Louis Rosenthal, The artist who carries a museum in his pocket.
Encased by silence, comforted by nature, carefree, the boy rode his horse throughout the forests of his native Lithuania. Alone, with only his dog by his side, he traversed the countryside aiming for the summit of vast green hills. He paused only briefly, penknife in hand to carve his first artistic etchings into the barks of trees. The boy was born in Lithuania in 1988. He arrived in the United States in 1907 at the age of 19. He was my grandfather, Louis Rosenthal. Embraced, nurtured and educated by the United States, he utilized that simple pearl-handled penknife as his sole tool and created miniatures sculptures, many no more than an inch in height. International acclaim for his miniatures was immediate. In a time of war and uncertainty, art finds a way. From 1920 – 1940 he located solace in solitude and quietly went about building up his tiny figures from wax. The biblical, historical, mythological, and often satirical significance of his miniatures expanded a vast terrain. He casted them into bronze himself as no foundry anywhere in the world could work with figures so small. Known primarily as an artist who devoted his talents almost exclusively to Jewish art, many of the biblical miniatures he created are now a part of the permanent collections of the Jewish Museum of New York and Maryland. Maybe I cannot help but romanticize his story. I never knew my grandfather. He died in 1964 when I was two years old. I don’t remember him. But my father did. Although my father died in 2000, the words printed below are his: "Japan had dropped bombs on Pearl Harbor without warning, drawing us into the war. Germany was bombing England and pouring 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 families, but not ours." "It was also around this time that mother began sending me to the little grocery store a few blocks away. 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." "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, when I was nine years old 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." “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 I often wonder what my grandfather was thinking the moment before the process that leads to creating. Like you, I too am only just discovering the fascinating world my grandfather inhabited and I am proud to have created an online museum as a tribute to him. The online museum for Louis Rosenthal is a photographic compilation of statuettes, sprinkled with reflections, passages and remembrances that have lifted themselves up and spoken to me with the desire to remain to be heard. Art finds a way.