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May 5: Chaim Gross

May 4, 2015

largeSculptor Chaim Gross, best known for his hand-carved wood sculptures, died at 87 on this date in 1991. Born in Galicia, he had a childhood of war, poverty, and self-reliance before coming to the U.S. at 17. Gross studied art at the Educational Alliance in New York and found his way to sculpture, which he studied from 1922 to 1927 at the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design and the Art Students League. Recognition came slowly, however, as he emerged as an artist during the Depression. He “belongs to a small, important group of American sculptors... who broke with tradition in the early decades of the century and turned to working personally and directly with natural materials, such as stone and wood,” writes Janet A. Flint for the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “Although he... worked in stone with distinction, it is wood that... held the greatest appeal for Gross, a love that... reaches back to his early childhood when his father was a lumber merchant in the extensive forests of the Carpathian Mountains. As a student, he found in the lumberyards of New York unusual woods from all over the world that had not been used previously for sculpture.” His favorite subjects over the span of his career were acrobats, dancers, and mothers at play with their children. He was a professor of printmaking and sculpture at both the Educational Alliance and the New School for Social Research in New York City, and a founder and the first president of the Sculptors Guild.

“I do not consider a piece of work of mine successful unless it can be turned upside down and still evoke an aesthetic response.” —Chaim Gross