two of Shahn's posters were ever used; the rest were rejected as being too harsh for their intended audience. Shahn later worked for the Congress of Industrial Organization Political Action Committee (CIO-PAC), producing posters for the 1944 campaign to re-elect Roosevelt, who he believed in deeply. He was promoted to director of the CIO's Graphic Arts Division for the 1946 congressional campaign following Roosevelt's death, but that job ended when the election went poorly for the Democratic party.
Shahn returned increasingly to painting and a retrospective of his work was held at the Museum of Modern Art in 1947. He also became more active in academia as an accomplished writer, teacher and lecturer. He received honorary doctorates from Princeton University and Harvard University, and become the Charles Eliot Norton professor at Harvard in 1956. Shahn's Norton lectures were collected and published as the influential The Shape of Content in 1957. He also began to work as a commercial artist for a variety of companies and publications including CBS, Time, Harper's, and the Container Corporation of America. Shahn believed, however, that the artist's ideas and integrity must always be reflected in his commercial art. He refused to compromise on this point and was very selective in his choice of commercial commissions. Shahn illustrated many books and articles, designed sets for stage productions such as New York Export: Opus Jazz, choreographed by Jerome Robbins, and designed mural mosaics for synagogues, universities and private homes.
Since the 1930s Shahn had been represented by Edith Halpert at the Downtown Gallery, but his relationship with her was always contentious on the subject of payments Shahn received for commercial work, and became increasingly so as his income from such sources increased. Finally, in 1968, Shahn wrote to Halpert telling her that after ten years of "an accumulation of ill-feeling, discomfort and recrimination between us" he felt compelled to end their dealer-artist relationship.
By the time of Shahn's break with Halpert his health had begun to fail. He died of a heart attack following surgery in a New York City hospital on March 14, 1969.
From the guide to the Ben Shahn papers, 1879-1990, bulk 1933-1970, (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
|Place Name||Admin Code||Country|
|Art--Study and teaching|
|Social problems in art|
|Federal aid to the arts|
|Mural painting and decoration|
|New Deal, 1933-1939|
|Jewish art and symbolism|
|Jewish artists--20th century--Correspondence|
|Mural painting and decoration, American|
|Politics in art|