Benjamin Abramowitz at Whittemore House Museum

Before the color school, before there was such a thing as a Washington art scene to speak of, there was Benjamin Abramowitz.

The prolific Abramowitz began his life as an artist with a commission of work from the Works Progress Administration during the Depression when he was only 19 and never stopped until he passed away at the age of 94 in 2011.

For a few days more (until November 28), you can sample a small part of the amazingly large output and legacy of this unique artistic figure in Washington and the nation at the Woman’s National Democratic Club’s Whittemore House Museum at Dupont Circle called “Out of the Vault: Early Prints and Drawings, Benjamin Abramowitz, 1917-2011”.

The exhibition, co-curated by Nuzhat Sultan and Susan Abramowitz Rosenbaum—the only living daughter of the artist—contains 15 original lithographs and drawings. Among them are three works that are part of the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as a series of intimate, familial portraits, some of them of Rosenbaum in her adolescence, childhood and youth.

“These works by Benjamin Abramowitz, a W.P.A. artists who established himself in Washington for six decades, exhibit his social and political observations,” Nuzhat Sultan, the co-curator said. The works are reminiscent of Honore Daumier.” Daumier was great and caustic recorder of early 19th-century French society)

Even among the way-too-few works present, you can sense Abramowitz’s restless interests and generous compassion, his feel for the energy in the furious winds of the times he lived in—there are thickly and energetically drawn portraits of electioneering, union rallies, children gathered together, workers in the field and the like, accurate captures of the rural and urban scenes.

His name resounds in Washington, where he rose to prominence with solo exhibitions at the Corcoran Gallery, Howard University and other institutions and galleries over the years. Through the course of his life he had over 100 exhibitions, on the East Cost, through ART in Embassies.

Powerfully accessible and modern in a characteristically American way by style and content, Abramowitz raised his family in what was then rural Greenbelt in Maryland, where he lived and worked for almost half a century. His genius was his singular work but also a gift for multi-tasking and constant curiosity. He would draw, paint, created sculptures, but also found time to study history and philosophy and learn seven languages, Greek and Latin among them.

His output was prodigious as his daughter Susan Rosenbaum, who cared for her father until his death at 94. Working on a registry of her father’s work. By this year, she had accounted for nearly 8,000 works, including 433 paintings, and 162 sculptures.

Rosenbaum is an arts consultant, worked as an external affairs officer at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and is currently Chair of the Board of Trustees of Arts for the Aging.


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