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Jewish past in interwar Poland on Mayer Kirshenblatt’s canvas

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Jewish past in interwar Poland on Mayer Kirshenblatt’s canvas

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Born into a Jewish family in Opatów, Poland, Mayer Kirshenblatt left his hometown at the age of 17 for Toronto. Fifty years later, when he was 72, he began painting his memories of everyday life and Jewish traditions in a Polish town. His legacy is now the inspiration for the Open University of Opatow/Michigan 2022 program, which aims to create a bridge of trust and understanding between students of many cultural backgrounds.

Copernicus Center of Polish Studies at the University of Michigan, Urban Forms Foundation, Adam Mickiewicz Institute, and POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews are preparing series of lectures inspired by Mayer Kirshenblatt’s memories in words and images. Open University 2022 students will also be able to complete student internships at Urban Forms Foundation in Poland.

Mayer Kirshenblatt’s story is just as fascinating as his paintings. After immigrating to Canada, he eventually owned a paint and wallpaper store, but only started to paint his memories after retirement. He returned to his childhood spent in a small Polish town, Opatów, where the prewar Jewish community celebrated their traditions, practiced their religion, worked and lived alongside Polish and other ethnic and religious minorities. With his photographic memory and talent, Kirshenblatt developed his characteristic style and exhibited his paintings around the world – in the Jewish Museum in New York, the Magnes Museum in Berkeley, California, the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, Koffler Gallery and also the Aird Gallery in Toronto, the Galicia Jewish Museum in Kraków, and in Opatów itself.

Project “Open University of Opatów/Michigan. Poland as a country adapting and creatively engaging with the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the interwar period” is overseen by the artist’s daughter, Professor Emerita Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, a distinguished scholar in Performance and Jewish Studies at New York University and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

She specializes in the theory and history of museums, tourism and heritage, and has made immense contributions to Jewish studies, focusing on the history of Polish Jews. In 2006, she was asked to lead the development of the permanent exhibition at POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw and today holds the position of Ronald S. Lauder Chief Curator of that exhibition. Open University of Opatow/Michigan 2022 will also contribute to the preservation of Jewish heritage and tighten bonds between different cultures and foster dialogue in the spirit of mutual understanding and respect.

She specializes in the theory and history of museums, tourism and heritage, and has made immense contributions to Jewish studies, focusing on the history of Polish Jews. In 2006, she was asked to lead the development of the permanent exhibition at POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw and today holds the position of Ronald S. Lauder Chief Curator of that exhibition. Open University of Opatow/Michigan 2022 will also contribute to the preservation of Jewish heritage and tighten bonds between different cultures and foster dialogue in the spirit of mutual understanding and respect.

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“Opatów was once a bustling market town, with a vibrant Jewish community. About 6500 of the 10,000 inhabitants were Jews. No Jews live there today – most perished during the Holocaust – but Opatów is honoring their memory, not only by recalling how they died, but also by remembering how they lived. This project draws on the memories in words and images of Mayer Kirshenblatt, who recalls his childhood in this quintessential Polish town before the Holocaust” – Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett Read in-depth account of the project www.opatow.geotropiciel.pl and learn more about Mayer Kirshenblatt’s work at culture.pl.

Project “Mayer Kirshenblatt’s Open University of Opatow/Michigan. Poland as a country adapting and creatively engaging with the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the interwar period” has been co-financed by The Niepodległa Multi-Annual Programme for 2017-2022) as part of Adam Mickiewicz Institute’s “The Kulturalne Pomosty” programme.

Click para leerlo en Español: Pasado judío en la Polonia de entreguerras en el lienzo de Mayer Kirshenblatt

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