|A Gift to Biro-Bidjan:
From Despair to New Hope
Abraham S. Weiner (1897-1982)
Milk and Honey
from the portfolio A Gift
to Biro-Bidjan, 1937
|Abraham Weiner was born
in Vinnitza, Ukraine. He earned a degree in architecture from the University
of Michigan in 1922 and later studied under Frederick Victor Poole (1865-1936)
at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He also studied at the studio
of John Norton (1876-1934) and at the New Bauhaus under Alexander Archipenko
(1887-1964). The New Bauhaus, a continuation of the German Bauhaus that
was closed by the Nazis, was founded in Chicago in 1937 by La'szlo' Moholy-Nagy
Weiner’s work was exhibited at Northwestern University in 1931, the Art Institute of Chicago in 1931 and 1934, and Cornell University in 1933. He worked as an architectural draftsman and as a set designer for 20th Century Fox Film Corporation.
Milk and Honey is an improvisation of Grant Wood’s American Gothic. At the annual juried exhibition in Chicago in 1930, American Gothic won the Art Institute purchase prize. Despite controversial debate about Wood’s artistic intentions, American Gothic became one of the most influential works, locally and nationally, and a model for a new realism during the Depression.
Like Wood in American Gothic, Weiner stages an old man and a young woman in a rural environment. His farm landscape, which resembles Wood’s Midwestern scenes, replaces the Carpenter Gothic-style house of American Gothic. Weiner transfers the agricultural tool from the old man to the young woman. In American Gothic, the old man holds the pitchfork; in Milk and Honey, the young woman grasps the rake. The pitchfork and the rake, symbols of farming and rural life, echo in both images. In American Gothic, the lines of the pitchfork repeat in the Gothic window, the woman’s apron and the man’s outfit. In Milk and Honey, Weiner — in a remarkable utilization of woodcut technique — replicates the lines of the rake over the entire composition.
For Weiner, the glorification of rural life focuses on the land of Milk and Honey: the Promised Land, a biblical utopia of peace and harmony. Weiner transfers the rake to the woman to signify labor equality in the new world order. Photos of women pioneers driving tractors in Biro-Bidjan illustrated this progressive trend. The Biro-Bidjan project, where rural life and socialism blended with ethnic identity, replaced the visionary role of the Holy Land.