Genius is ever a mystery to us. It requires neither particular time nor environment nor opportunity for development. It is an urge that is greater than human strivings. The genius of Louis Rosenthal, our own sculptor, is an example of this strange phenomenon. Born in the little town of Plugnyan in Lithuania where no one would dream of looking for an artist, he received his most vivid impressions as a child and youth. There were no opportunities for art training other than nature's fields, the town reservoir, the hills, the homely Lithuanian agricultural life and the Jewish life centered about the synagogue and the Yeshivah. Yet the genius of Louis Rosenthal found art in all of these and when he came to Baltimore he had already translated that art into several meritorious pieces of sculpture that won for him a scholarship at the Reinhart School of Sculpture of the Maryland Institute, of which Ephraim Keyser was the director. Yet the old adage of a prophet being without honor in his own home town was true as far as Rosenthal was concerned and for twenty years his life was one of struggle and striving for recognition. Twenty years of work, of disappointment but never of discouragement. Then came the rewards. The Royal Society of Miniature Painters, Sculptors and Gravers of England paid Rosenthal a signal honor by changing its charter to admit him to membership. The President of the Society, Alyn Williams, paid him a personal visit to properly appreciate the greatest miniature sculptor of our day. Several of Rosenthal's miniatures have been selected by the Metropolitian Museum of Art and various art journals have published monographs of his life and his work. Genius has come into its own. Baltimore, too, has now come to realize and appreciate Rosenthal's greatness. Recently collections of his work were acquired by Jacob Epstein and A. Ray Katz. Increasingly Baltimoreans will want Rosenthal's miniatures not because of his residence with us but because of their great artistic value. - (reprinted from the archives of Louis Rosenthal)
A short and entertaining biography of Louis Rosenthal can be read here:
Excerpts from the archives of Louis Rosenthal's son, Bernard, and his daughter, Michal Begun is printed below:
"Japan had dropped bombs on Pearl Harbor without warning, drawing us into the war. Germany was bombing England and pouring his troops into Russia. At home the skirmishing continued between my mother and father. War everywhere. The country switched over from producing cars to tanks and airplanes. The depression ended for most famillies, but not ours". - Bernard Rosenthal
"It was also around this time that she (mother) began sending me to the little grocery store a few blocks away. Mike and Elaine had been going, but now both refused to go. It wasn't long before I refused to go. I would come home from school and find her sitting in the kitchen crying. She would put her arms around my neck and say that she did not know where our next meal was coming from. I would have to go to the store and charge it, or we would have no dinner.... we would all starve to death. At times I would come home from school and find a note telling me to go to the store; and either to charge the order, or that Ezra has the money. How nice it was when I saw the words Ezra has the money." - Bernard Rosenthal
"Ezra was one of my father's larger works; about a foot high. He was the priest and scribe who led the people back from Babylon to Jerusalem in 539 B.C. to rebuild the temple; bringing with him silver and gold and wheat and wine. In 1934, in our apartment, his sitting form was heavy, cast in bronze. We kept him on the floor, used him mostly as a door stop, and a place to hide things. In 539 he worried all the way to Jerusalem that he would be robbed of the five thousand gold and silver items he and the people with him were carrying. In 1934, I would tilt him to one side, pick up 75 cents or perhaps 1.25, pat him on the head, thank him, and head for the store." - Bernard Rosenthal wrote this several years before his death in 2000. In 1934 he would have been 9 years old.
"On the street my father was always talking to someone, meeting friends everywhere. He would pull a miniature from his pocket and talk about mythology or stories from the Bible, or whatever he was trying to express in the work. His friends would smile at me and say, "Did you know that your father was an artist who carries a museum in his pocket?" - Bernard Rosenthal
"By ten years old, glossy photos of naked women began to turn up at school. The forbidden sight of the female form is the topic of conversation among the boys. Little pamphlets of Popeye and Olive Oyl and Maggie and Jiggs cartoons showing every conceivable sexual position began to circulate at school. Do our mothers and fathers really do that? The kids would draw and pass around pictures of naked women. At night, after dinner, I would watch my father working at the kitchen table, as long as I did not make a sound and disturb him. With a small lit candle, penknife, and black wax he would model naked women. Openly. What the boys would hide from the teachers and most of the girls, he would do, out in the open for all the world to see". - Bernard Rosenthal
1920's: A little speculative fiction from me:
Inside a small Baltimore City apartment, as Beethoven played on the record player, a man of about 30 sat at his wooden table which was covered with newspaper and patiently carved miniature sculptures in wax with a simple penknife. Only furniture that served a purpose was permitted to share his living space – a chair to sit on, a table to work at, proper lighting, maybe a sofa.
With his elbows leaning upon the newspaper covered table and black wax covering his fingers, he held a blob of wax between two fingers in his left hand. With his penknife in his other hand he began to stretch the wax upward. Form, then shape emerged and gradually a feminine figure began to appear. He began to caress the figure with his thoughts. Or maybe logic was not present at all. The record player’s delicate needle barely touched the spinning record – and the space between needle and sound seemed in sync with the man’s intuition between his conscious and unconsciousness and a gentle suggestion emerged so that he began to stretch just one of the wax feminine arms forward, at first presenting distortion then eventually turning it into a flute the young girl held as music filled the room.
Situated in quiet tranquility on top of the newspaper headlines that reflected current events sat petite wax figures bearing mythological, musical, historical and spiritual personas. Each tiny wax life form no more than an inch or two in height, sat in silence, bearing witness to the new birth the man was bringing to creation.
The man’s focal point was the new soul emerging out of the black wax and as such the big stark newspaper headlines with letters that spelled out such words as the War and the Depression that forcibly stared back up at him in silence seemingly demanding a response were just a blur to his eyes as his penknife delicately perfected the mouth and the eyes on the expressive new form. And of course, the music still played.
Just as the music of Beethoven divulged a profound depth, so the man adjusted his focus and looked down upon his newest creation. He noticed that the birth was complete. He put down his penknife. The other little figures continue to bear silent witness to this new expressive little creation who would soon join them.
Solitary, content, the pursuit of his art consumed and comforted him. He glanced over at the record player and noticed the record was still spinning. Then he noticed the sound became audible to his ears. This creative moment paused. And he realized that.
I wonder? Did he know it was no accident that Beethoven’s music played at this time? It was no coincidence. Art finds a way.