Szainer: never forget
of NH History preserves legacy of artist, Holocaust survivor
A poignant collection
of art and artifacts created by a Holocaust survivor is a featured
exhibit at the Museum of New Hampshire History. The show opened Aug. 20
and consists of the paintings, drawings, pottery and letters of Armand
H. Szainer, a Jewish refugee who fled Nazi-occupied France and settled
in Manchester following WWII.
Szainer was born in
Poland in 1914 and was raised in Germany until immigrating to Paris in
1933, where he studied art and worked as a theater set designer. He came
to Manchester with his wife in the early 1950s, after surviving with
Jewish soldiers in a Nazi prison camp.
A potter and oil
painter, he quickly found friends in the New England artist community.
Along with legendary potter Gerry Williams, Szainer founded The Studio
Potter, a prestigious, high-art ceramics magazine with offices in
Goffstown and Shelburne Falls, Mass. He also found work as a graphic
artist for many city businesses, making commissions by designing
Though Szainer enjoyed
his new life and many friends in the United States, he never forgot
where he came from, and his experience as a Jewish man in a
Nazi-occupied land stayed with him, manifesting itself in his art.
about Szainer is that he continued to participate in both the New
Hampshire and the European art communities even after he settled here,”
said Wes Balla, director of collections and exhibitions at the Museum of
New Hampshire History. “Much of his work is done from memory, and it
captures historical and spiritual Jewish history.”
One particular piece,
“Untitled,” is an oil painting that recalls the dread and despair of
people attempting to leave France during the Nazi occupation. The
figures in the painting are drawn with blurred, mournful faces. A man in
the corner of the painting is hunched over, cast downward. A woman in a
bright red cloak comforts a small baby while her husband looks on.
Another woman appears to have fallen asleep, her arm flopped on the
ground. Meanwhile, in the background, two men, one of whom appears to be
an Orthodox Jew, carry on a quiet conversation.
Some of the sculpted
pieces featured in the show are equally thought-provoking. A sculpted
menorah depicts a group of Klezmer musicians (Klezmer is traditional
Jewish music) playing at an Eastern European Jewish community
celebration. Szainer created the piece in 1978 from memory. His Shabbat
candleholder consists of two people celebrating the start of festivities
welcoming the Sabbath bride. The pieces make the viewer wonder if the
artist fled France without taking important objects of faith so he
wouldn’t be identified as Jewish.
card, issued by the Paris prefect of police in the days following WWII,
is one of the featured artifacts in the show. There are also letters
from friends and family in Europe. Photographs and publications
documenting Szainer’s family in early 20th century Europe are
intermingled with movie advertisements designed by the artist.
In 1994, Szainer began
work on a mural for the lobby of the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center
in Lebanon. The artist died in 1998, before the painting was completed,
A study of the mural, titled “Genesis,” is featured in the exhibit.
“This display is really
a small sampling of the artist’s works,” Balla said. “He created many
more pieces, but these were the ones that seemed to best represent his
body of work.”
The collection was
donated to the Museum by Szainer’s second wife, folk artist Linda
Morley. The show is on display through December. Balla hopes the show
will resonate with other immigrants in the community, as well as with
New Hampshire artists and school children.
For more information on
the display, call the Museum of New Hampshire History at 228-6688, or go
to nhhistory.org. The Museum is located at 6 Eagle Square in Concord.