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Louise Nevelson

(1899 - 1998)

Near the World Trade Center in New York City is an area that is named Louise Nevelson Plaza in honor of a great American Jewish sculptor.

Louise Nevelson was born on September 23, 1899 in Kiev, Russia, to Mina Sadie and Isaac Berliawsky. Her father was a contractor and a lumber merchant. In 1902, he immigrated to the United States leaving his family in Russia. Louise felt deserted by her father's departure and was so traumatized that she stopped talking for six months. In 1904, they sold their home and with the money that her father sent, they left for the United States.

They settled in Rockland, Maine, where there were only thirty Jewish families. Her father became a successful builder, lumberyard owner and realtor. They had a beautiful home and quickly adjusted to their new life in America.

Louise had strong ties to the family, especially her father. He advocated equal rights for women. Her mother was a beautiful woman who was a freethinker. Louise knew at an early age that she wanted to be an artist. Being a Jew and wanting to be an artist, stigmatized her as she grew up. After she graduated from high school, in 1918, she met and married Charles Nevelson of New York.

For the first few years of her marriage, she studied drawing, painting, dramatics and dance. In 1922, she gave birth to her only child, Myron, who later became a famous sculptor. The expectations of her husband that she would fit into the mold of upper-middle class matrons playing mahjong and drinking tea was resented by Louise. In 1931, they separated and she never asked for alimony or support from her husband.

She took her son to her parents in Maine and she went to Munich, Germany, to continue her art studies. She was in Munich six months when the Nazis closed her art studies school.

She returned to the United States in 1937 and taught at the Educational Alliance Art School on the Lower East Side of New York City as part of a WPA-funded program.

Her first public showing of her sculpture was in 1933. Two years later, some of her work was part of an exhibit in the Brooklyn Museum. She managed to survive by selling some pieces of her works. Her reputation as a sculptor grew and, as she exhibited, she sold more of her works.

In 1967, she had a woman's show at the Whitney Museum which became the turning point of her life. She continued to create and exhibit her works during the seventies and the eighties. In 1964, Nevelson created "Homage to 6,000.000," a memorial to the Jews killed in the Holocaust. She was about to donate to the Centre Beaubourg in Paris, a work worth about S125,000, when the French government released a Palestinian terrorist. She compared this action to the "Hitler era." In protest, she withdrew her donation of her work to the museum.

Louise Nevelson is a woman with an independent mind who threw off the shackles of restrictions and confinement of her life. Her works are a tribute and a testimonial to an outstanding sculptor, who wasn't intimidated by new ideas and creativity in art.

Sources: This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.