Thursday, October 27, 2011


Some time ago I shared with you key facts behind Burlingame''s desirability (Why is Burlingame, CA so Desirable and Why is Burlingame, CA so Desirable - More Reasons and More Facts).  Since then I discovered another Burlingame treasure. Unfortunately you cannot google "Burlingame treasures" and come up with what I consider the right answer should be - Irvin Ungar and Historicana. But, who is Irvin and why I consider him a Burlingame treasure? Irvin Ungar is a former pulpit rabbi who embarked on a mission to re-popularize the art of Arthur Szyk. Arthur Szyk was "[R. Chesnoff] a master of political art, a brilliant draftsman/artist whose evocative works had all the power of Goya's 'The Execution' and Picasso's Guernica." If you never heard about Szyk and/or about the art of illumination - please check this Huffington Post article announcing April 2010 exhibition of Szyk's art in NYC. In a concise but informative way it gives a great introduction to Szyk and his art. Szyk's art was immensely popular in the US in the period between Szyk's arrival to the states (he became a US citizen in 1948) to his sudden death in 1951. And I mean - immensely. His art appeared on covers  of Time, Esquire and Collier magazines and in the NY Post.

Unfortunately following Szyk's death his art went to virtual oblivion. Why? Maybe because according to Ungar's opinion “[Szyk] believed that art was not his aim, but his means. “He felt he was not a creator of art for art’s sake, but art with a message". It is difficult to say why Szyk's art was forgotten, but maybe this self-depreciating statement reflected contemporaries unwillingness to value high the art "created for a cause". Whatever the reason, Szyk was a great artist and Ungar made a mission of his life to revive his art. And we should be grateful to Ungar for doing it. Szyk's art shouldn't be forgotten not only because it is unique and continues to impress and amaze, but also because Szyk and his art stood for timeless ideals. "[Huffington Post] Szyk was also among the first political cartoonists to attack racism and the harsh inequities then facing American blacks. But he was also entranced by the hope that America represented to him. Some of his finest illuminations were devoted to The Bill of Rights, The Declaration of Independence and detailed portraits of heroes such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, some of which are now in the collection of the Library of Congress in Washington".

The art of Arthur Szyk was rediscovered by George Gooche in 1991, who "discovered a veritable treasure trove of Szyk's art works, which had been in storage for more than 40 years" (per information on the Society website). This discovery lead to establishing of the Arthur's Szyk Society in Orange County. Subsequently, the Society was moved to Burlingame in 1997 and Irvin Ungar, became and still is the Society's President Emeritus and Curator. It is impossible to overestimate the effort Ungar put into reviving the art of Arthur Szyk. Why is he doing it? You can read about in the interview of Steven Heller an published on the website of American Institute of Graphics Arts. Let me use Ungar's own words: "To be honest, I really feel a sense of purpose. Hardly a day goes by that I don't try to do something to move Arthur Szyk forward in the world. I really do see Szyk as a heroic figure, an American icon worthy of recognition among the elite of the world as well as the common man and woman. Equal to the pleasure that I get out of seeing, researching or writing about Szyk's art every day is the pleasure I feel every time I witness someone discovering Szyk's art for the first time. And what is more, once one sees his art, I know they will never forget it and never confuse Arthur Szyk with any other artist. In that sense, then, I consider Arthur Szyk memorable, his art alive, and myself privileged to be part of that process."

I hope that I got your interest not only to find out more about Szyk and Ungar, but also to research other treasures of Burlingame. I am certain that more time you spend learning about Burlingame you will find more treasures. And please check Historicana - a place that "specializes in the buying and selling the artwork of Arthur Szyk".  And for more information about Burlingame, its surroundings and people living here keep checking "Burlingame and Vicinity" blog.