Sarah Berman was born in the Ukraine, in 1895 as Sarah Ostrowsky. She emigrated to New York when she was a girl. While making a living in sweatshops she taught herself how to paint.
In New York she met and married the Yiddish poet, Levi Berman. They lived in an apartment in the Union Square area.
Because she had almost no formal training in art, her works were considered “primitive” in style, yet they often had a sophisticated quality to them.
In the Joseph Mitchell’s book, Joe Gould’s Secret, she and her art work are described as follows: “Although her paintings were awkward, they were imaginative and they had a hallucinatory quality, and (sic) they had been admired and widely praised by a number of people in the art world. She was a gentle, self-effacing woman, and somewhat other worldly, and (sic) she was maternal but childless.” (1)
Berman’s first one person show was at J.B. Newmann’s New Art Circle in 1932. She exhibited at several New York galleries, especially in the 1940’s. In 1941 New York Times art reviewer, Howard Devree, wrote, “Sarah Berman… is one of the most interesting painters the Artist’s Gallery has yet shown... Her larger oils are in striking contrast with her realistic little water-colors of humble interiors with figures,”(2) an apt description of At the Café. In Devree also commented favorably in 1943: “Classed as a ‘primitive’… she has nevertheless achieved such a degree of sophistication of color and composition… that she may be deemed to have graduated from the implications of the narrower meaning of ‘primitive’.” (3)
In 1960, three years after her death the Graham Gallery produced a Sarah Berman Show. In The New York Times, art critic Dore Ashton said, “She gave her deep attention to flowers, children, lovers, bakers, poets, and birds, and painted them with an artlessness, a directness that is distinctive.” (4)
(1) Mitchell, Joseph, Joe Gould’s Secret, Viking Press, 1965, p. 152-153.
(2) The New York Times, “A Reviewer’s Notebook,” Howard Devree, April 6, 1941.
(3) The New York Times, “From a Reviewer’s Notebook,” Howard Devree, March 14, 1943, p. X8.
(4) The New York Times, “Sarah Berman Show at Graham,” Dore Ashton, April 6, 1960, p. 47.
(5) Smithsonian American Art Museum: http://americanart.si.edu.
Compiled and submitted by Steven Wasser www.americanjewishart.com