An artist uses calligraphy to remember the youngest victims of the Holocaust — in an exhibit opening on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Eleanor Winters and her husband have divided their time between homes in New York and Paris since 2000, giving her extensive opportunities to explore the European city as they each pursue careers in fine art.
A freelance calligrapher married to realistic painter Leendert van der Pool, Winters became intrigued by plaques seen where children gather — at schools, in parks and on playgrounds. She took note of the way the plaques remembered Jewish children deported — with most murdered — under Nazi control.
Because of her inclination to give visual enhancement to words, she copied the messages into personal notebooks holding impactful text, started making small representations of the plaques with pen and ink on paper and gradually moved into larger works using gouache, watercolor, acrylic paint and a variety of inks.
As the number of images expanded over the years, Winters decided in 2013 that they could become a powerful exhibit and developed “A la Memoire des Enfants Deportes,” which opens Jan. 27 at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills. An evening reception will be part of the museum’s recognition of International Holocaust Remembrance Day as designated by the United Nations. (See sidebar.) The exhibit was first shown at the Anne Frank Center USA in New York.
The 75 paintings, on view through May 15, honor 11,400 children subjected to atrocities between 1942 and 1944 through the complicity of the French Vichy government. Installation of the plaques was initiated by former mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoe and several Jewish organizations, notably L’Association Memoire Juive de Paris.
“Being Jewish is part of what has drawn me to this subject,” says Winters, 67, from her New York home. “My closest friends in school had parents who survived the Warsaw Ghetto.
“It’s an art show as well as history. I’m visually interpreting the words on the plaques with the kind of calligraphy I’m using along with the size, color and texture of the letters. I do layers of letters over different kinds of backgrounds.
“I’m trying to make the pieces commanding so that people stop, look and try to read them even though they’re in French. While I’m [emphasizing] certain words that are recognizable, such as ‘deportes’ and ‘Gestapo,’ the pieces are going to be displayed with the text and translation right next to them.”
This will be the second Michigan exhibit for the artist; the first, titled Pieced Together, used calligraphy on colorful papers in quilt patterns and was shown at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores.
Almost simultaneously, from Feb. 2-March 20, Winters’ husband will be featuring a complementary exhibit, Treasured Memories, at the Ford House. It consists of 30 large-scale pastels and oil paintings that capture Ellis Island as the important immigrant portal into the United States, especially known by Jews leaving Europe in the early part of the 20th century.
“Although the shows are functioning independently, the Holocaust Memorial Center is showing four of his paintings in connection with my show, and the Ford House will be showing four of my paintings in connection with his Ellis Island work,” Winters says.
While both artists share studio space, Winters spends much of her New York time doing commercial calligraphy for corporations and private clients. She has written a number of books about the subject (including Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy and Calligraphy for Kids) and taught techniques at New York’s New School.
“I discovered calligraphy in my late teens as an art student,” says Winters, who holds a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Brooklyn College and a master’s from New York University. “Neither of those schools offered calligraphy so I taught myself in the beginning before finding a private teacher and workshops.”
Winters is glad to be returning to Michigan to discuss her work at the opening reception for her exhibit. She has spent considerable time in the area visiting with her sister, Margaret Winters, and brother-in-law, Geoffrey Nathan, both working at Wayne State University.
“Over the last couple of years, I’ve been meeting a lot of people in Paris involved in L’Association Memoire Juive de Paris,” central to the installation of the plaques, says Winters, who has gotten to know the members, many of them Holocaust survivors.
Next up: Winters is working on a book about the project with retired New York Times journalist Mervyn Rothstein, who will write the text. The pair is searching for a publisher.
details: A la Memoire des Enfants Deportes” will be on view Jan. 27-May 15 at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills. The exhibit opens with a reception and artist talk at 7 p.m. Members free/nonmembers $10. (248) 536-9604; holocaustcenter.org.
At The Museum
In addition to opening the exhibit “A la Memoire des Enfants Deportes” on Jan. 27, the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day by waiving fees on that day. Guests may also participate in a 1 p.m. docent-led tour and hear Holocaust survivors speak about their experiences. Mania Salinger speaks at 11:30 a.m. and George Zeff at 2:30 p.m.
By Suzanne Chessler, Contributing Writer