The Minsker and the Sea

On Christmas Eve 1900 New York was full of colorful lights and one could smell gingerbread and candies. The new century was at the door. For the Bogdanov family that came to the USA from Minsk together with other immigrants, it was definitely the beginning of a new life.

Nastassia Kostukovich

Across the ocean

A 13-year old Jewish boy Abram was travelling to the USA shores together with his family (a father, a mother and three children). He was very impressed by this voyage. Huge waves overboard playing with the wind and the cliffs on the shores of the New World. The family of a rabbi descendant left Minsk and went far away from Russia to the country of freedom and greater possibilities because of anti-Semitism and Jewish riots. Due to this great travel the world was granted one of the most famous American artists of the XXth century – Abraham Bogdanove. He was born in the center of Europe, but his works are mainly devoted to the Atlantic Ocean. In Minsk, Menachem Mendel who was the head of the Bogdanov family used to be an honored rabbi. When he came to the USA he was over 40. At that time it was a considerable age. For supporting his family he decided to work as a cabinet maker. Getting a bit ahead of the story, we’d like to mention that Menachem had lived a long and happy life and witnessed his son’s success. Abram’s parents invested all their money into their children’s education. After finishing school, Abram (or Abraham like the Americans used to call him) who was the oldest son went to the Columbia University School of Architecture. He was helping his family in covering expenses for his education. In free time he was drawing advertisements for one of the American magazines. Abram was a talented and hardworking student. He was given awards in many national artistic exhibitions of the young artists.

The Sea Pearl

In 1911, the 23-year-old Bogdanove was commissioned to paint a mural of “Diana in the Bath” for the Fleischman Baths in central New York. The artist finished the mural on time, but Fleischman didn’t pay him 90$ as he had promised. Instead he offered bath tickets in lieu of payment. According to Fleischman, Bogdanove’s Diana was not beautiful enough as the artist spent more time looking at scantily clad women than he did painting. Bogdanove took Fleischman to court and won the case, being paid $75.

Despite of this incident this mural became the turning point in Bogdanove’s career. Abraham Bogdanove made history as one of the most famous mural artists. In 1912 Bogdanove received his second mural commission from the Hebrew Sheltering and Guardian Society in Pleasantville, New York. Murals “The Great Teachers”, painted for the College of the City of New York in 1930 became the climax of his work.

In summer 1920 Bogdanove married a Romanian immigrant Pearl Weinstein. Soon they became parents of two sons Nathan and Emmanuel. Nathan became the vice-president of a huge bank and Emmanuel became a brilliant thyroid specialist. Bogdanove’s wife whose name means ‘sea pearl’ was her husband’s spiritual companion throughout his life. She was his assistant and conducted all his affairs. Pearl was fond of making jewelry and just as her husband she worshiped the sea.

A desert island

Atlantic Ocean and the mount island Monhegan not far away from Maine became Bogdanove’s source of force and inspiration. Nowadays, Abraham Bogdanove is considered an American art classicist of the second part of the XXth century. People know him mostly for the seascape he painted as well as for the pictures of the sea waters crashing against the rocks of Monhegan, where Bogdanove first came in summer 1918. He used to paint the sharp rocks of the cliffs, huge waves, cold wind and fishermen’s huts of this almost desert island. Bogdanove was not the first artist to paint the beauty of Monhegan. But he was the very first artist who managed to see the beauty of the island’s grey winds and cold offshore waves. From the beginning of 1918 and until his death the seascapes and the views of Monhegan were the main themes of Bogdanove’s work. That is why the name of the 120-page edition with more than 50 reproductions of his paintings “The Painter of Maine” is not an accident.

The Sea Magnet

Monhegan was the love at first sight. Bogdanove wrote: “There’s a magnetic force in these rocks here, I believe, which brings us back again and again.” In 1920 he bought a house rising on one of the rocky hills. If the unstable weather permitted, Abraham would take his easel and paints, fill the pipe up and go painting near the sea for the whole day.

“There is a number of reasons why I prefer Monhegan to all other places on the Atlantic coast,” said Bogdanove. “The cliffs are so bold and precipitous and the studies offered by the island shore so inexhaustible. The climate suits me. Perhaps [it is] because it is more like that of Russia, where my ancestors lived.”

In 1942 when the artist got retired he moved to a small town of Dumbarton near Manchester. He died there in 1946, far away from his beloved tidal bore and offshore cliffs. Pearl Bogdanova lived 30 years longer than her husband. According to Pearl’s will her body was cremated and her ashes were scattered on the sea near the shores of Monhegan island.

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