William Zorach

(1887 - 1966)

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Born in Lithuania, William Zorach immigrated with his family to Cleveland, Ohio. Showing artistic talent at a young age, Zorach began studying lithography at the Cleveland School of Art on the recommendation of his seventh grade teacher and was soon apprenticing at a lithography firm. In 1907, he moved to New York and enrolled at the National Academy of Design where he received several awards for his paintings and drawings. In 1910, he continued his studies in Paris at La Palette. There he was influenced by the Cubist and Fauvist movements and submitted several paintings to the Salon d’Automne. This success fueled his career at home where he was honored with his first one-man exhibition. In 1912, he married Marguerite Thompson, a fellow artist whom he had met at La Palette. They moved to New York, established a studio, and a year later, their work was accepted into the Armory Show.

Until 1922, the year he completed his last oil, Zorach continued to think of himself as a painter but had already begun to experiment with sculpting. While working on a series of wood-block prints, Zorach realized he was more interested in the wood panel than in the print and turned it into a carved relief. With no formal training as a sculptor, his first efforts were of wood and his carving tools were primitive. He found his sculptural direction by instinct, but was not unaware of what other sculptors were doing, both at home and abroad. He allied himself with a growing number of modern sculptors who believed in the aesthetic necessity of direct carving and found deep satisfaction in the slow and patient process of freeing each image from its imprisoning block.

"The actual resistance of tough material is a wonderful guide," Zorach said in a lecture in 1930. The sculptor "cannot make changes easily, there is no putting back tomorrow what was cut away today. His senses are constantly alert. If something goes wrong there is the struggle to right the rhythm. And slowly the vision grows as the work progresses." Zorach found that the material itself had a constantly modifying effect on his vision. The grain of the wood, the markings in the stone, the shape of the log or boulder all set limits and suggested possibilities. He was sensitive to the qualities of his material and occasionally let them play a major role in determining the finished forms. In such works, the feel of the original material is preserved and often heightened by parts of the original surface left untouched and other areas roughly marked by the sculptor’s tools.

In 1923, Zorach bought a farm in Maine, where he and his family would spend their summers. He continued to sculpt and was soon recognized as one of the country’s premier artists, honored with multiple commissions and exhibitions throughout the country. Today his work can be found in such prestigious museums as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Boston Museum of Fine Art, the Los Angeles Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Cleveland Museum of Art.