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

Edward Millman (1907-1964)


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



Preface and Acknowledments
The Biro-Bidjan Project
Biro-Bidjan and American Support
The Woodcut as a Social 
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


Born in Chicago, Edward Millman attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and later became the chief illustrator for the Chicago Evening American. Attracted by the murals of Mexican artist Diego Rivera, he traveled to Mexico to enrich his art education. 

Millman became one of the most productive WPA muralists in Illinois during the Depression. He painted Early Pioneers, Social Consciousness, and Growth of Democracy in Illinois for the Decatur post office; Manufacture of Plowshares in Moline for the Moline post office; Blessing of Water for the Chicago Bureau of Water (located in City Hall); and The Contribution of Women to American Progress for Chicago’s Lucy Flower Technical High School. His works are included in the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

While Millman’s public murals of the late 1930s are complex compositions of epic and allegorical motifs that were inspired by the Mexican muralists, Shoemaker is a more reserved and restrained image. 

The same year A Gift to Biro-Bidjan was produced, Millman worked on the murals for the Moline post office and the Chicago Bureau of Water. The Manufacture of Plowshares in Moline depicts laborers like in Shoemaker, but it is a more dramatic and dynamic scene where workers and machines almost struggle with each other. Blessing of Water is an allegorical poem of human survival. Like A Gift to Biro-Bidjan, it deals with despair and hope — on one side, the humans suffer because of drought; on the other side, the discovery of water leads to a celebration of life. 

Millman applies different approaches in Shoemaker by considering the unique medium of the small-format graphic. The shoemaker is portrayed like a skilled worker of the “old country.” The woman in the background appears as a black silhouette, creating a somber atmosphere. 

In this woodcut, Millman applies symbolism as he does in his murals, but in a more condensed manner: the pairs of shoes represent the eternal “wanderer.” Vincent Van Gogh painted worn shoes as a metaphor for the endless wanderings of the vagabond seeking, in vain, for a haven of rest. This is analogous to the “Wanderer” who carries a sack on his back in the woodcuts of Munch, Topchevsky and Bohrod.

The symbolic meaning of the “shoes” is linked to the overall concept of A Gift to Biro-Bidjan by repeating the continuous desire of Jews to find the path to a final, peaceful destination.

Edward Millman (1907-1964), Blessing of the Water (detail), 1937, Mural, Bureau of Water, Chicago.