Louise Nevelson (September 23, 1899 – April 17, 1988) — perhaps the foremost sculptor of the twentieth century — was both a student and teacher at the Educational Alliance Art School. Born in the Ukraine, as a young child Nevelson immigrated with her family to Maine as they sought to escape the virulent anti-semitism common in czarist Russia. Rockland, Maine might not have been czarist Russia, but as Jews, Nevelson’s family was very much one of outsiders and soon after high school she married and made her escape to New York.
She was an accomplished artist before the Alliance, having studied painting and drawing at the Art Students League as well as with some of the era’s most famous artists in New York and Europe, and then working as an assistant to Diego Rivera. But she began to deeply delve into the discipline she would become most famous for when she came to study sculpture with Chaim Gross at the Art School in 1934.
Nevelson is arguably best known for her wooden sculptures — found objects she fashioned together and then spray painted, often in monochrome black.
There are many places in New York to see examples of Nevelson’s work. The Louise Nevelson Plaza is but one example. Located in the financial district where Maiden Lane and Liberty Street meet near William Street, it was the first public space in the City to be named after an artist.
It’s easy to imagine Nevelson remembering the art school’s large and bright windows on the fifth floor when she said, “When I look at the city from my point of view, I see New York City as a great big sculpture” (in Louise Nevelson, Dawns + Dusks, Conversations with Diana MacKown).
Would Louise Nevelson see a sculpture from the basement of 197 East Broadway? What would she think of the Educational Alliance’s renovation plans?