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

Aaron Bohrod (1907-1992)

West Side

from the portfolio A Gift to Biro-Bidjan, 1937
Woodcut, 8 x 9 5/8 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

 

Between 1926 and 1930, Chicago-born Aaron Bohrod studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League in New York. Influenced by teacher John Sloan, Bohrod selected themes that involved the immediate world around him. After returning to Chicago in 1930, he painted views of the city and its working class. The artist stated:

I may be in a Pacific Jungle, a European battlefield or a Chicago alley; no matter. What I will paint as a result of exposure to the locale that inspires a given work, will, I hope, first indicate what to a certain extent that place and the activity in it looked like.

As a WPA artist during the Depression, Bohrod painted public murals, including Old State Capitol in the Vandalia, Ill., post office, (1936); Breaking the Prairie – Log City 1887 in the Galesburg, Ill., post office (1939); and Clinton in Winter in the Clinton, Ill., post office (1939).

Bohrod’s name was placed at the head of the artists list inside A Gift to Biro-Bidjan in recognition of his prominence (the other names are in alphabetic order). His works were shown in various exhibitions, and they are now included in the collections of major museums in the United States, such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.

West Side is a typical Depression-era scene by Bohrod. It is parallel to his oil painting Landscape near Chicago (1934) in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, where he uses the debris to create an atmosphere of negligence and despair. In addition to the run-down car in West Side, he displays an old man carrying a bag of belongings on his back, like Topchevsky’s figure in Exodus from Germany. The urban landscape of apartment buildings with wooden porches at the back of the houses and water tanks in the background is typical of Chicago’s West Side.

After the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, Jews moved to the city’s West Side around the Maxwell Street Market business district and near Hull House. Between 1880 and 1900, a new wave of 55,000 Russian and Polish Jews crowded into this area. Yiddish was the language of choice and Yiddish theaters, 40 synagogues and dozens of Hebrew schools were established. The Jewish history of the West Side shares themes of immigration, Yiddish culture and new hope with the Biro-Bidjan portfolio.

The symbolic interpretations of a figure carrying a sack suggest refuge, poverty, wandering, or despair, which correspond to the reality of life in Chicago during the Depression and with other images produced by Bohrod during his participation in the WPA. The selection by the artist of this specific neighborhood in Chicago and the depiction of a burdened figure in A Gift to Biro-Bidjan suggest a Jewish relevance. 

West Side urban landscape at Roosevelt Rd. and Karlov Ave. in Chicago.