Esphyr Slobodkina

Honoring the Life and Art of a Pioneer of American Abstraction

Rediscovering Slobodkina: A Pioneer of American Abstraction

Rediscovering Slobodkina: A Pioneer of American Abstraction celebrates the extraordinarily prolific career of artist, illustrator, and author Esphyr Slobodkina.
Rediscovering Slobodkina: A Pioneer of American Abstraction celebrates the extraordinarily prolific career of artist, illustrator, and author Esphyr Slobodkina.

On the occasion of the 100th birthday anniversary celebration of Esphyr Slobodkina the Slobodkina Foundation in association with the Heckscher Museum, presented a major traveling retrospective entitled Rediscovering Slobodkina: A Pioneer of American Abstraction. The retrospective commemorated the life and work of this pioneer in the development of abstract art, founding member of the American Abstract Artists, and author of the classic children’s book, Caps for Sale.

Sandra Kraskin, director of the Sidney Mishkin Gallery at Baruch College, curated the show. The exhibition spanned Slobodkina’s entire career, from her earliest artistic efforts of the 1920s to her final sculpture finished at age 93. Seventy-five objects representing the best of Slobodkina’s oeuvre were on view at four locations in the United States.

Works on loan included noteworthy pieces from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Grey Art Gallery, Naples Museum of Art, Hillwood Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Grey Gallery at NYU, New Britain Museum of Art, Samuel P. Harn Museum, and Whitney Museum of Art.

“Rediscovering Slobodkina: A Pioneer of American Abstraction” offered a posthumous tribute to a remarkable creative personality who tirelessly honed her craft for more than eight decades.

Slobodkina’s numerous significant contributions to the development of American abstraction have begun to accrue more recognition in recent years. Caps for Sale, an established classic of children’s literature, is quite probably Slobodkina’s most widely known work.

The centennial exhibition and accompanying publication provided a forum for Slobodkina’s work to be seen by a whole new audience who experienced the full scope of her achievements – which stretch far beyond the conception and execution of illustrated stories to include painting, sculpture, architectural design, couture dressmaking, jewelry-making, and writing. By presenting a comprehensive survey of her life and art, the depths of Esphyr Slobodkina’s contribution to today’s community was brought to light.

A 164-page comprehensive catalog accompanied the exhibition.

About the catalog:

The catalog’s purpose is three-fold: to provide a comprehensive survey of Slobodkina’s oeuvre, to review her career as an author and illustrator, and to provide a biographical portrait of the artist as a person.

Part One is dedicated to the exhibition and includes critical essays by Sandra Kraskin and Karen Cantor. Dr. Kraskin wrote her dissertation on Esphyr Slobodkina’s first husband, Ilya Bolotowsky; she had the unique experience of meeting and interviewing Slobodkina at length in the 1970s. In her essay, Dr. Kraskin seeks to redefine our understanding of Slobodkina’s role in the American abstract art movement. Ms. Cantor’s essay specifically addresses Slobodkina’s sculptural work, positing that her three-dimensional constructions are among the earliest examples of assemblage art in the United States.

Because a full survey of Slobodkina’s accomplishments would be incomplete without attention to her notable contributions to children’s literature, Part Two offers a look at Slobodkina’s career as an author and illustrator. Covers of her twenty-two children’s books, many of them out of print, are reproduced in full color. Full-page illustrations from Slobodkina’s favorite children’s books are also included.

In his essay, noted children’s book historian and critic Leonard Marcus, who met and interviewed Slobodkina in the 1980s, demonstrates that Slobodkina’s illustrations – although representational – are grounded in modernist principles of design. In another essay, Antonia Markiet, Senior Executive Editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, recollects her experiences working with Slobodkina from the perspective of a publishing industry professional.

Part Three presents a biographical sketch of Esphyr Slobodkina with excerpts from her 1100-page autobiography and personal reminiscences of Ann Marie Sayer, Slobodkina’s friend and assistant for eight years.

Tour Dates

VenueDates
Heckscher Museum of Art,
Huntington, NY
Jan 10, 2009 – March 24, 2009
Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, Gainesville, FLJune 16, 2009 – September 6th, 2009
Naples Museum of Art,
Naples, FL
October 1, 2009 – December 29, 2009
Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, NebraskaJanuary 26, 2010 – April 18, 2010

Checklist

TitleYearMediumDimensionsCollection
Park Bench in Harbin1927Oil on cardboard8 5/8 x 12 3/4″Heckscher Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist (1997.012.001)
Autumnal Procession in Ancient Russiaca. 1929-31Oil on etched shellac-coated glass8 x 15 7/8″Heckscher Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist (1997.012.004)
Self Portrait1932Oil on canvas27 x 12″Courtesy Kraushaar Galleries, New York
Ilya1933Oil on canvas15 5/8 x 14 3/4″Heckscher Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist (1997.012.012)
Cornelia Street Bedroom1933Oil on canvas21 x 16 1/2″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
Flowers in the Sink1934Oil on canvas20 x 16 1/8″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
John Cheevers’ Studio, Yaddo1934Oil on panel9.5 x 12″Heckscher Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist (1997.012.009)
Studio Table1934Oil on board15 x 17″Hillwood Art Museum, Long Island University.
The Sinkca. 1934-5Oil on canvas27 x 16″Heckscher Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist (1997.012.013)
Construction No. 31935Mixed media collage/construction24 x 32″Naples Museum of Art, Naples, Florida
Boat Construction1935Mixed media collage/construction14.25 x 25.25″Naples Museum of Art, Naples, Florida
Latest Styles for Unemployed Men and Womenca. 1936Pencil on manila paper8 1/4 x 10″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
Angelo Herndon Petition1936Oil on canvas20 x 28 1/8″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
The Pot-Bellied Stoveca. 1936-7Oil on canvas35 x 24″The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Clarence Y. Palitz Jr. Gift, 1985. (1985.30.2)
Boat Abstraction1938Oil on masonite24 1/4″ x 40″Naples Museum of Art, Naples, Florida
Mural Sketch No. 1ca. 1938Oil on gesso on composition board9 1/2 x 23 1/2″Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida, Gainesville
Abstraction with Red Circleca. 1938Oil on canvas28 x 12″New Britain Museum of American Art
Night1938Paper collage16 1/4 x 12 1/4″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
Tabletop Gazelle1938Wood construction24 1/2 x 11 3/4 x 18 1/2″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
The Derelict1938Wood construction39 x 30 x 8 1/2″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
Composition ca. 1940Oil on gesso on masonite panel12 1/4 x 9 1/4″Philadelphia Museum of Art, A.E. Gallatin Collection
“Caps for Sale” original illustrationca. 1940Paint and paper collage7 x 51/2″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
“Caps for Sale” original illustrationca. 1940Paint and paper collage7 x 51/2″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
Monochrome in Grayca. 1942Oil on gesso on masonite15 x 29.5″Courtesy Kraushaar Galleries, New York
Crossroad #2ca. 1942-5Oil on fiberboard43 1/2 x 33 1/2″Smithsonian American Art Museum
Crossroads1943Oil on board35 x 27″Naples Museum of Art, Naples, Florida
Tamara Abstraction1945Oil with mixed media attachments on wood board19 1/2 x 41 1/2″Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Crossroads1948Paper and foil collage5 x 7″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
Shopping Industry1948Mixed media on fabric7 x 5″Courtesy Kraushaar Galleries, New York
The Spangles1948Mixed media collage5 x 7″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
The Small Familiar Personage1949Metal and wood construction on wood base10 1/4 x 7 1/4 x 4″Courtesy Kraushaar Galleries, New York
Circuit in Pink (Hytron Abstraction)1950Acrylic on paper13 x 11″Heckscher Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist (1997.012.026)
Circuit in Yellow (Hytron Abstraction)1950Acrylic on paper13 x 11″Heckscher Museum of Art, Gift of the Artists (1997.012.027)
Elements of Music1950Oil on gesso on board32 x 46 1/2″Collection of Nahama Walsey Reinherz
The Levitator ca. 1950Oil on gesso on plywood25 x 35″Courtesy Kraushaar Galleries, New York
Turboprop Skyshark1950Oil on gesso board16 x 50 1/2″Courtesy Kraushaar Galleries, New York
Japanese Abstractionca. 1950-3Oil on gesso board54 x 38 1/2″Collection of Emmy van Stolk and Elam Lantz
Abstraction with Black Shape1952Oil on gesso on masonite38 1/4 x 27″Collection of Nahama Walsey Reinherz
Composition with White Ovals1952Oil on composition board34 1/2 x 20 3/4″Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Monochrome in Pink1953Oil on masonite42 1/2 x 37 7/16″Heckscher Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. Dohn Samuel Schildkraut (2005.004)
Monochrome in Yellowca. 1953Oil on gesso on masonite30 1/2 x 43 1/4″Heckscher Museum of Art, Gift of Dohn Samuel Schildkraut (1997.012.022)
Composition in an Ovalca. 1953Oil on gesso board32 1/2 x 61 1/2″Grey Art Gallery, New York University Art Collection, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Irving Walsey 1962.19
Escape No. 21960Mixed media construction12 x 9.5 x 18″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
Typewriter Bird1960-1Mixed media construction17 1/2 x 15 1/2 x 7 1/2″Heckscher Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist (1997.012.061)
Deus Ex Machina (oil study)1961Oil on gesso on masonite10 x 12 1/4″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
A Triptych in Old Rose1964Oil on canvas51x 49″Hillwood Art Museum, Long Island University.
Monochrome in Beige1968Oil on gesso board45 1/2 x 40 3/4″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
Boat Building (original working drawing)ca. late 1960s or early 1970sPencil on paper16 1/4 x 11 3/4″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
Boat Building (oil sketch)ca. late 1960s or early 1970sOil on gesso on masonite12 x 13 5/8″Heckscher Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist (1997.012.09)
Abstraction with Pierced Shapes (oil sketch)1975Oil on gesso on masonite10 1/8 x 15 7/8″Heckscher Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist (1997.012.028)
Inner Sanctum1978Oil on canvas41 3/4 x 24″Hillwood Art Museum, Long Island University.
Journey into Future1978Oil on gesso on canvas48 x 48″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
Subzero Technology
(Work study)
Date unknown.Black and white magazine clipping4 x 3 3/4″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
Subzero Technology
(Work study)
1978Pencil on tissue paper4 1/2 x 9 1/2″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
Journey into Unknown
(Work study)
ca. 1978-1982Oil on canvas board5 3/4 x 5 3/4″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
Journey into Unknown
(Work study)
ca. 1978-1982Oil on canvas board5 x 5″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
Subzero Technology
(Work study)
ca. 1978-1982Oil on canvas board10 1/2 x 6″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
Black Crosses1982Oil on canvas on masonite13 1/4 x 7 3/4″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
Still Life with Balalaika1985Oil on canvas22 x 38″Hillwood Art Museum, Long Island University.
Peacock Garden1986Oil on linen on masonite12 x 38″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
Within the Mysterious Parameters of Privileged Information1988Mixed media construction29 1/2 x 23 1/2 x 20″Hillwood Art Museum, Long Island University.
The Sadly Sagging Educational Spiral1988Mixed media construction10 1/2 x 11 3/8 x 9″Heckscher Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist (1997.012.060)
Trophy No.11988Mixed media wall construction9 1/2 x 6 x 3 1/4″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
Trophy No.21988Mixed media wall construction10 x 4 x 2 1/2″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
Triangle in an Oval1989Oil on gesso board11 x 12 3/4″Courtesy Kraushaar Galleries, New York
The Last Countdown (preparatory work)1990Mixed media collage5 1/4 x 19 1/2″Heckscher Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist (1997.012.036)
Vortex Study1991Pencil on graph paper on paper board8 1/4 x 8 1/2″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
Vortex No.21991Oil on masonite48 x 48″Heckscher Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist (1997.012.023)
Flying Objects Immobilized1998Oil on gesso board with pen and ink10 1/4 x 19 1/2″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
Thrust Trophy No.31998Mixed media wall construction8 1/2 x 7 3/4 x 5 1/2″Collection of the Slobodkina Foundation
Ahead with Fair Winds No. 22001Mixed media construction23 1/2 x 10 1/4 x 11 1/2″Collection of Ann Marie and Scott Sayer