A retrospective of the paintings of Fay Kleinman (1912-2012) will be shown in the Slusser Gallery at the University of Michigan School of Art & Design from Aug. 17 though Sept. 14.
Kleinman, who studied at the American Artists School, was a student of murals with Anton Refregier, painting with Jean Liberte, and sculpture with Milton Hebald. She also took classes through the WPA, City College of New York, and the National Academy of Design.
She was exhibiting regularly in galleries and museums in New York City, Western Massachusetts, and Europe when she moved to Ypsilanti in 1987 at age 75 to live near her Ann Arbor-based children. From time to time, she would ship paintings to East coast galleries that had shown her work earlier, but until 2003, her works had not been seen locally.
The Jewish Community Center in Ann Arbor introduced her work to Southeast Michigan that year. Soon, Kleinman was one of the most in-demand painters in the area, with other one-person shows following swiftly at the Ann Arbor District Library (firsta portrait show at the main branch, then a show of the Zaydes at the Mallets Creek branch), the Ypsilanti District Library, the Ann Arbor City Club, Gallery 55+ at the UM Turner Senior Resource Center, and the UM Hospital Gifts of Art; she also participated in group shows at several venues, including the UM Warren Robbins Gallery.
The exhibit at Slusser Gallery includes the broad range of Kleinman’s work—abstracts, portraits, landscapes, and imagined worlds. Often these works capture her love of music and other arts, reading, country living, and her awareness of a conflicted world. Some of her works are humorous. In one series, cats are larger than the people who pose with them–Kleinman liked to say her cat “rules this house with an iron paw.”
She is perhaps best known for the Zayde series, inspired by sketches Kleinman’s father did for her daughter to illustrate fanciful stories the toddler told him after a country vacation in 1948. When Kleinman found the drawings on backs of envelopes, paper bags and other scraps, she thought her father’s sense of composition was remarkable. Kleinman felt she was unifying three generations, her daughter’s fantasies, her father’s primitive drawings, and her aesthetic. The first six Zaydes were exhibited in 1971 at the Becket Arts Center in Massachusetts. “Blending the naïve, spontaneous freshness of the primitive with professional sophistication, Kleinman captures the mystery and poetry of a child’s world,” Winifred Bell wrote of the early Zaydes in the Berkshire Eagle. More than one critic compared the series to the work of Paul Klee. Kleinman, who began doing Zaydes in 1966, was working on a new Zayde at the time of her death in February,2012.
Most of Kleinman’s work is oil on canvas, but there will be a number of mixed-media works on display that include crepe paper, newspaper, even wallpaper. A series created from scraps of wall paper from her former home in Massachusetts, “Portraits of a House,” includes whimsical drawings of a cat on a window sill and a piano, superimposed on a background of wallpaper. In her series, Sunday Morning, people carefully crafted in oil read newspapers that she created from scraps of actual newspaper, carefully cut and created into a collage.
This may be the last time to see all of Kleinman’s work in Southeast Michigan. According to her family, many paintings are likely to be stored in New York City so galleries there can have easier access to them.
But Kleinman has become a permanent part of Michigan: In recent years, Kleinmans were purchased by the Ypsilanti District Library and by the UM East Ann Arbor Health Center, where they are on view to the public. These paintings will be on loan for the exhibit along with paintings owned by local collectors.