In His Own Words
“At the age of six, having discovered a Doré Bible, I became fascinated with illustrations and started copying. My mother strongly disapproved of this and rapped my wrists. I continued to do this secretly (my first rebellion).”— Maurice Golubov
The below contains excerpts from various writings, notes and memos that Maurice Golubov wrote over later parts of his life. They have been lightly altered due to the difficulty reading handwritten notes over time.
I was born in Vetka, near Kiev Russia on May 25 1905 – during a pogrom. My mother with baby hid in cellar for several days. My father was a Hasidic Jew who was kidnapped off the street at age 12 and enrolled in Czarist army for 8 years. There, he became a master shoe and boot maker. His business partner cheated him forcing the business to go bankrupt where he shamefully left town. He decided to come to the United States in 1913, planning to bring mother and children over as soon as possible.
My mother was born in Odessa, Russia in a very pious family. My grandfather – a master coppersmith in Kharkov, descended from a very long line of coppersmiths; who centuries back were a race of Khazars who adopted the Jewish religion. I stayed with my grandfather for a time at age eight – he took me to a museum (my first art contact) where his ‘samovars’ etc. were exhibited at the time.
My early education, starting at age 3 ½ was Hebrew-Yiddish-Russian-Biblical-Talmudic, as well as Russian studies. At age of six, having discovered a Doré Bible, I became fascinated with illustrations and started copying. My mother strongly disapproved of this and rapped my wrists. I continued to do this secretly (my first rebellion). Being a very early Talmudic student and exposure to religious atmosphere at home developed my natural bent to Jewish mysticism. At a very early age I started investigation in this direction, but before long the outbreak of World War I completely changed everything. My mother and all six children became refugees early in 1915.
Stormy refugee years — My family (I, the oldest child now age 10) traveled to grandparents home in Kharkov where plans were made for travel to U.S.A. Soon, we found ourselves amidst a group of refugees heading towards destination – Vladivostok, then to Japan, then to U.S.A. (San Francisco?). An odyssey of travel to our destination and being turned back for a reason unknown to me (I became shepherd of family). After many months of suffering starvation and traumatic experiences, we (group of refugees) under the care of HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) were heading towards “Petrograd” (later Leningrad). I became lost on the way – detached from the group and my family and caught up with “wild children.” I arrived after a couple of months, where I miraculously rejoined my family in Spring 1917 in Petrograd. Together, we then traveled to Finland (Helsingfors or Helsinki) and from Christiania (Oslo) Norway, boarded a ship to America. We arrived in NY late in 1917.
We rejoined my father in Brooklyn, NY. I received public and private education in English, History, etc. On my 13th birthday received a gift; a box of watercolors, crayons, pencils and a pad of paper. I was thrilled with this gift and started experimenting – trying out colors and combinations making colorful designs and geometric shapes which strongly resembled Russian constructionist shapes. At the time I hadn’t yet been to museum of art works until I became an Art Student in the Academy at age 15.
In 1918, I accidentally discovered an evening art class in a settlement house in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. John Sloan was teaching drawing and I was accepted as a Student. There, John Sloan was very friendly and encouraging. I also made my first friendship with an artist student several years older. His name was Ahron Ben-Shmuel (really Archie Leavitt) a very gifted sculptor.
In 1919 I became a high school dropout with a strong desire to study art. As my father was against this (he had other plans) I started looking for a job to become self-supporting and independent.
Early in 1920, (age 15) I landed a job in a commercial Art Studio (The Brothers Weinberg fashion studio, located at 114 5th Ave NY). I got the job because I agreed to work for $8 a week. This studio specialized in mostly Men’s fashion or merchandise illustration for mail-order catalogues, Women’s stores, Sears, Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, etc. I ran errands and was also put to work copying ‘Swipes’ or illustrations in Newspapers, magazines which was stylized by an expert and used in “layout” for fashion. All of this after it was ok’d by the client. It was “washed in”, then detailed and textured by other experts. I soon discovered that I hated the business ( it was no way to study art), but I decided to become an expert in detail and texture (the toughest and most menial part of the work) but experts were few – so I could partly call my own shots at that time.
My employers became concerned about losing me ( I soon became quite useful to the firm at very little pay) so they called in my father and made a contract with him for 3 years guaranteed employment. I would find it impossible to leave without my father losing a $1,000 bond that he put up. My salary was gradually increased up to $18 a week in the 3rd year. During my first year at this job, an artist (fashion artist) came in for a months work. His name was Mark Tobey. He soon became my mentor and advised me to go to night Art School. I soon applied to the Academy (National Academy of Design). I was accepted and started to attend 5 nights a week, never missing one evening.
During the period of 1920-1923 , it was a thrilling life making drawings after antique sculptures and later life drawings. Having obtained my first paint box in 1921, I also started to paint still life’s and portraits at home and landscapes in the park. Later, my younger brother Sam went along with me carrying my box for me. Along with this, I started to paint abstractions from 1922 on (This explains the habit to paint both realistic and abstract all at one time to continue so far the rest of my life (Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde). I dared not to show my friend and others my abstract work for fear of ridicule, until much later (shades of my Academic training).
In 1922, I was awarded the Jaydum Silver medal, drawing from life, figures and portrait. My teachers there (among others) were George L. Nelson, As Curran and Ivan Olinsky. They were always puzzled why I made these designs (later called Abstract Designs) on the margins of my life drawings. I told my teachers that since this school was called N.A. of Design and since I was not taught design, I had to teach it to myself. They thought me a nut, but I was a good student so they let me alone (Arshile Gorky was a bad student, so he was thrown out)
Meanwhile for 2 years, 1920 – 1922, I continued working at The Weinberg Studio. I became quite the expert at detail and textures. I joined the ranks of those called Detail Artists. Mean and lowly work in the field of commercial illustration, but it suited me fine as I thought that the purity of my high calling as a fine artist was not sullied. The work was much in demand as it was highly skilled and difficult work. The artists were always busy 50 to 60 hours a week during 3 months of busy season. It was well paid, $2-$3 or $4-$5 an hour, plus more for overtime. A layout artist named Heilburn had a friend, an artist by the name of Arthur B. Davies who sometimes came in to see him, was the 3rd great artist I met at this time.
In 1922, I received an invitation from a “7” arts club in Brooklyn to attend and to join up. This was a salon held at the home of a Mrs. LaVine in Brooklyn, an open house to all types of young artists in the Metropolitan area NY. Mrs. LaVine read an article about me in a Jewish newspaper and she invited me by postcard. This salon was attended frequently by some very talented young people in literature, art and music. Some became quite famous in later years. It was a very stimulating atmosphere and I made friends with quite a few of these – a distinguished pianist , a violinist and women who later became famous in the worlds of art and literature as well as that of music. It was also a place where I showed some of my early work. There were also a few colleagues of the Academy. This continued until 1927 when I took my first studio in NY at 10 E 14th Street where I spent most of my spare time, going to my parents home in Brooklyn on weekends to a quieter life (NYC scared and awed me and fascinated me). Some day I dreamt I may find a way to put it all down in paint on canvas). I made excursions to Botanical Gardens, Brooklyn Museum, prospect park or Coney Island with paint box (Watercolor) and sketchbook.
Having saved some money, I broke the illegal contract with Weinberg Studio. I was a minor and not responsible for the contact that was signed. I discovered this fact in time. For 6 or 7 months I gave myself a chance to do some full time studying on my own, daytime and evenings at The Academy. Much time was spent at The Metropolitan Museum, where I saw the first 2 Cezannes there – a still life and a landscape. It was a tremendous experience. I also started many years of study of Rembrandt, Titian – Tintoretto, etc. and many other great masters of past glories. I also attended for a few weeks during the daytime, the class of Chris Hawthorne, though my painting was exclusively self-taught.
I began painting in this period in watercolor, gouache and tempera and then followed with oil painting.
I returned to commercial work and got a job at Stone Van Dresser Co. (229 4th Ave, NY). At first this job was full time, but later I arranged a seasonal proposition. It gave me four to five months yearly completely to myself. This gave me substantial time to study, read and paint. In 1923, my studio was on Greene Ave. in Brooklyn. There I painted, modelled small figures (groups of figures) in plastelene that I used as models to draw and then paint figure compositions. These figures I modelled had to be destroyed for lack of space. In the summer I painted landscapes.
During this time I read mainly transcendental literature (poetry). Some German idealists, Plato, Henri Bergson, Spinoza etc. Also medieval Jewish Cabalist works. American authors Thoreau & Emerson (later I became interested in Indian & Eastern thought). All this I mention because it had a tremendous influence upon my painting. It turned me more and more towards the unseen and so called abstract world that I sought to express in plastic terms. I felt that it was the real world. The world of surface reality had no interest for me – though this did not prevent me from creating portraits, landscapes and scenes from the seen world remembered. I tried to read works of a materialist nature, but it went against my grain, it was drab and depressing. My friends nicknamed me “The Metaphysician”. I kept my abstract work out of sight and hidden. It met with too much ridicule from my friends. Some of them called this work, “Big Swatches” or “Textile Designs”.
By 1928, I amassed a small fortune of $5,000 and I decided to give up commercial work for a few years (if not forever, but this was not to be.) I moved into a small studio at 10 e. 14th ST, NY. Years later it became Lane’s Dept. Store, where a good many artists had their studios. Some of these artists were among the best in the country. Incidentally in the years between 1926 – 1928, I showed for the first time with a group called “The eight” (mostly I think commercial artists), also with “The Independents”.
1928-1932 – Early Woodstock Years
During the winter months I worked in my studio on 14th street, but Spring, Summer and Fall I was painting in a Woodstock studio that I kept for 3 years. Besides abstract work I went outdoors to paint and draw landscapes. I invited some talented artist friends to stay with me summer after summer. We all went on painting expeditions day time and carousing in the evenings. At this time I held aloof from most of the artists in Woodstock, I felt when looking at the Brown School of Woodstock paintings and listening to their talks & symposiums at the Art Association that it was all dull mediocrity. But later I did come across some good artist such as Kunioshi, M. Avery, David Smith and others. Then there were a few isolated figures sitting alone at Cafe tables, who later were shining lights of the Art world who did not participate in thi what I called the Woodstock circus.
In New York during this period I spend much time in Rm. 313, NY 42nd St. Library. I also spent time in the Metropolitan Museum making drawings, studying in the Frick Museum and many visits to the 51st Street Galleries. This had an impact on my work (I must not leave out the early Guggenheim museum, the Brooklyn museum and others). I also visited the Boston Museums, and also the early Whitney and Modern art museums.
During this period and later depression years, I was almost the only well to do among my friends and acquaintances. I also bypassed the W.P.A, though I found myself amidst many painters, I was pretty much isolated. I was very industrious and jealous of my time, but I managed to attend a number of meetings at the (John Reed Club) also evening sketch classes, where I met artists (next door of my studio) like the Soyer Brothers, Chaim Gross, Jean Liberte, J. Martini, G. Hondius, Stuart Davis, William Zorach, Arshile Gorky, among others).
1932-1941 – Years of Depression
Having run out of money – I was compelled to go back to commercial work ( a bitter pill ). In 1932, I went to work for WM Becker Studio on 7th ave. & 25th Street, a mail order catalogue studio for Montgomery Ward, Sears Roebuck and Spiegel Catalogues, illustrating all types of fashion merchandise. A full time job with monthly vacations between busy seasons, twice during the year. I also took off as much time as possible. This gave me some time to paint, but secretly on my job I managed to paint some figurative and mostly abstract miniatures. My head was buzzing with ideas and irresistible ways to paint (and here I am doing stupid work to sell corsets, brassieres’, coats, dresses, etc.). I worked there until 1939.
1932 was a wonderful year for me. I met my future wife, Sylvia Glasser, a magnificent musician (pianist) and a great inspiration to me. She was a marvelous human being. She was raised in Springfield Mass, and came to NY at age 16. We were married for forty years (she died in 1973). I found myself in a world of great music which also had a great influence upon my work. Our marriage was in September of 1933, at this period Hitler was given power in Germany and it was the most depressing period in my life – a foreboding of evil times came to mankind. I was in midst of deep depression spiritually, but was pulled out of it by Sylvia’s wonderful music and great nobility of spirit. At that time we lived in Brooklyn in 3 different apartments (we moved to Manhattan between 1934-1938 at 318 w. 105th street), but moved back to Brooklyn into larger apartments.
We attended many concerts at Carnegie Hall, Town hall and other places. Along there was music constantly at home by Sylvia and her friends. This all brought me out of my gloom and unconsciously moved into a calmer spirit in my work. This was a period when I painted many abstractions and figure compositions in tempera and oil and many miniature and small paintings in ganache and watercolor. This time, there was also many drawings capturing the feeling and qualities of music, poetry and transcendental thoughts which enabled me to invent endless poetic images.
Since 1942, we were living at 446 Ocean Ave., in Brooklyn, where there was room for a piano studio in the front and a painting studio in the back separated by a corridor. It was marvelous painting and hearing distant great piano playing. Also constantly hearing great music rubbed off on my painting. (Later, my son Michael also entered the piano part – he was then studying at Julliard). During Roosevelt administration, the W.P.A. absorbed practically all my artist friends among others. I did not participate as I had this commercial job.
In 1940, I took a seasonal job at the Vogue Wright Studio. It was a 14 week busy season – twice yearly and 24 weeks to myself. Although the busy seasons required much overtime work, I had a great deal of time for my paintings and I started to work on a larger scale. This pattern of working continued uninterrupted until my retirement in 1967. The summers of 1934-1940 were spent in Rockport Mass. I made many drawings around Cape Ann and did much paintings in Gouache & Tempera, both Abstract & Figure compositions (a series of metaphysical, figures, wanderers and bathers, also “Refugee Series”). During this period, I met many painters, among them were Lee Gatch, Theodore Roszak, Lyonel Feininger, Jackson Pollock and others.
Our summers were spent in Rockport Massachusetts, where I continued to paint, while we also traveled around New England. I sketched and painted and Sylvia performed a number of recitals on the piano. We had much music and many friends in Rockport – both musicians and painters. We were befriended by Louis Shapiro who had a marvelous art collection in his house on Halibut Point in Rockport (Pigeon Cove). He entertained many good artists whom I met there. Artists such as Abraham Walkowitz, Gerrit Hondius, Joseph Di Martini, Sol Wilson, David Burliuk, and others. I was fascinated with the land and seascapes of Cape Ann headed by Gloucester. I made many drawings around the cape during several summers until 1940. Also painted many oils and temperas (most of the drawings are still waiting to be painted). It was a wonderful life with music, art, poetry and social and political affairs (it was the Roosevelt period).
We had a beautiful new Steinway piano we bought in 1939 – our apartment reverberated constantly with sounds of glorious piano playing by Sylvia, as well as of our son, Michael, who was born in 1943. Michael took to the piano in the 1950’s. He studied at Juilliard and was developing into a fine pianist as well. Our house was constantly reverberating with music. Not only the piano, but the Violin and other instruments including singing. A good deal of trio and quartet music of the masters. When I worked shutting the 2 doors – I heard heavenly music muted and it was wonderful working when this was going on. Sometimes I worked there late into the night. Beginning summer of 1940 and regularly every summer until 1973, we spent in Woodstock, NY.
We rented a cottage yearly in Woodstock, until 1973 when Sylvia died. There we spent our summers. It was close to NY and we bought a good old Steinway that Sylvia and later Michael also used. It was constantly used and I always heard music from a distance as my studio was in a garage nearby where I worked mostly. We had many musical events during summers. Sylvia as well as other musicians performed. In this garage in Woodstock, I painted many works of all types. The biggest painting was an oil 8 feet hight and 13 feet long (now in the Mint Museum Charlotte, NC) also 2 – 50”x60” figure compositions and 1 large abstraction (now in the Calcutta, India museum – Birlo Academy). There were many abstract and realist paintings executed there. I brought back 98% to my apartment studio in Brooklyn (2% was sold). In my free months in winter I continued working in this studio until I painted myself out of it. It was just crowded and almost choked with paintings and portfolios. I was then forced to take a studio outside of home. I moved into a Manhattan studio where I took half of my work. this studio was at 27 E. 22nd Street, this leaving me some room at home. By late 1950’s, I managed to have much more work moved into Manhattan. Still the Brooklyn place continued crowded, and I had to work more and more away from home. I was not too happy about this. I missed the music so much. My Woodstock work I also brought back to my NY studio. This place also became crowded as I approached the 1970s.
Life in Brooklyn was quite uneventful as I went to work daily by Subway to Manhattan and back home to Brooklyn life everyone else. Except that when I closed my door, as I entered my apartment, Apt 3A, 446 Ocean Ave Brooklyn it became a world of totally different dimension. Our neighbors hated us for all the music they heard – except for a poet who lived across the courtyard and a famous dancer (Sophie Maslow) who liked it. Although I traveled to no new places (having done too much of it in my childhood) the apartment thrilled to many strange and wonderful vibrations as I visited the distant stars – a transcendental world of harmonious sounds, forms and colors. Away from this world of eat and be eaten.
At last, I retired from intelligent work of illustration of mail order catalogues of Sears Roebuck, Montgomery Wary, etc. I was awarded a Gold watch by the firm. Incidentally, in 1965 or 1966 – an Abstract mural I painted on wall of 18th floor lobby of Vogue Wright Studios 229 Park Ave. So commissioned by Vice President Mr. Robert Shea, was destroyed in my absence during vacation. The wall was painted over and in place, a cute little painting in watercolor by the president of the firm, Mr. Louis Kaep (a boat picture after a color slide).