Traces of Woody Guthrie in New York City

Lawrence Downes, a writer for The New York Times, recently took a trip to locations around the city where Woody Guthrie spent half his life: New York. Downes was guided by two grandchildren of the great folk singer, Anna Canoni and her brother Cole Rotante, and wrote an entertaining article about the experience.

On a related note, “My Name is New York” is the name of a recently published guide book (in paperback and audio format) to the city written by Guthrie’s daughter, Nora Guthrie. The book follows the traces of Guthrie’s movements and residences around the city – click here to get your copy today.

Guthrie was living in a community of like-minded artists and musicians in New York around 1943 when he first applied to the Rosenwald Fund for assistance writing a book. During his Rosenwald grant period, Guthrie worked on several projects, the most prominent of which, entitled House of Earth, was finally published last year.

You can read more about Guthrie landmarks in the Big Apple in the online version of the New York Times article, which also includes a video of Canoni and Rotante exploring some of the locations in New York inhabited by their famous grandfather.

Cosby collection show opening at Smithsonian in November

The Washington Post reports that the William H. and Camille O. Cosby collection, which contains masterpieces by many great African and African American artists, will have a rare exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum of African Art starting in November of this year. In keeping with Camille Cosby’s statement on the importance of “[showing] people that African American artists have been working for a long time,” the collection has many works from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries by artists of color. 20th century pieces in the collection include works by Rosenwald Fund-supported artists like Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, Eldzier Cortor and Augusta Savage.

Don’t miss this chance to see the Cosby collection in person. Read more about the show at The Washington Post.

New interviews for The Rosenwald Schools: September 16, 2014

First we filmed an interview with Steven Nasatir, the longtime president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, an organization whose first president was Julius Rosenwald. Nasatir recounted how Rosenwald became president of the new organization in 1923, after he engineered the merger of the Associated Jewish Charities, primarily composed of German Jews, and the Orthodox Federated Charities, primarily composed of Eastern European Jews. Rosenwald took at as his mission to unite these two charitable organizations into one large federation, a combination that resulted in greater efficiency and potency for both.

Steven Nasatir and Aviva Kempner
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, September, 2014

Nasatir helped reveal the roots of J.R.’s philanthropy, which came out of his Jewish faith, and the roots of his famous motto:

J.R.’s motto of “Give while you live” was in some ways an English way of talking about tzedakah, which is righteous action. In the Jewish tradition, we don’t talk about “charity,” we talk about “righteous action.” J.R.’s whole life was being a righteous man and [working] on repairing the world, this notion of tikkun olam.

In the Jewish faith, tzedakah is a form of obligatory charity. Rosenwald felt that it was his responsibility to promote justice through philanthropy, not only to give to the less fortunate, but to give in such a way that they would be able to help themselves. Rosenwald’s challenge grants to African American communities in the South are the greatest example of tikkun olam, or repairing the world. By giving a portion of the funds needed to build a rural schoolhouse, he created a scenario where reluctant counties and their underserved African American residents both contributed to the improvement of educational opportunities.

Next we talked to David R. Mosena, the president of the Museum of Science and Industry. MSI is a great museum that received virtually all of its initial funding from Julius Rosenwald before it opened in 1933. Unfortunately, Rosenwald died in 1932, and never saw the completed museum. Since then, however, hundreds of thousands of visitors to the museum have been inspired by its exhibits. Rosenwald’s vision of the museum as a hands-on showcase for America’s industrial technology has survived to this day. Mosena explained the way the concept for the Museum of Science and Industry was developed by J.R. and his son, William.

[The museum] came about when Julius Rosenwald took his son to Munich around 1911. The two of them spent quite a bit of time at the Deutsches Museum, which is in Munich. It was then and is still one of the grandest industrial museums in the world, and his son fell in love with that museum. They had never seen a museum that was interactive before, where people got to push levers and turn knobs and do things.

So Julius Rosenwald came back to Chicago and decided that he would take on the task of trying to [create] a museum like the one he and his son discovered in Munich, a museum that was very hands-on, that showcased what he called America’s inventive genius and demonstrated America’s growing prowess in science and technology.

David R. Mosena, president and CEO of the Museum of Science and Industry
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, September, 2014

After shooting some retakes and a short interview with Peter Ascoli (the grandson and biographer of Julius Rosenwald and one of our primary interviewees) we also interviewed Bill Buckner, a man who attended an Arkansas Rosenwald School. As a child, Mr. Buckner voiced the question that was on the minds of many children who attended a school supported by Rosenwald and saw the portrait of him that often graced one of the walls in these schools.

Once while walking down the hall I saw three pictures above a door in the hall. And I asked the principal about who they were. And there was Booker T. Washington. W.E.B. Du Bois, and Julius Rosenwald. And I wanted to know, why was a white man’s picture in our school? And he said he was our benefactor and that he built the school and that when it burned down he rebuilt it.

Seeing Rosenwald’s picture prompted Mr. Buckner to learn more about the school’s benefactor. He was especially inspired by the way the Rosenwald Fund responded after the school burned to the ground – probably the result of arson, an all too common form of backlash against African American schoolhouses during the Jim Crow era. Undeterred, the Rosenwald Fund and community members rebuilt their school. It was actually this “second” Rosenwald School that Mr. Buckner attended as a child.

Bill Buckner with Peter Ascoli
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, September, 2014

Thanks as always to our great interviewees.

Art installation inspired by Jacob Lawrence is on display in Washington D.C.

Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, a monumental work of 60 paintings that depicts scenes from the early 20th century migration of African Americans away from the Jim Crow South, was made possible through support from the Rosenwald Fund in the early 1940s. The stoic figures and powerful compositions in Jacob Lawrence’s panels have inspired a New York-born artist to capture what she terms “The New Migration” of African Americans, who are compelled by gentrification and urban renewal to return to their roots in the South. The installation is part of 5×5, an annual project supported by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

During a 10-day trip from Washington D.C. to Florida, Abigail Deville collected ephemera, debris, stories and photographs, which are now on display in a storefront gallery in Southeast Washington D.C. Deville followed historical rail routes used by the migrants depicted in Lawrence’s work to collect the materials, which she has transformed into a collage installed at a gallery in a gentrifying area of the nation’s capital.

Click here to read more about the artwork in Deville’s artistic statement. You can view Deville’s Instagram account, which contains photos documenting her trip, here.

TCM showcases “The Jewish Experience on Film”

Every Tuesday in the month of September, the cable TV network Turner Classic Movies has been playing films with Jewish themes starting at 8 PM.

The series began on September 2nd, with Jewish-themed classics like The Jazz Singer and Hester Street. Last Tuesday, September 9th, TCM tackled the post-WWII Jewish experience on film by screening The Stranger, The Pawnbroker and Judgment at Nuremberg. Here’s the schedule for the remaining three Tuesdays of September:

Tuesday, September 16th:

8:00 PM – Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer (1955)
10:00 PM – Sallah (1964)
12:15 AM – Sword in the Desert (1949)
2:15 AM – Exodus (1960)

Tuesday, September 23rd:

8:00 PM – The House of Rothschild (1934)
10:00 PM – Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
12:15 AM – Crossfire (1947)
2:00 AM – Focus (2001)
4:00 AM – The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

Tuesday, September 30th:

8:00 PM – The Young Lions (1958)
11:00 PM – The Way We Were (1973)
1:15 AM – Hearts of the West (1975)
3:15 AM – The Chosen (1981)

Plan to stay up late on Tuesday nights this month or just set your cable box to record some of these great films. Click here to read more about the series at, or click here to browse TCM’s schedule.