Remembering A Life Long Past
They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of a Life in Poland Before the Holocaust will be exhibited at the Jewish Museum through October 1. This vibrant exhibit takes visitors to a lost world, closely observed in 70 canvases and 12 works on paper by Mayer Kirshenblatt.
Born in 1916, Kirshenblatt left Poland for Canada in 1934. But the exhibition is an amazingly detailed, poignant record of Jewish life in the town of Opatow (also known as Apt, in Yiddish), from the perspective of a young boy fascinated by life around him. A child with an independent streak, Kirshenblatt’s nickname was Mayer Tamez; in Yiddish, Tamez means “July” and is also slang for crazy.
Now 92 years old, Kirshenblatt first picked up a paintbrush at age 72 at the insistence of his family, who thought it would help him fight bouts of depression. “God gave me talent,” he said during a brief interview at the museum.
To his great surprise, the town of his childhood emerged, almost from the outset, in colorful, vibrant scenes depicting birth and death, images of kitchens and bedrooms, farms and town, markets and shops, populated by a lively cast of characters who lived in Apt.
There were shoemakers, fishmongers (and the mayor’s wife, who shoplifted a fish by stuffing it down her bodice), prostitutes, street performers, the marriage of a pregnant hunchback bride standing under the canopy moments before birth, a cobbler who kept accounts on his boots, a teacher caught in bed with the drummer’s wife, and many others.
In addition to this fascinating artwork, there is also a tiny toy theater created by Great Small Works based on Kirshenblatt’s painting “The Boy in The White Pajamas.” It tells the story of the cobbler who dressed his son in white to fool the angel of death (the boy later perished in the Holocaust). A video shows performances in the tiny theater. #