Purchased by Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr., New York, 1988
Gift to Akron Art Museum, November 7, 1991
2016 - 2018: Haslinger Galleries, 3/30/16 - 5/15/18, Akron Art Museum
2007 - 2013: Haslinger Galleries, 7/7/07 - 10/27/13, Akron Art Museum
2003: "Eyes on the Body: Selections from the Collections" 08/23/03 - 02/28/03, Akron Art Museum
1997 - 1998: "A 75th Anniversary Celebration of the Collection" 11/15/97 - 1/11/98, Akron Art Museum
1996: "Akron's Own Rings: Five Passions in World Art" 6/22/96 - 8/11/96, Akron Art Museum
1995: "Imagined and Observed: Representational Paintings and Drawings of the Past Five Decades" 4/29/95 - 10/15/95, Akron Art Museum
1991 - 1992: "Focus on the Collection: A 70th Anniversary Celebration" 11/3/91 - 1/5/92, Akron Art Museum
Signed LR: "M. Zeldis 88."
Collection of the Akron Art Museum
Malcah Zeldis, whose birth name was Mildred Brightman, was raised in Detroit and started painting when she was sixteen. Visits to the Detroit Institute of Arts with her father, an immigrant who was a window washer and Sunday painter, made a profound impression on her. A teenage Zionist, she moved to the new State of Israel in 1949 and changed her name to Malcah, Hebrew for “queen.” In Israel she married, had children, and lived on several collective farms. Returning to the United States in 1958 she painted intermittently until the 1970s, when she was finally able to devote her energies to painting and attaining a degree in early childhood education from Brooklyn College. Her paintings have addressed a wide range of subjects from contemporary life to the Old Testament, from the tragedies of the Holocaust and Hiroshima to the joy of her family’s Passover seder. She has also written poetry and illustrated children’s books.
Malcah Zeldis confounds expectations about self-taught artists or so-called folk painters. Unlike the majority of her peers, she has an advanced education. Moreover, she has shown that an artist may consciously choose to learn about art through books and visits to museums and yet develop a style independent of contemporary art. Zeldis shares a belief widespread among self-trained artists: she believes that she is a conveyor of forces outside herself. “It is as though I am a vessel waiting for the experiences of my life, the lives of others, the meanings of the universe to come suddenly into my being as mysterious visitors telling me about the wonder of their existences.”1
Zeldis’s paintings are distinctive for their vivid, even jarring use of brilliant color, often unmixed and straight from the tube. Simplified outlines, flattened figures, and enormous energy are typical of her works, including Rita, which celebrates the moment in the 1946 film Gilda when Rita Hayworth sings the sultry “Put the Blame on Mame” while stripping off her gloves. The figure is enlarged far out of proportion to her surroundings, denoting that hers is the key role in the film and suggesting the larger-than-life quality of a star from Hollywood’s golden age. The accentuated nose is painted red, which the artist calls the color of “passion and love.”2 In Rita Zeldis conveys a perfect combination of energy, fun, and sexiness.
In an odd way, all of Zeldis’s paintings are autobiographical, for they come from an intense and personal reaction to an event, whether or not the artist actually took part in it. Hayworth was one of Zeldis’s childhood icons, and she remembers being told that she had a “moon face” like Hayworth’s.3 Rita and other characters from Zeldis's paintings such as Miss America and the Statue of Liberty are alter egos for the artist. Like many artists, self-taught or academically trained, Zeldis discovers herself through her work. After completing a painting depicting the biblical Joseph, she commented, “I realized that I was Joseph, the dreamer, and that the coat of many colors is my art.”4
- Mitchell D. Kahan, 2001
1. Letter from Malcah Zeldis to Julia Weissman, April 16, 1973; in curatorial files, Department of Painting and Sculpture, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
2. Telephone conversation with the artist, November 2, 1996.
4. Interview with Julia Weissman, April 14, 1975, New York; transcript, 12, in curatorial files, Department of Painting and Sculpture, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Niemann, Henry Paul. Malcah Zeldis: Her Life and Evolution of Her Work, 1959–1984. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University Microfilms International, 1991.
Rosenak, Chuck, and Jan Rosenak. Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century American Folk Art and Artists. New York: Abbeville, 1990, 44