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Phillis Gershator





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MIM GREEN

aka Miriam Dimondstein

1920-2007

Artist, Writer, Puppeteer


edited by Phillis Gershator

Mimi, as I called her, when I wasn’t calling her Mom, was born to Russian immigrant parents in 1920. Her mother, Fanya, was a skilled seamstress, her father a less than skilled carpenter (though he later established a successful lumber business). The marriage failed, and Fanya, with her daughters Miriam and Frieda, moved to the Lower East Side.

Fanya and
                                            daughters
From left: Fanya, Frieda, Mimi.

Leaving sweatshops and piece work behind, Fanya worked at home, in her apartment on Second Ave., as a private dressmaker. She also shared the apartment with boarders to pay the rent. One of them, a shoemaker with two daughters, was to become her lifelong partner.

Fanya the
                                            Pinsticker
“Fanya the Pinsticker,” 1947. Serigraph.

Mimi’s memory of Fanya sewing for a particularly obnoxious client.
This print  appeared in an juried exhibition at the LA County Museum in 1948.

Mimi first studied art at Washington Irving High School in NYC, where she hoped to enter the “lucrative” field of fashion art. It's possible these samples  helped fill out her portfolio when she went job hunting:

Fashion
                                                      designs

Fashion
                                            designFashion design

In the late Thirties and early Forties, Mimi took classes in drawing, printmaking, and painting at the Art Students League and at the American Artists School, studying with Nahum Tschacbasov, Anton Refregier, and Anthony Velonis. She worked as an artists model to pay her school fees.
In 2006, when I asked her about her modeling experiences, she sent me this email:
The Arts Students League’s pay at 50 cents
was the lowest rate allowed by my union, Local 60 of
the United Professional and Office Workers, C.I.O.  I
got a dollar an hour posing in a studio rented by
three French sculptors and also from Willian Zorach,
who only copied my feet, so I asked him why I had to
get naked. He laughed and said a nude model made him
feel like he was young, a student and back in art
school.

Several evening sketch groups in private homes paid 75
cents an hour and The American Artists’ School gave me
a dollar an hour credit towards my tuition. What I
learned from Anthony Velonis, Anton Refregier and
William Gropper was worth a lot more than that!

An amusing, touching, autobiographical short story she wrote in 1957 reflects on her experience:
Art model


Mimi clipped this photo
for modesty's sake.




THE DISARMED VENUS

Time: July, 1936.
Subject: Me, girl graduate, one of the two hundred odd High School art Course diploma holders who had spent the last three years singing, along with some eleven thousand other inmates, “Good morning, Mr. Za-brisk-eee, a Washington Irving Goil am I, oy, oy, oy!”

Ah! My alma mater. That venerable, cherished, noble, all female institution was situated catercorner to the somewhat less venerable Irving Burlesque, wherein whose hallowed halls Miss Gypsy Rose Lee daily exhibited her talents. But every day as I passed to and from the stripper’s theater, I suffered enough shame and dishonor to compensate all womankind for the transgressions of the misled Miss Lee.

Forty blocks further uptown stood another venerable structure, The American Artists League, far from the social realities of the Lower East Side, but also stacked with great traditions, and impregnated with the odors of varnish, linseed oil, turpentine, and thickly coated with the dust of high grade French pastels.

There was I, unleashed in June upon one of the leading cultural production centers of the world, armed with a loaded portfolio and imbued with a strong desire to delve into the deeper mysteries of Fine Art. (At least until job hunting time in September.)

The problem? Money for tuition, lack of.
Solution? I filed a request for a work scholarship, and then sweated out the days before the summer session. When the interview was granted, there was only a cursory glance at my carefully chosen samples. The questioners were seeking information about my physical properties, and I suffered some prolonged, pertinent inspection of my person. But--the board awarded me a scholarship!

Floating on an airship of Da Vinci design, I came to the conclusion that talent, ability, and sincerity win out over poverty every time. Alas, the three virtues had nothing to do with it. As the registrar gave me a slip explaining the nature of my scholarship, I fell from space with a flop. My simple duties, in exchange for the best available afternoon art course: ”Pose in the nude, Rofarge figure sketching class, 9 to 12 A.M. Room 3A.”

There was a serious professional model shortage in the metropolitan area every July and August. Most artist’s models, Local 60, United Office and Professional Workers of America, C.I.O., had the sense and resources to escape New York City’s heat and humidity. Since employment was available elsewhere, off they would go to gainfully disrobe in the pleasant little summer art colonies of Woodstock and the New England Coast, leaving New York City without figure models, except for unsophisticated novices like me.

My first disrobement, before fifteen friends, strangers, and fellow students, mostly fellows, was a troubled, trembled, never to be forgotten time of affliction. I blushed, perspired, swallowed, searched frantically for my hands and feet and a place to put them, when relief of a temporary sort came with the idea that a Martha Graham type pose would have such abstract interest, it would surely negate the terribly naked reality. So I struck it.

The students were very kind. Embarrassed for me. Quiet. They watched me twist into a grotesque swastika that even Hercules couldn’t have held for twenty, let alone ten, minutes.

Another scholarship student and friend, Dave, the class monitor, looked at his watch and lost his voice. A few energetic enthusiasts rustled their newsprint to a clean page and started fast, convinced I couldn’t possibly last five minutes. The serious anatomists worried the charcoal between indecisive fingers when Monsieur Rofrage walked in, stared at me, and loudly challenged, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR BODY?” Dave whispered that since this was a first pose, and indeed my first time as a model, he had not interfered with my choice.

“NONSENSE.” But after considering a moment, Monsieur softened, and the French lilt of his voice dissolved the heavy air. “Break the pose and rest! Attention, class. We’ll work for line, pure pen and pencil line. No charcoal, chalk or shading. Ten minute poses, simple standing poses for contour and quiet movement, and PLEASE, design the PAGE.”

He came to the model stand and spoke quietly. “Relax your poses. We want to enjoy the natural grace of the human female form. We may take on the muscles later, and their varied manipulations, but for now, be Venus on the the half shell, or any of the Three Graces, just, perhaps, standing with weight so, lightly, on one leg.” And he assumed a stance. I broke into giggles, tension released, like a brook suddenly free of stones. He looked so funny posing on the half shell, and he spoke so sweetly, and he was, after all, the dearest, finest, best of all possible artists, teachers, friends. I would cheerfully die for him, contort myself into knots, half Nelsons, and double hitches, and all he asked was an easy pose which my restless, miserable, nervous body could surely hold for FORTY-FIVE minutes, French model style.

Within ten minutes, sweat was trickling down between my arms and sides, and I WAS dying. My neck was sore, the muscles aching, the nose itching, the right ear twitching, and one leg about to give way along with my whole crumbling future. When Oh! Blessed King David signaled and called out the magic word that releases fair maidens from stone statue witchery. There is no more beautiful word in the English language, none with a more poetic, ringing sound, nor half the potency and meaning. “CHANGE!”

So it went for three long hours, with five minutes off every twenty-five, and a fast fifteen minute break somewhere in between the time that didn’t move. But in that agonizing three hours there was a quiet growing. I think I caught a glimpse of what the Yogi knows, a satisfaction in the disciplined control of mind and body. A model has the further satisfaction of knowing how to look at those who look so piercingly at her, searching, trying to learn from her. It was a good relationship, and there was nothing immoral about it. How foolish to have harbored shame! After all, what is a body? A source of education, certainly, and a source of life. This was a LIFE CLASS. A class in LIFE.

Dave called the final “REST.” Oh, the sweet deliverance! I donned street clothes in the undressing room, bounced down three steps at a time, and strode through Central Park, a free and mobile soul. Having stretched, run, and breathed deeply, I stopped to sketch a solitary tree, marveling at the growth pattern of trunk into limbs into branches, then rejoiced--because the model wasn’t me!


Mimi joined the Youth Workshop in the Thirties and traveled with a group of talented folk in 1939, puppeteering in Wisconsin and Michigan. She told me about living on Jane Street in the West Village in those prewar days, and running a soup kitchen to help pay the rent. Curator Judith E. Stein describes the times in an article about the artist Jacob Landau:

In the late thirties and early forties, New York was a crossroads of leftist culture, bringing together artists who were passionate about the labor movement and politics in general. Landau was one of the founders of the Youth Workshop in 1939, which counted as members puppeteers, musicians, actors, and such graphic artists as Leonard Baskin and Antonio Frasconi. They were united by the common goal of bringing art to the "people." Ever short of funds, the Workshop would host monthly "rent parties," where such talented young people as Zero Mostel, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Will Geer, Canada Lee, and Leadbelly would offer entertainment.”


Zuni Maud and Yosl Cutler’s “incomparable puppets” also influenced Mimi, with their performances on the Lower East Side and in North Branch at a summer place called "Maud’s Summer-Ray."
When I mentioned coming across the familiar names Maud, Cutler, and Maud's Summer-Ray in a magazine, she wrote back:

Dear Phillis,

You stirred a bunch of memories. Zuni Maud and Yosl Cutler painted murals in the main and children’s dining rooms that are still vivid in my imagination. I got to study them breakfast, lunch and dinner. They were clever, vibrant, satirical, joyous, irreverent and rich in symbolism. …Until now I didn’t realize how much I was influenced by their work. Those two guys were multi-talented geniuses in puppetry and artwork. They wrote plays, poetry, songs and comedy... They put together costumes. They did opera spoofs way before Sid Caesar’s  T.V. Show of Shows.

The Modicuts [puppets of the Modicut Puppet Theater] included a variety of puppets and marionettes that entertained us on summer evenings with hilarious skits and dances. Zuni Maud taught me to play chess when I was about eight.

[Note from Phillis--he must have been a good teacher because Mimi was a formidable chess player. Certain men didn’t like playing chess with her because they couldn’t handle losing to a women!]

Puppetry became a passion Mimi returned to when she wrote scripts for the Lou Bunin Puppets and, many years later, when she used puppetry in Ringwood, NJ, as a teaching and therapeutic tool.

Ballerina
Madame
                                            Cacciatore
Ghost
Ballerina sock puppet
or, in a pinch, a Princess.
Madame Cacciatore
(Chicken of the Opera)
and various other hen-ish
characters.
Ghostly spirit
manipulated
with sock and strings.

“Shy persons,” she wrote in the 1980’s, “can freely express themselves with puppets, and puppets can delight even a depressed or hostile audience. At the Passaic County Adult Day Care Center, an embittered gentleman in a wheelchair refused to participate in after-lunch activities in the craft room. Fairy Grandmother Pippette fluttered toward him on mesh onion bag wings guided by an almost invisible discarded guitar string. Claiming an ability to grant even unexpressed desires, she offered him three wishes. He looked up but wouldn’t talk to the puppet, so she scolded: 'Shame on you! Why don’t you give me a chance to prove my worth? Take your time and think hard about what you really want, but don’t be impulsive. Remember, whatever you wish can come true. Are you ready to wish? Do you know for sure what you absolutely, really want? OOOPS, too late! I have to catch my bus. Goodbye!' Flutter, flutter. With a sideways look, the elderly gent made a halfhearted gesture of dismissal. 'Get away from here. You make me laugh!'"

Birds
Haman
Chopstick bird puppets
made of REAL, if scraggly,
feathers,  thread-spool thighs,
and various other trash treasures.
Evil Prime Minister Haman,
from Mimi's retelling of the Purim
story, which included a bevy of
bead bedecked belly dancers.

In the Forties, Mimi received a lithography scholarship from Lawrence Barrett at the Fine Arts Center in Colorado Springs. Later, in California, she worked with printmaker Lynton Kistler.

"Scorched earth," 1943. Lithograph.

Scorced earth
"Sedition," 1947. Lithograph.
Selected for Library of Congress
National Print Exhibition, 1949.


Sedition

In 1942, Mimi married Morton Dimondstein, fellow artists and activist. She followed him to Colorado Springs during the war, and to Camp Adair in Oregon before he was shipped overseas with the 104th Infantry Division. One art project they collaborated on was a mural for an artillery division officers’ club in Colorado. It no longer exists, but here's the design sketch:

War mural

Mimi also painted a mural for the USO Kosher Kitchen in Colorado Springs and murals for the non-com and officer clubs at Camp Adair. I found one of her sketches for "Three Day Pass," part of a narrative sequence, which included a brief, less than three day, romance:

Mural design


Mimi moved to Los Angeles to work. She described her job to Suburban Trends, a NJ newspaper (June 8, 1986): “During the war I worked on airplane recognition films for the army. We created animated films that showed plane silhouettes so the artillery would be able to tell whose planes were passing overhead, so they wouldn’t shoot down our planes....”

She also created war related murals at various sites. “The murals I did for a school in LA were destroyed,” she wrote in an email in 2006. “The panels I recall are an African American woman as Liberty leading the multinational people and another of an integrated group of men and women architects and engineers designing the reconstruction of the world.

June 1944

"William Gropper came to L.A.,
saw me at work and remembered
me as a student in the American
Artists’School. He approved and
beamed paternally.

"A year later,
during the post war era,
the
school was converted to an air
force academy and the walls were
repainted."



This lithograph for D-Day, "June 6, 1944" (above), reveals Gropper's influence on Mimi's work.


So does the sketch to the right. Warmongers and profiteering types populate many of her cartoons
and political paintings.
Political
                                                    sketch

After the war, Mimi, Morton, and Manny Singer opened a frame shop and gallery in LA where they sold affordable, original serigraphs (silkscreen prints). Mimi also worked in advertising and created greeting cards, in addition to designing and executing post-war public and private murals.

Blues
Hootenany
 "Blues," 1947. Silkscreen print.

"Hootenany," 1947. Silkscreen print.
Pete Seeger, Brownie McGee, and Bess Lomax Hawes.

"I was a member of the screen cartoonists guild for ten years" in the Forties and early Fifties, Mimi told the Suburban Trends, a NJ newspaper. “In Hollywood, at the guild, we were trying to get away from violence and sex and get more into education....”  To that end, she apprenticed with Graphic Films, did free lance for TV Spots and Fine Arts Products, and assisted Ed Levitt on limited animation, a technique he used in the first Charlie Brown/Peanuts TV productions.

Mimi wrote several autobiographical poems/ballads.
This one, written in 1979, addresses the job situation for woman pre and post-war:

JOB MARKET

Time was 1936. Place, a city like New York.
Player is an art school grad looking everywhere for work.
Every art school student reaches for the perfect job to be.
And the teacher tells us each is rich in opportunity.
Then we go out to the market and the bubble disappears
with the voice of art directors ringing loudly in our ears:
“Art is not the way to go
for a woman, don’t you know?
She can sew and wash the dishes
or perpetuate the species.”

I made lists of every kind of art work possibility
from the yellow pages of the telephone directory,
wrote my hopeful letters to a hundred companies,
clipped the want-ads and applied to advertising agencies.
“Art is not the way to go
for a woman, don’t you know?
She can sew and wash the dishes
or perpetuate the species.”

I pinned my hair into a bun to up my age and dignity.
I walked to interviews (a nickle meant a lot to me!).
I applied, was registered with every placement agency,
displayed my folio to people who said they’d find some work for me.
Tried display and greeting card, towel design and children’s toys.
Personnel was firm and hard: “We only hire boys.
Art is not the way to go
for a woman, don’t you know?
She can sew and wash the dishes
or perpetuate the species.”

So I wrote to Mr. Disney, “California, here I come!”
And he answered with a letter, “East coast woman, stay at home.
Men are trained for animation, background art and in-between.
Girls work here to ink the cells before they go onto the screen.
Art is not the way to go
for a woman, don’t you know?
She can sew and wash the dishes
or perpetuate the species.”

Then the country went to war and the men in animation
were all drafted to make films that would help defend the nation.
Mary Blair did Disney stories, and Bernice did backgrounds for
Warner Brothers cartoon features when the men went off to war.
I did airplane recognition, storyboards and in-between.
Sterling Sturtevant was art director for the cartoon screen.
Art became the way to go
for a woman, don’t you know?
She could even work for money
drawing sequels to Bugs Bunny!

When we helped the world defeat the Fascist and the Nazi hordes,
G.I.’s came back to work and women lost their storyboards.
We returned to ink and paint or out to hunt for work again
and apply for better jobs, just to hear the old refrain:
“Art is not the way to go
for a woman, don’t you know?
She can sew and wash the dishes
or perpetuate the species.”

She can breed a little soldier or another little breeder
and be glad she can depend upon a working man to feed her.
Now the men who run the show tell our children what to be,
tell them, “Off to war you go to protect democracy!”
And they build their deadly weapons with the taxes that we pay.
Equal Rights becomes a slogan for a country far away.
“Peace is not the way to go
for a woman, don’t you know?
Be a soldier-bearing mother
and exterminate each other!”

Men who make rules own women who will eagerly assist ‘em,
and they also own the media that sugar coats the system,
but with songs and art to teach us, we can help expose the leeches
and together with our brothers we can liberate the species!



The poor job market, divorce and remarriage, three daughters, a move back to the east coast, and another divorce and remarriage slowed but didn’t stop her creative output. She continued to create artwork in a variety of genres and styles. She had a special gift for seascapes and animals, and was inspired to combine both in several metamorphic "sea" horse paintings (an example on the right):

Seascape
Seascape
Horses

And she continued to write stories, novels, plays, poetry, songs. To develop her skills, she took courses in writing for television with Walter Hartman at Brooklyn College, musical theater with Aaron Frankel at the New School for Social Research, and playwriting with Jan Hartman at the Circle-in-the-Square Theater School. Her song lyrics reflected a love of language and rhyme. At times she liked to "improve" on classics, revising them or adding her own verses. Her addition to "Amazing Grace," for example, can be found in the Folk Process column of Sing Out magazine, Volume 64, # 4, pages 54/55.

It was a real privilege having such a creative mom, who could make personalized paper dolls for us, board games like “Fate” and “Big Game,” and birthday cards listing, in rhyme, our accomplishments. She influenced, encouraged, and inspired our own creativity, too. When I started writing books for children, Mimi became my sounding board--and often my collaborator. One of the stories we wrote together, a bedtime book for preschoolers titled Who’s Awake in Springtime? (Holt), is delightfully illustrated by the talented French artist, Emilie Chollat, and was a children's book-of-the-month club selection for February 2010. She did the illustrations for The Fisherman's Horn (Campana), which I completed. Another young picture book we had collaborated on, Time for a Hug (Sterling), with adorable illustrations by David Walker, came out in January 2012, in time for National Hug Day!

Fortune
                                                          teller
Here's a photo of Mimi as a gypsy at an event in NJ, reading fortunes for a good cause no doubt. A corner of the board game "Fate," which she devised, is visible.

Actually, she found she was so accurate at palm reading, it gave her the willies, and she gave up readings forever. It wasn't the palms so much, although a worn or even smooth hand can reveal a lot, it was the expression in the eyes,  mouth....

A selection of game card designs for "Fate":

Fate

Fate
Fate

Mimi was observant. As a portrait painter she had to be. She was exceptionally good at the quick and telling sketch. She did five minute, ten minute, thirty minute sketches at fairs. Watching artists plying that skill in a NYC park recently made me think of the hundreds of sketches she gave away and sold, not to mention all the sketches of musicians she did when she went to music festivals and concerts, and of community activists when she went to meetings. She did sketches (for publication) of attendees at the historic San Francisco conference in 1945, a series in the 1980's of illustrious women such as Margaret Sanger, and of course, many sketches of family members throughout the years. Here, from left to right, are sketches of Mimi's mother in 1956, a self portrait in 1947, and Mimi's first born in 1942.

Fanya
Mimi
Phillis

She worked most often in pen and ink, watercolor, oil, and acrylic. When she visited Italy in 1984, she returned to printmaking, building on her earlier success as a young lithographer. She produced a number of lithos in Florence, which were drawn on Bavarian limestone and printed by Tamara and Raffaello Becattini of Edi Grafica Printers.

In a postcard she wrote, “I am on a roll creatively. After years of somnolence, the stuff is busting out!” She also worked on stone at another prestigious studio, in Milan, and was very, very excited about the piece, but the stone was completely destroyed (on account of its political content she suspected), and though she was offered a replacement stone, she lost, for a time, her high spirits and momentum.

Coup
Three
                                                          musicians
“Coup,” 1984. Lithograph which received
first prize in graphics at the Ringwood Manor
Arts Association 19th Annual Exhibition.
"Three Musicians," 1984. Lithograph conceived as a
memorial to her late husband, Sol Green, with whom she
enjoyed countless concerts.


She also tried her hand at another graphic technique, etching, but the themes she approached were so painful, one influenced by Kathe Kollwitz and others by the news of famine in Africa and the coup in Chile, that she found she was unconsciously grinding her teeth to bits.
Famine

After that, as she told her oldest granddaughter, she was ready to turn to flowers--
cheerful florals in watercolor.

Bouquet
BouquetMorning
                                                          glories

Mimi was enthusiastically involved in so many things! A passionate gardener who loved to study seed catalogs and plants, especially herbs and their healthful properties; a great cook who invented her own recipes, taking Adele Davis to heart early on; an environmentalist and recycler who served, for example, on the Borough Conservation Commission in Ringwood, NJ, and chaired the local League of Women Voters environmental quality committee; an active demonstrator, petition signer, check signer, and letter-to-the-editor writer when it came to social justice and progressive causes; and a teacher, on both the east and west coast, from her teenage years on into her 70’s, of art, puppetry, and dance in schools, summer camps, and senior centers. Yes, dance, too, on top of everything else! In her youth, Mimi studied dance for over a dozen years with such teachers as Alyse Bentley, Pauline Koner, Nadia Chilkosky, and Gertrude Knight.

I still remember the dance classes she conducted in California--we children were seeds. We sprouted, we grew, our branches reached up to the sun.... We were also the wind, rain, snow.... I was reminded by an old family friend that, in our post-war San Fernando Valley tract house, we didn’t have much furniture in the living room, but we did have a ballet bar.

Mimi’s publications include artwork and articles in the NJ magazine “Talking Wood,” co-authorship of Who’s Awake in Springtime? (Holt) and Time for a Hug (Sterling), illustrations for Honi’s Circle of Trees (Jewish Publications Society), I See America Dancing (Aries Acres, IA), Between Day and Night (in Yiddish, Harlick Press, LA), Elegy for Val and Bang Bang Lulu (both X-Press Press, NY), The Fisherman's Horn (Campana, NY), and greeting cards for Brownies Blockprints (NY) and Fraymart Gallery (CA), in addition to her lithographs, etchings, and silkscreen prints.

Card
Card
Card
Silkscreen print
greeting cards
from the mid 1940's.

 
She exhibited her work under her mother’s abbreviated maiden name, Login, and her own married names: Dimondstein, Cohen, and  Green, until she finally signed herself, simply, MIM. Her artwork can be found in private and public collections and has been exhibited in “one man” and group shows at, among others, the Library of Congress National Print Show, Brooklyn Museum National Print Show, Raymond and Raymond Galleries (CA), Fraymart Gallery (CA), Institute of Modern Art (CA), Ringwood Manor (NJ), Valley Center for the Arts (CA), Ringwood Public Library (NJ), Oakland Art Show (NJ), First Unitarian Church (CA), LA County Museum Print Show, Salem USO (OR), Irving Savings and Loan Association (NJ), New Jersey “Fall Open” Print Division, and Island Galleries, St. Thomas (USVI). 

Mimi was always a great letter writer, sharing news about her garden, books she’d been reading, current events, meals and recipes. She always added a few newspaper clippings and cartoons with her letters, and she freely and frequently dispensed her philosophy of life, in which JOY played a big part. In 1943, she wrote to her mother: “In only one way could my love and respect and pride in you be made any deeper. And more important, this one way would make you healthier, happier, and give you a greater joy out of a longer life. It is to stop worrying needlessly.”

“I want you to enjoy life, so please forgo anxiety,” she wrote me forty four years later. “Do it to make me happier. I know it will be a wrench to part with worry, but you must give it a shot. Think of all the positive, creative things you can put into a mind when you put out the negatives.”

In one missive, she spelled out her wishes for a memorial, which her daughters attempted to carry out to the letter when the time came (including a good approximation of the ample and detailed menu she suggested): “My wishes in the matter of my departure: get together to tell funny stories about me and to remember all the good times. Eat well and play my favorite music. Dance. Do NOT make speeches but you might read a poem or two. Enjoy each other. Sing. Play guitars.”


In future, we will add more of Mimi's poetry and prose to these pages, plus examples from her hundreds of cartoons on love, music, dance, food, law, war.... We welcome input from friends and family, too.

In Mimi’s memory, we are offering selections from her work: good quality xerographic copies, spray mounted and matted in white (16x20 inches). More information.