Arthur Szyk (1894-1951), pronounced shick, was a Polish-Jewish illustrator who single-handedly revived the medieval art of manuscript illumination. Many of us are familiar with Szyk because of his famous haggadah, but during WWII he was known for his scathing anti-Nazi cartoons which graced the pages of many magazine covers, including Time, Esquire and Collier’s. Named “Roosevelt’s soldier with a pen,” he left Poland in 1937 and settled in the U.S. three years later. But everything changed after he was named as a suspected communist by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. With the artist’s contracts and commissions canceled and his reputation ruined, the devastated Szyk, who had devoted his life to pro-American activities, died five months later of a heart attack. Following his death in 1951, the once famous artist faded into obscurity. Fast forward to 1987, when George Gooche, a non-Jewish man from Placentia, found six Szyk lithographs in a tiny stamp shop in Orange. Thus began a years-long adventure into learning all he could about the artist, and the 1991 founding of The Arthur Szyk Society, established “to disseminate the artist’s work and ideals.” Gooche and four other local senior citizens began to collect everything they could, eventually acquiring Szyk’s personal archives, more than 120,000 prints, and the unpublished memoirs of his wife, Julia. In 1997, Rabbi Irvin Ungar assumed responsibility for the Society and moved its headquarters to Burlingame in Northern California, where he continued the work Gooche had begun, increasing Szyk’s visibility over a 20-year period through lectures, newsletters, art history papers, and exhibitions. Today, the Arthur Szyk collection and archives have a permanent home at the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at the University of California, Berkeley. For this, we owe much gratitude to the diligent work of one non-Jewish Orange County man and his goal to renew and preserve Arthur Szyk’s memory.
Dalia Taft, archivist of the Orange County Jewish Historical Society, highlights images from the archives every month. For more information, please visit www.jewishoc.org/history. You can also contact Dalia at firstname.lastname@example.org or at
(949) 435-3484, ext. 167. The Orange County Jewish Historical Society is a program of Jewish Federation & Family Services and is fully funded by the Jewish Community Foundation of Orange County.