Roosevelt’s Finest

Ben Shahn made the town of Roosevelt. That is, it was called Jersey Homesteads until he created his famous mural on the public school during FDR’s Works Progress Administration. Shahn became a legend, and soon other artists followed him and settled in the town’s early Louis Kahn-designed one-story houses.

The Princeton Public Library will screen a documentary about New Jersey artist Ben Shahn  Aug. 25 at 7 p.m. “Ben Shahn: Passion for Justice” examines the social realist artist, who came to prominence in the 1930s with his painting “The Passion of Sacco & Vanzetti.”

Shahn was the most popular artist of his age. His work appeared on the cover of Time Magazine as well as in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. After his painting about Sacco and Vanzetti, the Italian anarchists who many believed were framed for murder, he went on to paint murals and take photographs for the government during the New Deal. He also became a successful painter and commercial artist.

Shahn is seen in the documentary in rare television and radio interviews recorded before his death in 1969. Interviews with his widow, Bernarda Bryson Shahn, an artist in her own right, are also included. The show was filmed over a period of three years coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Shahn’s birth.

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This entry was posted in Central NJ Art, Murals, Public Art, Social Concerns and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Roosevelt’s Finest

  1. Dear Ilene,

    Thank you for reminding us of Ben Shahn, who seems to have slipped into undeserved obscurity. He was a great friend of George Nakashima, Shahn’s art in a place of honor in that spare Nakashima living room. I always wondered whether his Shahns perished in that tragic fire.

    It is good also to be reminded of another era when art helped us triumph over adversity: — first financial, then war itself. Those art-supportive programs of FDR’s were the gold standard of government, and all I knew in childhood.

    What intrigues me about Shahn, besides his irresistible style and multi-faceted talent, is that he put his art to ideological use.

    Picasso did, also, — dove of peace, dancing figures of many colors, hand holding bouquet — which always seems a peace offering. Their art was an outgrowth of inner principles, as well as passion.

    At D&R Greenway Land Trust, we encourage artists to join us in our preservation mission. While the art itself may not have messages so obvious as that of Shahn and Picasso, their permitting us to exhibit it here on varied nature themes works miracles of awareness and new commitment in all visitors. This extends far beyond attendees at art exhibitions.

    Even the PDS Student art here now, in all its O’Keeffe presence, size and vividness, educates the young artists and all viewers as to the importance and beauty of New Jersey Native Species.

    I think of Shahn as martyred somehow, and am not sure why. He did give his all, even his art, for his beliefs. He opened our eyes and minds.

    Appreciatively,
    Carolyn

  2. Jackie says:

    Ben Shahn was my neighbor growing up in Roosevelt. He was wonderful and his photography as well as his paintings/drawings are as well. His son, Jonathan, a sculptor, did the FDR Sculpture in Roosevelt….just wonderful to see this!

    Brings back ALOT of memories….

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