The Art Student, c. 1946. For Information, contact Franklin Riehlman Fine Arts at 212-879-2545
Earliest Lenson Work We Know: A Drawing of the Artist's Beloved Childhood Friend Morris Katz
His name was Morris Katz. But Michael Lenson always used two names when he referred to him: "Moish Katz." The two men were born in 1903. They grew up together on New York's Upper East Side. In the company of a third sidekick named Mike Sesit, they lifted weights, participated in city track meets, and went to Jones Beach to show off their "physical culture" physiques. Katz was a champion gymnast and athlete - a man who at age 90 could still "stick" a somersaulting dismount off a set of parallel bars. A year ago, this Website received an email from Moish Katz's daughter, Rebecca Freedman Katz, who sent along this drawing that Michael did of her father. It's the earliest Lenson work that we have ever seen, dated September 1, 1922, when both men were only 19. This is the only Lenson work we have seen that is actually signed "Michael Levenson," instead of "Michael Lenson." (Lenson changed his name in about 1927, the year when he applied to the Chaloner Foundation for a grant to study in Europe.) We think it is a wonderful drawing and a lovely tribute to a friendship that was so strong in youth that it endured.
IS THERE A LENSON MURAL HIDING BEHIND THE WALL PAINT AT A NEWARK PUBLIC SCHOOL?
Students of the WPA are already aware of the three known murals that Michael Lenson painted in Newark. (They are the large eight-panel "History of Newark" in Newark City Hall; "The Enlightenment of Man" at Weequahic High School; and "The Four Freedoms" at the 14th Avenue School.)
But just when we thought we knew everything, we get word that another Lenson mural might be hiding behind the wall paint in a windowless room at the Chancellor Avenue School in Newark. According to a retired teacher who worked there for many years, sometime in the 1940s Lenson painted an "astronomical mural" on the walls and ceiling of a room in the school. The room, she further reports, was converted into a storage room and the murals were painted over.
It is amazing that even after more than six decades, the WPA is still yielding us surprises and new discoveries. We're investigating and should know more soon.
NEW BOOK TELLS THE STORY OF LENSON'S PIONEERING WORK IN THE WPA
If you haven't yet read the new book American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA, we suggest that you do so immediately. CLICK HERE to visit the book's page on Amazon.com. In this compelling history of the WPA, author Nick Taylor devotes several pages to describing Lenson's activities as director of mural activities for the New Jersey WPA.
AND YET ANOTHER BOOK DESCRIBES LENSON'S CONTRIBUTION TO THE PUBLIC ART OF THE 1930s
As interest soars in the WPA, it seems that more authors are seeing fit to describe Michael Lenson's contribution to the art that was created by "the projects." One of the most visually engaging of them is The Jews of Weequahic by Linda B. Forgosh. It includes dozens of photographs of life in the vibrant Weequahic neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey. And it also includes a beautiful photograph of Michael Lenson at work on a mural. (Lenson painted his mural, "The Enlightenment of Man" for the lobby of Weequahic High School. CLICK HERE to visit the Amazon.com page for this terrific book.
We were delighted when art historian Linda B. Forgosh contacted us to ask whether we could provide her with a photograph of Lenson to use in her upcoming book, The Jews of Weequahic. And we were again happy when we were able to locate the photograph that appears to your right, which shows the artist at work on the murals that he painted in 1939 for the lobby of Weequahic High School.
The Weequahic section of Newark was the birthplace of such notables as Philip Roth and Martin Edelston.
The neighborhood is still beautiful today. We are so pleased that Michael Lenson will be featured in this upcoming book, which promises to be a treat for students of both art and Newark History. Thank you, Linda.
And for more news about Weequahic and Lenson, please read the next item on this page.
And still more Lenson news . . .
"Art is that useless thing we cannot live without" - Michael Lenson
Won't You Let Us Know Who You Are?
We are attracting a growing number of visitors! Last month, more than 600 people stopped by to learn more about Lenson the artist. Whatever the reason, for your visit, welcome. We invite you to take a moment to let us know who you are by sending us a message using the response box at the bottom of this page. We welcome you to the family of those who appreciate great American realist painting.
"What is my Lenson worth?"
That is a question that we are often asked by visitors to our Website. Unfortunately, we are not appraisers and that is a difficult question to answer. As is always the case where art works are concerned, the value of an art work is very much a question of fair market worth, as defined by what a buyer is willing to pay for a work. Nonetheless, we are always happy to try to answer questions about Lenson works. When appropriate, we can refer owners to expert appraisers who can offer valuations for insurance, donation, estate issues and other purposes. Please note that we are not affiliated with any appraisers in any way. We are simply happy to try to help when we can.
On October 30th, 1964, the Archives of American Art sent its intrepid interviewer Harlan Phillips to interview Michael Lenson about his involvement with the W.P.A. mural projects of the 1930s. The resulting inverview offers Lenson's compelling and very personal account of what it was like to work on the public art projects. We are pleased to announce that the Fall, 2003 issue of The Massachusetts Review (Volume XLIV, No. 3) published the text of this interview, as edited by David Lenson, the artist's son. David also provided a wonderful two-page introduction to the interview that included this recollection of his father:
"The last time I saw him, he was driving me to the train station in Newark on a rainy Sunday morning. Traffic was light, but he was driving erratically, and ran a red light. Having realized this, he stopped in the middle of the road and slapped his forehead. I asked him what was wrong. `I have just broken,' he said ruefully, 'the only law I respect.'"
Download Janet Marqusee's Biographical Essay on Lenson from This Site
We are pleased to announce that you can now download Janet Marqusee's essay "Michael Lenson: Real and Surreal" directly from this site. The late Ms. Marqusee, the prominent New York art dealer who represented the work of Lenson for more than a decade, wrote this essay as the introduction to her 1994 monograph Michael Lenson: Real and Surreal. It is a wonderful essay - flavorful and full of valuable insights for lovers of Lenson's art. Please visit the Biography page of this Website and follow instructions for downloading.
Saint Bonaventure University's Quick Center Adds another Lenson to Its Collection
We are delighted to announce that the Quick Center for the Arts at Saint Bonaventure University Art Museum has acquired a second Lenson painting for its permanent collection. It is After the Picnic, a wonderful acrylic painting from oil from the mid-1960s. With this acquisition, Saint Bonaventure joins another academically affiliated museums that have avidly acquired Lenson works over the last few years.
WPAMURALS.COM Adds Lenson Resources to its Online Collection
Lenson-related materials have recently been added to www.wpamurals.com , a wonderful website with an ever-growing collection of WPA-related materials. At wpamurals.com, you can now read an essay on Lenson's WPA mural activities, the transcript of a Lenson interview conducted by the Smithsonian's Archives of American art, not to mention a wealth of materials about other artists.
Lenson Print Selected as Cover Art for New Book
When William Falk, Michael Schulman and Ann Tickamyer were seeking an evocative image for the cover of their new book Communities of Work: Rural Restructuring in Local and Global Contexts, they reviewed the graphic works in the Goldstein Collection at the Library of Congress. They selected a Lenson lithograph, which will appear on the cover of their new book, due out later this year from the Ohio University Press. The litho is Full Production and Full Employment, an illustration that Lenson did for a speech given by FDR. “We are all delighted to have found this powerful image for the cover,” comments Gillian Berchowitz, the publisher’s Senior Editor.
Questions or comments? Contact the Friends of Michael Lenson by writing to us in the box to the right and pressing "send." Please be sure to include your e-mail address or phone so that we can get back in touch with you shortly.