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 Mitchell Fields  (1901 - 1966)

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Lived/Active: New York / Israel      Known for: sculpture-figure

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Mitchell Fields
An example of work by Mitchell Fields
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Mitchell Fields (September 28, 1901-October 6, 1966)

He was a Romanian-born American sculptor.  He is known for his life-size statues, as well as for his portrait busts.  Fields’ works belong to the schools of Realism and Social Realism.

Early life:
Mitchell Fields (né Mendel Feldman) was born on September 28, 1901 in a small village near Iasi, Romania; he was the third of five sons of Marku Feldman and Tova Feldman. In 1907 the family immigrated to the United States and made its home in East Harlem (Manhattan), then an immigrant neighborhood.  The parents supported the family by selling vegetables in markets in Manhattan and the Bronx.

Education as an artist:
Fields graduated from Stuyvesant High School, then as now a school whose pupils specialized in the sciences and engineering; early on he showed an interest in drawing and sculpture which was encouraged by his teachers.  After a year at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey,  he decided to pursue a career as a sculptor and enrolled at the National Academy of Design School of Fine Arts in New York and the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design in New York.  The Beaux-Arts Institute aimed to train architects, sculptors and mural painters in accordance with the agenda of the French Ecole des Beaux-Arts.  Its student body consisted mainly of immigrants or first-generation Americans, many of whom came from a working-class background.  Fields studied at Beaux-Arts from 1917 until 1927.

Career in the USA:
On completing his studies Fields began to work as a sculptor; he created in clay and plaster, in marble, and when commissioned to do so, cast his works in bronze.  Fields continued living in New York, where he belonged to an informal circle of predominantly Jewish artists whose work was for the most part representational: Moses Soyer, Raphael Soyer, Ben Shahn, De Hirsch Margulies, James Lechay, Myron Lechay, Joseph Cantor, Saul Berman were among the painters; while after World War II his “circle” included the sculptors Clara Bratt, Chaim Gross and Jacques Lipschitz.

During the early 1930s Fields was active in the John Reed Club, whose aim was to support leftist and Marxist artists and writers.  On occasion Fields produced works with a political message: in 1935 he sculpted a monument to the civilians killed in the February 1934 Vienna Uprising, also known as the Austrian Civil War.  The location of this statue is not known.  There were, in any case, not many commissions to be had during the Great Depression.  As did many artists at the time, Fields worked for the Federal Arts Project of the Work Projects Administration.

During the mid-1930s Fields divided his time between New York and Europe.  The Guggenheim Foundation awarded him a fellowship in 1932 which enabled him to live and work in Paris for two years; subsequently, in 1935 a second Guggenheim Fellowship enabled him to reside and work in Moscow.  During this period statues of his were placed in the Gorky Park of Culture and Rest in Moscow, in the Museum of Modern Western Art in Moscow and in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.

In 1938 Fields, his wife Beatrice (nee Meyers) and their infant son Michael David returned to New York City.  Fields continued creating sculpture until the entrance of the United States to World War II.  Too old to be drafted into the army, he decided to “do his bit” for the war effort by working in a factory which engaged in war production; he operated a lathe on the production line until after the final Allied victory.

In the late 1940s, 1950s and 1960s Fields lived in New York and maintained a studio at 3 Gt. Jones St.  Among other works, he created a larger-than-life-size portrait bust of Albert Einstein which was placed in the Museum of Immigration on Ellis Island.

From time to time Fields taught courses in sculpture at the Arts Students’ League of New York schools in Manhattan and Woodstock, NY, at the National Academy of Design School of Fine Arts in New York, as well as at the University of Iowa (Iowa City).

Career in Israel:
From the late 1950s until his death in 1966 Fields spent long periods of time in Israel, where he had a studio at 16 Da Modena St., Tel Aviv.  During these lengthy stays in Israel he created portraits of personages for public spaces.  These personages included Yehiel De-Nur (Ka-tzetnik), author; Yosef Sprinzak, first Speaker of the Knesset; Chaim Sheba, head of the Medical Corps of the Israel Defense Forces and later director of the Tel Hashomer Hospital, which now bears his name; Member of Knesset Avraham Hertzfeld, as well as works now in private collections.

During this period he created a portrait bust of the great Yiddish author Shalom Aleichem; he also attempted a portrait bust of Anne Frank as she might have looked during the last months of her life in hiding with her family in the “Secret Annex,” based upon available photographs from when she was younger.  Fields sent photographs of the bust to Frank’s father, Otto, who felt that the portrait did not represent his daughter as he remembered her during this period.  His statue Young Woman Holding Bird is in the School of Nursing of the Sheba Hospital at Tel Hashomer.

Fields had friends among Israeli architects, including Robert Bannet, city architect of Tel Aviv, as well as among painters and sculptors.  Agnes Adler and David Adler, sculptors who immigrated from Israel to the United States in 1961, are numbered among the latter. His friendships with Israeli painters and sculptors, as well as his observations of the vibrant artistic scene in late 1950s-early ‘60s Israel are described in the chapter which he composed for Assignment in Israel (1960).

Mitchell Fields passed away after a short illness on October 6, 1966.  He is buried in Kibbutz Hazorea, Israel; his statue Naomi, which twice enabled him to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship, is exhibited at the entrance to the kibbutz’s Wilfred Israel Museum.

Themes and style:
Fields’ sculptural language was representational.  Having been educated in the tradition of Realism, which subscribed to an ideology of objective reality and rejected what its practitioners saw as the exaggerated emotionalism of nineteenth-century Romanticism, he created life-size (and on occasion over-life-size) statues of the human body, both female and male.  Fields depicted women as strong, capable figures, who were simultaneously feminine in a traditional sense.  His portrait busts and bas reliefs were articulated in a non-abstract idiom.  As was the case with many American artists from immigrant families who came of age during the Great Depression, some of his works may be seen as part of the Social Realist movement, one of whose aims was to depict the working class as heroic. Yet despite his left-wing political views, the large majority of his works did not bear a political message.

Even after World War II, when many American artists moved in the direction of Abstract Expressionism, Fields continued to create within the realist canon.  During the early 1950s he began to work in ceramics, producing small tables and household items such as cups and vases.  A short-lived attempt to sell the latter via a small business (Sculpture Products) did not succeed commercially.  His ceramic art work, with its richly toned glazes and whimsical shapes, was his only attempt at adopting a semi-abstract idiom.

Exhibited works:
Birobidjan Museum, Russia
Brooklyn Museum, (one-man show)
Gorki Literary Museum, Moscow
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Museum of Modern Art, NY
Museum of Modern Western Art, Moscow, USSR, (one-man show)
Park of Culture and Rest, Moscow
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
Pushkin Museum, Moscow
Whitney Museum, NY
Wilfred Israel Museum, Hazorea, Israel
World’s Fair, 1939, New York

Portrait busts–partial list:
Sonja Tykhayeva (athlete)
Shalom Aleichem (author)
Yehiel De-Nur“Ka-tzetnik” (author)
Theodore Dreiser (author)
Anne Frank (author)
Romain Roland
Avraham Hertzfeld (Member of Israel Knesset)
Yosef Sprinzak (Member and Speaker of Israel Knesset)
Albert Einstein (scientist)
Chaim Sheba (head of Medical Corps, Israel Defense Forces)
Hank Lifson
Michael Fields

Life-size statues–partial list:
At Rest
Discus Thrower
Lesson of the Austrian Revolt (semi-life-size)
Mother and Child – 2 versions
Mother and Child with Oar
Young Woman Holding a Bird

Prizes and fellowships
1929 - Helen Foster Barnett prize, National Academy of Design
1930 – Widener gold medal, Pennsylvania Academy of Arts
1932 – Guggenheim Fellowship
1935 – Guggenheim Fellowship
1945 – elected Associate Member, National Academy of Design
1949 – Watrous gold medal, National Academy of Design
1951 – Thomas R. Proctor Award, National Academy of Design
1955 – Watrous gold medal, National Academy of Design
1955 – Tiffany Foundation fellowship
1956 – Tiffany Foundation fellowship
1965 – Thomas R. Proctor Award, National Academy of Design

Clark, Eliot. History of the National Academy of Design, 1825-1953. 1954
Davenport, Ray. Ray Davenport's Art Reference:The Gold Edition. 2005
Dunbier, Lonnie Pierson (Editor)The Artists Bluebook 34,000 North American Artists to March 2005. 2005
Falk, Peter Hastings (Editor)Who Was Who in American Art. 1999
Falk, Peter Hastings Annual Exhibition Record, National Academy of Design 1901-1950. 1990
Falk, Peter Hastings (Editor) Annual Exhibition Record, 1914-68, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. 1989
Lozowick, Louis. One Hundred Contemporary American Jewish Painters and Sculptors. 1947
Mallett, Daniel Trowbridge. Index of Artists: International-Biographical. Two Volumes 1935
Mandelbaum, Bernard (Editor). Assignment in Israel. 1960
Opitz, Glenn B. (editor) Dictionary of American Sculptors: 18th Century to Present. 1984
Opitz, Glenn. Dictionary of American Artists. 1982
Who's Who in American Art-1966. 1966
Who Was Who in America. Vol. IV 1961-1968. 1968

Sources: provided by the artist's son.

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