January 6, 2013

Niche Carved

Dorothy Schwartz has spent her artistic career refining her skill as a maker of prints – especially woodcuts. A retrospective of that work goes up at the Maine Jewish Museum.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Dorothy Schwartz was born in 1938 in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn.

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Dorothy Schwartz in her studio in Portland.

John Ewing/Staff Photogrpher

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“Badge,” woodcut, created in 2001 by Dorothy Schwartz.

Jay York photo

Additional Photos Below



WHEN: Opens Thursday with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m. On view through Feb. 25.

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday and by appointment

WHERE: Maine Jewish Museum, 267 Congress St., Portland


INFO: 329-9854; treeoflifemuseum.org

She was too young to comprehend the magnitude of the Holocaust while it was happening. But she clearly remembers reading Anne's Frank's "The Diary of a Young Girl" as a teenager and thinking that she and her family could have met a similar fate in Nazi concentration camps had her Russian-born grandparents not immigrated to the United States in the early 20th century.

Very likely, it was at that moment that Schwartz began thinking politically.

When she began making art as a student at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., in the 1950s, much of her expression was laced with political commentary. Never overt, her political sympathies with the Civil Rights and women's rights movements presented themselves in her work. Later, images of cruelty and suffering around the globe surfaced in her woodcut prints.

The artist in her never forgot injustices and crimes against humanity.

"I didn't set out to make statements," Schwartz said recently as the opening of a career-encompassing exhibition at the Maine Jewish Museum in Portland drew closer. "It just has appeared because that is what was on my mind."

"Dorothy Schwartz: Evolution of a Printmaker" opens Thursday and runs through Feb. 25. Portland curator Bruce Brown assembled the 40 or so prints in the exhibition in consultation with Schwartz.

The exhibition tells the arc of a story about a determined artist, from her early days as a student at Smith College to her retirement years in South Freeport. It includes a variety of print techniques, but it is the woodcut where Schwartz is most comfortable.

"I love the woodcut for its stark directness and power to convey rich tonal contrasts through swooping lines that emerge from wells of blackness," Schwartz writes in her statement.

She describes the process as "deceptively simple: a sharp tool carves channels into a plank of wood; ink is rolled onto the surface of the wood; paper is spread over the surface; pressure is applied to transfer the ink onto the paper, and the print that results is then pulled carefully away from the block."


Schwartz, a former director of the Maine Humanities Council and a longtime member of the Portland-based Peregrine Press, learned at the helm of one the finest printmakers of the day. She has maintained a prolific, if not very public, 50-year career.

The Maine Jewish Museum exhibition is by far the largest and most comprehensive examination of Schwartz's work to date, and should cast her profile in a different public light. The earliest work in the show is from 1957 during her Smith years, a piece she titled "Daedalus and Icarus."

Brown, who has known Schwartz for many years, was astounded when he discovered the depth of her output.

"Although I had seen Deedee's work, I had not seen enough of it over time," he said. "This exhibition gives people the opportunity to get to know her work in more depth. The width and breadth of Deedee's accomplishments is really quite remarkable."

Perhaps the reason Schwartz's work has received less attention than warranted is because her art-making career has been overshadowed by her career in the arts.

Schwartz was the public face of culture in Maine for more than two decades as director of the Maine Humanities Council, a position she attained in 1984 and maintained until her retirement in 2006.

She also spent much of her energy supporting her husband, classical music composer Elliott Schwartz. They married days after she graduated from Smith, and she fell happily into the role of a professor's wife.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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“River: Hiroshima,” woodcut and metal type created in 2001 by Dorothy Schwartz.

Jay York photo

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Tyranny of Numbers,” woodcut and metal type; created in 2001 by Dorothy Schwartz.

Jay York photo

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Boots,” monotype, 2012.

Jay York photo

click image to enlarge

“Daedalus and Icarus,” woodcut, 1957.

Jay York photo


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