Aaron Sopher

Aaron Sopher

Aaron Sopher (December 16, 1905 – April 1972) was born and died in Baltimore, Maryland. He is best know for his sketch work on paper. Most of his work was done in cacicatures and cartoons in the genre of illustration, satire, drawing and etching.

Biography

Illustrator Aaron Sopher studied drawing at the Maryland Institute College of Art, "finding more interest in sketching the people around him than in drawing from casts," as Wilbur Harvey Hunter, Jr., director of Baltimore's Peale Museum wrote in 1960 (Sopher, introduction). While at MICA, he trained with institute director Alon Bement who was influential in training Sopher in handling the human figure in art and who tolerated Sopher's unconventional style and choice of subject matter. When a new Institute director, Hans Schuler, came on board in 1925, he did not award Sopher a diploma because of his frequent absences and lack of discipline. Later, as an established Baltimore illustrator, Sopher refused to take a formal teaching position at the Maryland Institute or other colleges, but took on private students such as Alton Parker Balder. After he left MICA, Sopher made a living by working on free-lance illustration jobs for the Baltimore Sun, and his work was soon printed regularly within the newspaper. During a two-year residence in New York from 1929-31, his cartoons appeared in The New Yorker. His other sources of income at various points in his career included cigar-rolling and lampshade design; he often traded drawings for services and supplies such as dentist visits and artists' materials.

While in New York, Sopher's work, such as sketches of workmen, appeared in a 1929 issue of The New Masses, a leftist publication devoted to social commentary and illustration to which many renowned illustrator and printmaker contemporaries, such as John Sloan, Reginald Marsh and other social realists, contributed. His journals convey his sense of social responsibility, support for civil rights and the interests of the laboring class. As scholar Peter Hastings Falk accounts, "...it was during the Depression that [Sopher] seems to have fully realized that being an artist meant making a commitment to record 'the American condition' rather than merely making political jabs or seeking a laugh...Although his drawings were made in Baltimore, their universality captured the spirit and the realities of daily life in every major American city." (Falk, p. 32) Throughout his career, Sopher worked primarily in pen and ink and watercolor, and less often in etching and painting, preferring the immediacy of drawing to the more protracted process of etching and painting. He admired the work of old masters Daumier, Rembrandt, Hogarth and Goya. Sopher was also impressed by contemporaries José Clemente Orozco, George Grosz, Reginald Marsh and William Gropper, all of whom worked substantially in illustration and prints. A colleague and friend, George Grosz (1893-1959) in particular made an impression on Sopher so that Sopher encouraged Baltimore collectors to purchase work by Grosz. Sopher was also friends with Baltimore artist-contemporaries Jacob Glushakow and Reuben Kramer.

Sopher sketched from direct observation, carrying pen in hand and making drawings of people passing by on the street, or interacting at exhibitions and events. His drawings are characterized by quick, deft lines that capably capture, in a minimal amount of strokes, a scene and mood among the characters he takes up as subject. Sopher's work is often humorous and witty, and he accounted for the scene of many of his pictures in his journals and interviews with the same sense of humor; he once said, "There is universal meaning in pictures of people going after food." (Aaron Sopher from an interview with Patrick Skene Catling, published in the Baltimore Sun, November 10, 1950). As former Peale Museum director Hunter wrote in 1960, in subject matter such as Sopher's watercolor Burlesk, "While something of the singular immediacy of the original sketch is lost in these studio compositions, the emotions and content are deeper. The people now inhabit their environment, and individual foibles are generalized as social problems. Thus Aaron Sopher arrives at satire, and his manual skill achieves the dimension of philosophic statement."

During his career, Aaron Sopher was supported by regional cultural institutions for his talent, receiving acclaim from The Baltimore Museum of Art, The Peale Museum and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. He was also a personal friend and art advisor to Etta Cone, known for her and her sister Claribel's collection of modern art which represents the work of Matisse and Picasso among other renowned modern artists; Cone was a patron of his work, from 1937 through 1949 purchasing 142 of his drawings and watercolors. He also completed a "Maryland Institutions" portfolio on the occasion of the 90th Anniversary of Hutzler Brothers, illustrated the books Rivers of the Eastern Shore and Princess Mary of Maryland, served as courtroom artist and did drawings for Baltimore businesses such as the Hess shoe company.

A number of prominent magazines and newspapers included Sopher's work within their pages, including Harpers Magazine, The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, The Johns Hopkins Magazine, Vanity Fair and Collier's among others.

Selected References

Single-Artist Exhibitions

  • Phillips Memorial Gallery, Washington, DC, 1937
  • "Exhibition of Drawings in Line and Color by Aaron Sopher," Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, 1940
  • Baltimore Museum of Art: "Drawings of Maryland Institutions," 1949; "Drawings of Mental Patients," 1951
  • "Commentaries by Aaron Sopher," Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Hagerstown, Maryland, 1960
  • "Aaron Sopher: Artist and Social Critic," Salisbury State College Art Gallery, Maryland, 1969
  • "Exhibition of Drawings and Watercolors of Aaron Sopher," B’Nai B’rith Historical Commission, Klutznick Exhibit Hall, Washington, DC, 1969
  • "Aaron Sopher Memorial Exhibition," Jewish Community Center Art Gallery, Baltimore, 1972
  • "Aaron Sopher Memorial Exhibit," Milton S. Eisenhower Library Galleries, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, 1973

Multiple-Artist Exhibitions

  • YM and YWHA, Baltimore, 1937
  • "International Watercolor Exhibition," Art Institute of Chicago, 1938, 1940, 1941, 1942
  • "Contemporary Baltimore", 1946, "11th-, 13th- and 14th Annual Painting Show, Life in Baltimore," 1951, 1953, 1954, Peale Museum, Baltimore
  • United Nations Club, 1949
  • The Playhouse, Baltimore, 1951
  • St. John's College, Maryland, 1955
  • University of Maine, 1954
  • University of Maryland Hospital, 1957
  • Western Maryland College, 1955
  • "Between Two Wars: Prints by American Artists 1914-1941," Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1942
  • Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio, 1962
  • Baltimore County Public Library, 1963
  • "American Drawings," Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, 1963-64
  • Bodine/Sopher joint exhibition, First Unitarian Parish House Gallery, Baltimore, 1963
  • "Twentieth American Drawing Annual," Norfolk Museum of Arts & Sciences, Virginia, 1963
  • Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh
  • The Center Club, Baltimore, 1965, 1968
  • Baltimore Junior College, 1967
  • Loyola College, Baltimore, 1967
  • Baltimore Community College, 1968
  • San Francisco Museum of Art, 1960s
  • Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC
  • Denver Art Museum
  • Library of Congress
  • New York Public Library

Awards

  • Baltimore Sunpapers "Annual Black & White Sketch Competition": Honorable Mention, 1924, 1926, 1934, 1939; 1st Prize, 1931, 1933, 1943; 2nd Prize, 1945, 1947
  • Baltimore Museum of Art Friends of Art Exhibition, Wilson Levering Smith Memorial Prize, 1934
  • Baltimore Museum of Art "Annual Maryland Show," 1st Prize 1936, 1943, 1946, 1953, 1956
  • Peale Museum "Annual Painting Show, Life in Baltimore": Purchase Award, 1941, 1944; 1st Prize, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1956; Prize for drawing, 1964
  • Corcoran Gallery, 8th Annual Area Exhibition, Award for drawing
  • Norfolk Museum, 14th Drawing Annual, 1956, Purchase Prize
  • Washington Watercolor Club, 59th Annual Exhibition, 1956, U.S. National Museum, Honorable Mention
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