At once naive and sophisticated, Kirshenblatt’s art captures the energy and diversity of life as it was lived in prewar Apt (Opatów in Polish), a shtetl in southern Poland. Shunning nostalgia for accuracy, the paintings are rich in ethnographic detail and show every area of activity, some with the artist as a blue-clad schoolboy looking on. The 93-year-old Toronto artist, who started painting in his seventies, is becoming internationally known; his work was recently exhibited at the Galician Jewish Museum in Kraków.
The text of this book, which includes 200 full color reproductions, represents another kind of achievement. Each painting tells a story, evoking memories of people, trades, and events. Mayer Kirshenblatt collaborated with his daughter, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, a scholar of Eastern European Jewish culture and folklore, on a captivating text recording his almost encyclopedic range of memories of the town up to 1934, the year he departed for Canada.
Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, who co-authored Image Before My Eyes: A Photographic History of Jewish Life in Poland with Lucjan Dobroszychi, a book based on the photographic collection of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, comments on her father’s art: “Until Mayer’s paintings, all my images of Jewish life in Poland were black and white because all of them were from photographs,” she writes. “That world, thanks to Mayer’s paintings, was now emerging in vibrant color.” Kirshenblatt’s extraordinary visual memory, humor, and love can revivify this world for us all.http://reformjudaismmag.org/Articles/index.cfm?id=1557