Page 48 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 31

Basic HTML Version

When he was four, the family emigrated to the United States and
settled in a shabby section of Cleveland. He had to stop school
at fourteen. For years he supported himself as a journeyman pho-
tographer, while studying drawing and painting in night classes
at the Cleveland School of Art.
In his old age he received one honorary degree after another.
Amused, yet grateful, he wrote that these honors gave him a
certain pleasure, “when I remember that my formal education
ended before high school and what a mysterious struggle it was
to get that far." He elaborated: “I have never been one to pre-
tend knowledge that I did not possess or to be embarrassed by my
ignorance . . . my knowledge is great in certain areas, yet many
things about people and events that a school child would know
I have never encountered. I am interested in knowledge. But un-
less these things are integrated into my life, I am apt to set them
aside and forget them.”
Shadow and Light: The Life, Friends and Opinions of Maurice
(Harcourt, Brace and World, New York, 1965) owes its
existence to Charlotte Leon Mayerson. She compiled a book by
deciphering the reminiscences the painter had left in an almost
illegible script. She included some of his own letters, as well as
letters from his friends, interviews the artist had given to the
press, and reviews of his shows. There are three prefaces: by Miss
Mayerson; by Hiram Haydn, senior editor of Harcourt, Brace
and World, and by the painter George Biddle, who was on in-
timate terms with his colleague Sterne.
Maurice spent his childhood in the port city of Libau, Latvia.
While there was much reading and especially music-making in
the family, there was no tolerance for the graphic arts: “Religious
Jews took very seriously the biblical injunction against graven
images and I was punished badly one day by the rabbi of my
school for drawing his picture on the ground with a stick.”
The road of the Stern family—as the name was spelled original-
ly—led through Vilna and Moscow to the United States where
they arrived in 1889. Maurice was then eleven. He went to school,
but only for a few years. He yearned to be a painter and, in order
to get an education in the arts, he had to work in a saloon to
support himself. His salary was a dollar and a half a night: “I
also was given a place to sleep since my hours were from six to
eight A.M. and from eight P.M. to midnight.”