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The Shocking Blue Hair Of Elie Nadelman
He ignored the conventions of his day and became one of the greatest American sculptors of this century
March 1989 | Volume 40, Issue 2
During the war Nadelman served in the Riverdale Air Warden Service, standing night and morning shifts and chiding those who didn’t take their duties seriously. Twice a week for two years he taught ceramics to wounded veterans in the Bronx Veterans’ Hospital’s occupational therapy division. He probably enjoyed this more than any art-school teaching he could have done, since he himself had never felt that art school would make an artist of anyone. Helping men regain dexterity probably seemed to him a more useful goal. His own fingers never ceased work until the day of his death, December 28, 1946.
I tend to bristle at references to my grandfather as a “recluse” in his later years; even in his youth, Nadelman never required or wanted much feedback from fellow artists. He never worried about the direction of artistic currents, and in the end he kept his own counsel. A passage Lincoln Kirstein found underlined in Nadelman’s copy of Pascal may shed some light on his seclusion: “We are so presumptuous that we wish to be known by the whole world, and even by those to come when we are gone; and we are so vain that we are both amused and satisfied by the fair opinion of five or six people we happen to know.”
The work Nadelman produced in his period of public invisibility is as strong and characteristic—even as shocking—as that of his earlier period. There is, of course, less commentary in the public record. But there are advantages to the clean slate. It puts new generations in a position to discover the artist for themselves. And so adept was this artist at fusing the past and the present that it seems altogether fitting that he should have dronned from sieht to re-appear decades later, in the playful and triumphant pose of his orchestra conductor or acrobat.