How Jewish Artists Helped Reinvent Chicago

After The Great Fire, a People and City Remade Themselves

In Sickness and in Health: Leon Garland’s 1932 painting ‘Wedding in the Cemetery’ is based on an old legend that if orphans marry in a cemetery during a cholera epidemic, their dead parents will intercede to stop the scourge.
Courtesy Spertus Museum
In Sickness and in Health: Leon Garland’s 1932 painting ‘Wedding in the Cemetery’ is based on an old legend that if orphans marry in a cemetery during a cholera epidemic, their dead parents will intercede to stop the scourge.

By Laura Hodes

Published November 23, 2012, issue of November 30, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

In Chicago, The Spertus Museum has just opened “Jewish Modernists in Chicago,” the seventh chapter in its eight-part series, “Uncovered & Rediscovered: Stories of Jewish Chicago.” This new exhibit focuses on the artistic influence of a group of Jewish artists active in Chicago in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s.

The entire series is part of the reinvention of the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies that began in 2009 when Hal Lewis took over as president. The sleek glimmering glass building on South Michigan Avenue, built by the Chicago firm Krueck and Sexton in 2007, replaced the older, dark yet haimish turn-of-the-century office building. Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin wrote in 2008 in the Architectural Record that the “10-story building resembles a shimmering piece of quartz exquisitely inserted into a great stone wall, its faceted, folded facade of glass glinting in the morning sun.” And yet its timing was bad. As the Tribune reported in January, the crash meant Spertus’s endowment dropped 22% in 2012 from the previous two years. Spertus still owed $43.6 million of the $56.1 million it had borrowed to build the new building. When the new building opened, there was a kosher restaurant open every day; now the dining area is only open for special events. Space is now being rented out to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Meadville Lombard Theological School.

The “Uncovered” exhibit is in a small gallery on the ground floor, across from the front desk. The exhibit is free and on ground level to encourage passersby to walk in. As I visited, a stream of Art Institute students passed through the front door to attend class, without even glancing at the exhibit. This is unfortunate because this is a fascinating, thoughtful exploration of Jewish modernist artists, and all of the artwork comes from Spertus’s own archives.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. http://jd.fo/a3BvD Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.