Monday, May 6, 2013

Body and Soul

When I began the paintings for the Jewish Identity and Legacy series, I decided story would be my focus and I would only do portraits if they related to the story. Now as I near the end of the series I realize that most of my paintings are figurative, but not always of my interviewees as they are today. In some cases the image may reflect what I imagined the interviewee looked like at an earlier age. In two instances I painted the parent of the person I interviewed because they played such a significant role in their stories.

One of those paintings was Fire, Light and Legacy, the story of Fannie Schanfield’s mother burning the papers of her legacy. The other was Body and Soul, based on the stories of Dorothy Brochin Wittcoff. I've written a bit of my interview with Dorothy in an earlier post titled Citizens of the World. Brochin’s was an early Jewish grocery/delicatessen in Minneapolis started by Dorothy’s father Solomon Brochin after he immigrated from Russia in 1906. The store was unusual in that one side was a grocery, but the other side had religious articles such as talleisem (prayer shawls), Hebrew books and Yiddish newspapers. It served as the Jewish community center with a back room where people would gather for community meetings and to discuss the issues of the day. The famous Jewish figures who came to town all visited Brochins. Dorothy recalled meeting Chaim Weitzman and Louis Brandeis at the store.

Brochins also played an important role in the story of Jewish immigration to Minneapolis. For several years around the time of WWI, Brochin had a relationship with a Russian bank through which he assisted his neighbors in purchasing steamship tickets to bring over their families.

As I was doing research in the archives I began to search for material that would be relevant to my painting. In 1924 there was a faded image of Solomon Brochin and a profile which gave a flavor for the man. Together with his obituary photo, I began to develop the image as he may have looked in his prime. Solomon talked of how one side of his store fed people’s stomachs, the other their minds, so the title became Body and Soul, both subjects for nourishment.

I also found the store’s early logo which advertised itself as offering a delicatessen, Hebrew books
and steamship tickets. Putting on my genealogist hat, I located the immigration record and city directory listings for the Brochins and traced their journey to Minneapolis and within it. Brochin brought capital with him and after a brief stint at salaried work, he opened his delicatessen/grocery.

He and his wife Anna had seven children between 1907 and 1921. Each of the children was given a Hebrew name, but when they attended school their first grade teacher gave them an American name. Dvora became Dorothy, but sometimes the names were a bit of a stretch. Her brother Sher Yashub became Joe.

So how was I to take this wealth of information and capture it with a painting? I began with a man holding a Yiddish newspaper, his features modeled on her father, Solomon Brochin. To one side there is a barrel of herring and boxes of matzo. Behind him hang talleisem. There is a suggestion of figures gathering and the logo in the upper left. The Hebrew names of the children are written at the bottom and the Americanized names written across the top. The white of the paper is the focal point. Your eye is then drawn to the face framed by tallesiem and then over to the white of the barrel of herring, a triangle between the figure and the nourishment for body and soul.

1 comment:

  1. My surname is Brochin as well. Grandmother from
    Belarus. Story I heard was Mary left Russia, she kept the surname . She married Samuel Lipman. Don't know how much is true or false. From my research (as limited as it is) I think Mary or Samuel were related to Soloman Brochin and the Connecticut Brochins. Wish I could find out more. By the way, Mary and Samuel had a candystore in the Bronx. Soloman was in the grocery business as well. connection