The Midwest Through Jewish Eyes: A Network of Visual Culture – Translate Midwest

The Midwest Through Jewish Eyes: A Network of Visual Culture

In the first installment of this Mellon-Sawyer seminar series, the scholars who led the conversations in Jewish Multilingualism in the Midwest: Yiddish Translations of Urban Experience went beyond textual illustrations of this theme. Interestingly, several sessions were linked by their relation to visual culture.

The materials explored during the seminar converged in their incorporation of the visual art created by Todros Geller (טאָדרעס געלער, 1889-1949), a Jewish American artist known for his paintings, woodcarvings, woodcuts, and etchings. Born in the Russian Empire, Geller studied art in Odessa and, following his immigration to Canada and later to the United States, became a leading figure in Chicago’s art community and in Midwestern Jewish cultural circles.

(Source: Lune Mattes, Momentn. Chicago: 1926)

Geller’s work entered the seminar’s discussions through the texts of Lune Mattes, presented by Sunny Yudkoff, and they also accompanied many of the publications of other Midwestern Yiddish writers, such as Antologye Mitvest-Mayrev (From Midwest to North Pacific: An Anthology of Yiddish Verse), an extensive volume that was published in Chicago in 1932 and that grouped the works of contemporary Yiddish poets from these regions.

(Source: Antologye Mitvest-Mayrev, Chicago: 1932)

The circulation of Geller’s work was facilitated by his collaboration with Chicago publisher and cultural activist L.M. Shteyn, who was centered in Erin Faigin’s presentation of the relationship between cultural institutions in New York and in the Midwest. Geller and Shteyn were both parts of Chicago’s Jewish Left and both worked relentlessly to promote the Yiddish language and culture. It was the Yiddish press established by Shteyn, the L. M. Shteyn Farlag, that published the volumes featuring works by Yiddish authors discussed in the seminar, as well as many others, accompanied by Geller’s magnificent artwork.

These connections between the publishing industry, visual arts, and literary texts lend themselves to a potential exploration of an interconnected, regional Jewish material culture and visual style that are uniquely Midwestern, and raise questions regarding the interactions between the visual and the literary mediums. 

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