JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read previous columns here.
Abe Blashko, 90, artist and illustrator
Abe Blashko, an artist whose earliest images of social injustice and Nazi atrocities were so controversial many were never exhibited, but who continued producing work for decades, died Jan. 13 at 90.
Blashko was a native of Seattle and became in 1935, at 18, the youngest artist ever to have a solo exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum. The museum displayed “25 highly detailed drawings with strong, socially satiric subject matter often depicting the powerful, heartless capitalists in an unflattering manner while elevating the working class to an exalted position in society.”
Blashko shortly afterward became part of the Pacific Northwest’s contingent of the American Artists Congress, a Communist Party-backed group that focused on anti-fascist and pacifist issues and artistic imagery.
After World War II broke out, Blashko heard that numerous family members had been killed by the Nazis in Poland, and he produced a series of politically charged color drawings he titled, The Ratmen. In a style that presaged the now famous graphic novel “Maus,” Nazis are depicted as grotesque, mutant rats that torture their innocent victims. In one drawing Blashko has the mythical Jewish superhero, The Golem, crushing the Ratmen in his oversized hand.
Blashko moved to New York in the 1940s and began a career as an illustrator. He drew for the Marxist magazine, The New Masses; worked as an animator for Paramount Studios; and taught at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art.
Over the years, his work found its way into private and museum collections, including the Seattle Art Museum, Portland Art Museum, Library of Congress and National Gallery of Art, and University College, London, among others.
In a recent letter to the curator of the Seattle Art Museum, Blashko wrote that his art was influenced by the turbulent social and political events of the 1930s. “I was able to feel the pulse of that period and was fascinated with the faces and activities of the people around me, a fascination with their work, play, determination, strength, greed and evil."
His final representative, Susan Teller Gallery in New York, held a 75-year retrospective for him 2010, and it was at the gallery that friends and admirers gathered in late January after Blashko’s death “to view Abe’s work and to offer him a toast for enriching their lives. No one will forget Abe’s genius, his talent, and his formidable wit.”
Miriam Hansen, 61, film scholar
Miriam Hansen, a pioneering film scholar who studied “not only film itself but also the early 20th-century creation known as the film audience,” died on Feb. 5 at 61.
Hansen founded the University of Chicago Cinema and Media Studies Department and was Ferdinand Schevill Distinguished Service Professor in the Humanities.
“She was in the first generation of scholars to see film viewing as a historically defined and shaped activity,” said Daniel Morgan, an assistant professor of film studies at the University of Pittsburgh and a former doctoral student of Hansen’s. “And also to understand that that meant we had to look at older films through the lens of the viewers they were intended for.”
Hansen was born in Germany in 1949. Her parents had met in exile during the World War II and returned to Germany. She received her PhD in 1975 from Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt, and taught at Yale and Rutgers University before coming to Chicago in 1990.
Hansen worked out “an intersection between film history, film analysis and film theory few have ever matched,” said Tom Gunning, a professor in the Chicago cinema department. He said that Hansen continued new scholarly and theoretical work, and to mentor and advise students even as she battled cancer for a decade.
Hansen was known in particular for her 1991 book “Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Film.” She said that even the earliest, most mainstream Hollywood films could contain “quietly subversive elements,” such as how the moviegoers who swooned over silent film star Rudolph Valentino were “a permissible outlet for the expression of women’s erotic desires, something traditionally considered taboo.”
She also wrote on the cinematic representation of the Holocaust. In the essay, “Schindler’s List Is Not Shoah: The Second Commandment, Popular Modernism, and Public Memory,” she critiqued intellectual dismissal of the film and discussed how her experience of seeing the film in Germany affected her understanding of the film’s true value and impact, even though she critiqued the film’s conception and romanticizing of Schindler.