Virtual Memories Show 272:
Irvin Ungar

“My rabbinic training taught me: care about who you are and who your people are, and use the best of that tradition to make the world a better place. Szyk was an artist who articulated all those values.”

Arthur Szyk was once one of the most popular artists in America, but after his untimely death his art vanished from public discourse. How did Szyk achieve and lose such renown? Irvin Ungar has spent the last 25 years championing Szyk’s work, most recently publishing the National Jewish Book Award-winning Arthur Szyk: Soldier in Art. We talk about his introduction to Szyk, the impact of Szyk’s work in his native Poland, the UK and the US, the way Szyk’s work in so many forms — illuminated manuscripts, Persian miniatures, political cartooning, and more — may have contributed to his posthumous decline, and why Syzk’s Haggadah is like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. We also get into Irv’s dayenu moments promoting Szyk’s legacy, the curious story of how Irv entered the rabbinate as an alternative to serving in Vietnam, left to become an antiquarian bookseller, and how his rabbinic training let him recognize Arthur Szyk as an upstanding man. Give it a listen! And go buy Arthur Szyk: Soldier in Art!

(Check out some of Szyk’s art at szyk.com)

“Szyk wanted to use his art to move history from one period to another, from the 13th century to the 20th, through the use of illumination.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

Irvin Ungar, a former pulpit rabbit and antiquarian bookseller, has devoted the past quarter-century to scholarship relating to illustrator Arthur Szyk. He has curated numerous Szyk exhibitions worldwide, including those at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Deutsches Historiches Museum in Berlin, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Library of Congress, and the New York Historical Society. He is the author of the National Jewish Book award winning Arthur Szyk: Soldier in Art, publisher of the limited edition of The Szyk Haggadah, and producer of the documentary film Soldier in Art: Arthur Szyk.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at a rental apartment on the Upper West Side on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Mr. Ungar by me. It’s on my instagram.

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