A Gift to Biro-Bidjan: Chicago, 1937
From Despair to New Hope

Todros Geller (1889-1949)

Raisins and Almonds

from the portfolio A Gift to Biro-Bidjan, 1937
Woodcut, 10 x 7 7/8 in.
Oakton Community College
Gift of Karol Verson
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

Preface and Acknowledments
Introduction
The Biro-Bidjan Project
Biro-Bidjan and American Support
The Woodcut as a Social 
Communicator
The Title Page
Alex Topchevsky
William Jacobs
Aaron Bohrod
David Bekker
Louis Weiner
Mitchell Siporin
Edward Millman
Fritzi Brod
Bernece Berkman
Moris Topchevsky
Abraham Weiner
Raymond Katz
Todros Geller
Ceil Rosenberg
 

 


A native of Vinnitza, Ukraine, Todros Geller immigrated to Canada in 1906 and moved to Chicago in 1918. He studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and became a leading artist among the city’s art community. Known as the “dean” of Chicago’s Jewish artists, he was as a mentor and a source of inspiration to others, including Aaron Bohrod and Mitchell Siporin.

Geller was a master printmaker who published several books of his graphics. For three consecutive years, he received awards for his woodcuts at the Annual Library of Congress National Print Exhibitions. He taught art at the Jewish People’s Institute in Chicago (1920–27), and conducted classes in his studio. Many prominent Chicago artists studied drawing and painting under Geller.

Geller’s works were included in various exhibitions, and they are in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Like David Bekker’s Bronx Express, which was based on a Yiddish play, Geller’s Raisins and Almonds was inspired by a Yiddish poem of the same title. The founder of the modern Yiddish theatre, Abraham Goldfaden, wrote the poem in 1880 as part of his operetta Shulamis, which features a mothers singing a lullaby to her son. The poem is an allegory of the Jewish people’s longing to return to their homeland:

Under Baby’s cradle in the night
Stands a goat so soft and snowy white
The Goat will go to the market
To bring you wonderful treats
He’ll bring you raisins and almonds
Sleep, my little one, sleep.

In Eastern Europe, goats were an important staple of Jewish life, believed to be endowed with mystical qualities. The goat became an insignia or dominant symbol in Geller’s artistic vocabulary. On the cover of his book From Land to Land (1937), he positioned the goat on the shore of Lake Michigan with Chicago’s skyline as a backdrop. Raisins and Almonds is also included in this book published by L.M. Stein.

In Raisins and Almonds, Geller draws a circle of life starting with the scene of Goldfaden’s lullaby, where the mother and the goat surround the cradle. In the second scene, the boy is studying in a way traditional to Jewish towns in Eastern Europe. Then, the grown-up man is wandering into the real world with a sack carried on his back, passing an open market. Continuing his journey, he works as a tailor to earn money to immigrate to the New World. 

The scene of the elevated train and the smokestacks marks his arrival in Chicago. From this point, the episodes turn political and current: unemployed workers demonstrate with banners and flags in their hands. The last dream-like scene in the cycle repeats the theme of “new hope” in the title page of the portfolio: a man stands in an illuminated space looking up and grasping a newly planted tree.

Todros Geller, Title Page (Detail), 1937, Woodcut, from the book From Land to Land.