Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Grandfather, wood carver extraordinaire, part 1


These two photos above, which I've had forever, started a search a several years ago, first by my older brother, then picked up by me. We knew that these were carvings by our grandfather, Russian Jewish immigrant woodcarver/artist Harry Levine. We believed that they had been done in Croton-on-Hudson, NY, but had no idea why we knew that, and what would have precipitated our grandfather carving a totem pole. And what exactly are the significance of those carvings on the garage lintels and the panels in the doors?
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The problem is that our parents and grandparents are all deceased, Grandpa Harry before any of us were grandchildren born. So how do you go about finding a missing totem pole? First I dug up an envelope of negatives that included the building in the second photo, which my brother had enlarged.
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In the photos he enlarged were also these pictures of carved heads on fenceposts on a little bridge.




Imagine our surprise! Were these in Croton as well? Did Grandpa carve these too? Actually, was ANY of this stuff in Croton at all? Could we find them? Careful examination of the photos found my grandfather's initials on a couple of the fenceposts, and stylistically, they seemed like his work. (*Note the statue visible in the lower left of the center bottom photo. I wonder if that was Grandpa's carving too?)

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So my brother, who was often on the road for his job, made stops in Croton from time to time, asking around, and visiting the historical society. No success, and the search was suspended for a while. Maybe a year down the road, I got interested and began my own searching. Between the two of us, some doors began to open.
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Tune in for part 2 of the totem pole saga, in another day or two!!!

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Meanwhile, below are links to the two pieces of Grandpa Harry's work that are owned by the Brooklyn Museum. They are displayed in their Luce Center for American Art, Visible Storage area, on the 5th floor of the museum (How cool is THAT?) :

http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/research/luce/object.php?id=55234
http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/research/luce/object.php?id=55235

9 comments:

  1. Those photos are amazing!!! Do you know what region your family is from in Russia? We have been there several times and the artwork is incredible and inspiring. I especially love the folk art pieces. The regions all have specific styles so it would be neat to know that history as well. This mystery is very interesting and I wish you all the luck. Dosvedanya! Laura

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  2. Laura, I will be posting more specifics, but in the meantime, he and Grandma were both from Vilna (Vilnius) which is actually Lithuania, though Grandma was adamant that they were from RUSSIA. (She'd spit if you said "Soviet Union".) I believe they were both trained at the Vilna Trade School (or something of the sort), he as a woodcarver - furniture maker, she as a hand lace-maker. Like I said, more of the story will be coming. They came to the US in late teens, somewhere around 1912. W have not been able to find immigration records.

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  3. I meant to say: they came to the US when they were in THEIR late teens (I believe grandma was 16).

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  4. Totally understand about Soviet Union!!!! Keep on searching, the info will show up! :) I think it is very exciting finding out special info.

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  5. I am sitting here and reading this post between trick or treaters. This is amazing and so beautiful. If you didn't tell me they were carved I would've thought the fence posts were from a fantasy movie. I wonder where he got the inspiration for these characters. You expect them to start talking to you! So cool.

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  6. This is such a great story. I sincerely hope that your posts lead to additional discoveries!!

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  7. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/28/nyregion/westchester/28carvingswe.html

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  8. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. What an amazing heritage.

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    1. Thanks, Jan. I'm wondering how you happened upon these old posts. Was it thru Pinterest?

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