Hippo Manchester
August 25, 2005

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Armand Szainer: never forget

Museum of NH History preserves legacy of artist, Holocaust survivor

By Michelle Saturley 

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 advertisements.

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.

“What’s interesting 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.

Szainer’s identity 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.