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 Morris Topchevsky  (1899 - 1947)

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Lived/Active: Illinois / Mexico/Poland/Russian Federation      Known for: expressionist easel painting, political theme murals

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Ad Code: 4
Morris Topchevsky
from Auction House Records.
View of Oakwood and Langley
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following, submitted October 2005,is from William Asher and is verifed by Bessie Topchevsky Asher, sister of the artist.

Morris Topchevsky was born in 1899 in Russia.  He died in Chicago in 1947 from an illness contracted in Mexico.  Morris began as an expressionist and traveled to Mexico in 1923.  There he met and studied with Diego Rivera at the San Carlos Academy of Mexico City until the 1930's.

He served as a lecturer for the American Cultural Relations Committee to Latin America. Returning to Chicago he became a WPA artist and a resident Chicago Hull House artist under the direction of Jane Addams.  He is credited with painting the WPA mural Development of Man at the Abraham Lincoln Center in Chicago and WPA murals in other Chicago area public buildings.

Morris worked in water color, oils and engravings. Many of his works are not signed.  He usually signed his work in pencil 'Morris Topchevsky'.

Biography from Williams American Art Galleries:
Morris Topchevsky was born in Bialistock, Russia in 1899.  He and his parents emigrated in 1910 to America to escape the oppressive culture that they had faced at home; a problem owing to their Jewish heritage.  The social injustices that Topchevsky experienced as a child (four of his siblings perished in the Bialistock pogroms of 1905) would have a profound impact on him his entire life.  He would come to see it as his calling to not only use his art to enlighten people to the inequalities going on around them, but to also teach others art, thereby “transmitting to them his passion and belief in art as a way to change the world.”

Topchevsky and his family had settled in Chicago upon arrival, and he began studying art the Hull-House with Enella Benedict and at the Art Institute, working with Albert Krehbiel.  The budding artist chose to next enroll in art school at the San Carlos Academy in Mexico City, and in 1924 he took his first of many trips to Mexico.  That same year the Mexican president Alvaro Obregón, decided that public works of art could play an important role in restoring a nationhood tattered by previous civil war.  This decision would prove crucial to Topchevsky’s art education. He attended school at San Carlos for the next two years, all the while soaking in the electric atmosphere that was crackling around him.

He admired Mexican artists’ revolutionary public art, and consequently painters such as Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco heavily influenced his work.  While in Mexico he visited poor neighborhoods and met with local leaders in order to better understand how and why Mexican muralists were able to so adeptly incorporate social messages into their monumental works, and in doing push their issues to the forefront of people’s minds.  He often met with Rivera during his visits in the 1920s and 30s, and there is a great likely hood that he also met Leon Trotsky, who was living with Rivera outside of Mexico City at the time.  Topchevsky most certainly moved in the same circles as Trotsky, Rivera, Frida Kahlo, James Cannon, Tina Modotti and others who were involved in the volatile happenings of the place that was Mexico City at that time.

Topchevsky was in possession of a stack containing thirty or so photographs taken by the above-mentioned Italian artist Tina Modotti. Modotti, a former silent film actress, had developed into a leftist photographer who herself had been drawn to the Mexican capitol’s bohemian scene in the 1920s. In 1925, while Topchevsky was in Mexico City, the noted Hull-House reformer, Jane Addams visited with him. Addams was in Mexico to view social conditions and to meet with the President of Mexico, members of the government and social and business leaders in order to discuss and advise on reforms.

After Topchevsky’s return to Chicago, he joined the radical Artists’ Union and served as the secretary of the Chicago branch of the American Artists Congress, a left wing political group.  He became a resident artist at the Hull-House under Jane Addams in 1926, and in 1931 taught two semesters at Alexander Meiklejohn’s Experimental College (an innovative two-year program offered at the University of Wisconsin.)  After another trip to Mexico in 1932, Topchevsky became a permanent fixture at the Abraham Lincoln Center in Chicago as a resident art instructor.  It was there that he felt that he was having the most impact.  The Center gave him an arena in which to teach art to a mostly African American and underprivileged audience and reaffirm his own commitment to the issues to which he was so fervently devoted.  He aspired to create work that would “be a means of helping the revolutionary movement of this country and the liberation of the working masses of the entire world.”

During the mid 1930s Topchevsky completed numerous works under the country’s Works Progress Administration (no doubt spurred on by his experience with Mexican murals); one of which was The Development of Man at his beloved Lincoln Center in Chicago.  He also completed several other works at schools and universities around Chicago, and in 1937, authored the book American Today.  By the early 1940s he had spent time in residence with the Taller de Gráfica Popular on several occasions.  The Taller was the first self-supporting art workshop in Mexico and was located in Mexico City.  His links to the Mexican muralist movement ran deep, and it is evident in his murals and even more so in his lectures and teachings.

Morris Topchevsky died in 1947 while living in Chicago.

San Carlos Academy, Mexico City, 1924-1926
Art Institute of Chicago with Albert H. Krehbiel
Hull House, Chicago with Enella Benedict and Jane Addams

Art League, Chicago
American Artists Congress (secretary of Chicago branch)
Chicago Artists’ Union, president 1940
Chicago Society of Artists, since 1928
Illinois Academy of the Fine Arts John Reed Club, Chicago (founding member and illustrator of their first publication

Goodman Prize, 1921

American Today, 1937

Hull-House, resident artist under Jane Addams (1926-)
University of Wisconsin, 1931
Abraham Lincoln Center, Chicago, art director, (1932-)

Art Institute of Chicago, 1923-46 (14 times)
National Academy of Design, 1942
Chicago Artists Group Gallery, 1936-40
Increase Robinson’s Gallery, Chicago
State History Museum, Madison, Wisconsin
Ministry of Education, Mexico City
Committee for Latin American Cultural Relations, New York
Delphic Studios, New York, 1935
New Jersey State Museum, 1936
Riverside Museum, 1939
New York World’s Fair, 1939
Stevens Hotel, “Autumn Exhibition,” Chicago, 1928 (Chicago Society of Artists only)
Renaissance Society of the University of Chicago
Witte Museum, San Antonio, Texas
A number of galleries in Mexico City

University of Michigan Museum of Art
Abraham Lincoln Center, Chicago, “The Development of Man” (WPA mural)
Holmes School, Oak Park, Illinois, “North American Children Working,” (WPA mural)
several other WPA works ca. 1935 in and around Chicago area
Municipal Art League of Chicago, 1923 (prize), 1924 (prize)
Dr. Moises Saenz collection
Hubert Herring collection
The Richmond Museum
Mexican Ministry of Education

Bulliet, Artists of Chicago
Kennedy (ed.), Chicago Modern 1893-1945: Pursuit of the New
Sparks, A Biographical Dictionary of Painters & Sculptors in Illinois 1808-1945
Creps (ed.), Biographical Encyclopedia of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers of the U. S.
Opitz (ed.), Mantle Fielding’s Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers
Mallett, Index of Artists, International-Biographical
Falk (ed.), Who Was Who in American Art 1564-1975
Falk (ed.), The Annual Exhibition Record of the Art Institute of Chicago
Dawdy, Artists of the American West: A Biographical Dictionary
Yochim, Role and Impact: The Chicago Society of Artists
Becker, Art for the People: The Rediscovery & Preservation of Progressive & WPA Era Murals in the Chicago Public Schools, 1904-1943 U. S. General Services Administration, WPA Artwork in Non-Federal Repositories Ganz and Strobel (eds.), Pots of Promise Mexicans and Pottery at Hull-House, 1920-1940
Harpez, A Gift to Giro-Bidjan: Chicago 1937, From Despair to New Hope
Mullen, Popular Fronts Chicago and African-American Cultural Politics, 1935-1946
Sokol, Engaging with the Present, The Contribution of the American Jewish Club to Modern Art in Chicago, 1928-2004
Park, Mural Painters
Jacobsen, Art of Today: Chicago
Universal & Excelcior magazines of Mexico City
The Chicago Evening Post, The Chicago Daily News & Survey Graphic

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