I spent a couple of informative hours last Tuesday evening at “Methods of a Master Illuminator,” a new exhibit of Arthur Szyk’s art showing at the Broome Street Gallery through April 25. Irv Ungar, a dealer and foremost expert on Szyk’s work, and co-curator Allison Chang, have assembled an impressive collection of original art, prints, bound books, and some lesser known pencil sketches, that readily satisfy both the already initiated and the not-yet-initiated, who may have heard of, but never explored up-close, the craft of a ‘master illuminator.’
Szyk was a reviver of an art tradition that began in the earliest centuries of the Common Era which provided textual or illustrative decoration for religious texts, and later, in the Middle Ages, for secular ones as well. Szyk’s highly refined skills in illumination and illustration earned him fame on the pages of religious manuscripts, as well as in the major magazines and newspapers of the 1930s and ‘40s, including TIME, Collier’s, Look, Esquire, Saturday Review of Literature, Saturday Evening Post, The New York Post, and the Chicago Sun. All eagerly offered literary canvas during the war years, when Szyk’s artistic activism for democratic ideals and social justice could grab the attention and influence the opinions of populations and politicians in multiple countries.