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William Zorach

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William Zorach
American, born Lithuania
(Jurbakas, Lithuania, 1887 - 1966, Bath, Maine)

William Zorach was born Zorach Samovich in Eurberich, Lithuania. (1) To avoid persecution of the Jews, Zorach’s father and oldest brother fled to America in 1892. William, five siblings, and his mother followed the next year, living first in Port Clinton, Ohio, and after 1896 in Cleveland. Zorach quit school circa 1902 to help support the family, working as an apprentice with a lithography firm. He also studied drawing and painting in night classes at the Cleveland School of Art from 1905 to 1908. From 1908 to 1910 he studied in New York City at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League. He sailed for Europe, arriving in Cherbourg in December 1910, traveling to Munich, and settling in Paris, where he studied in a small school of modern art called La Palette and met Marguerite Thompson, a Californian. She introduced him to vanguard artists in Paris. In December 1912 they were married in New York City, and Zorach changed his name, as well as his birth date (from 1889 to 1887). Thereafter, they lived in New York City for half of each year, spending the summers in various artist colonies, mostly in New England. They had a son, Tessim, and a daughter, Dahlov. Zorach taught sculpture at the Art Students League from 1929 to 1959. His work is in more than one hundred museums internationally. The Zorachs were integral parts of avant-garde artist communities in Paris, New York, and New England. Both exhibited in the Armory Show in 1913. William’s pictorial works evidence his interest in cubism, fauvism, expressionism, and primitivism. In 1917 he carved his first sculpture in wood and in 1921 his first in stone. By 1922 he was primarily making sculpture but he continued to paint watercolors and draw throughout his life. Like Robert Laurent, Chaim Gross, and other vanguard artists of the day, Zorach carved directly into wood and stone without preliminary models made in clay or plaster and without assistants. This “direct carving” technique appealed to early twentieth-century modernist sculptors for its immediacy and independence from foundries and artisans. Unlike Laurent, Gross, and others, Zorach preferred granite and other hard stones to wood and soft stones. In the 1920s he published several essays advocating “direct involvement of the artist in the entire process of creating sculpture, the abstraction of forms, and the importance of the spiritual content of children’s, tribal, and folk art.” (2) Over the course of his career he created 230 sculptures by direct carving. (3)

(1) Robert K. Tarbell, “William Zorach” in John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography (New York: Oxford University Press), vol. 22, pp. 256-57 is the primary source for this biographical essay. (2) Tarbell, 256. (3) Tarbell, 256.

Michael Panhorst.7.2009

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