Borenstein, Sam

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BORENSTEIN, SAM (1908–1969), Canadian artist. Borenstein was born in Kalvarija, Lithuania. At four he moved to Suwalki, Poland, where his father, a rabbinical scholar, had a job with the Singer Sewing Machine Company. In 1921, he immigrated to Montreal, Canada where he worked for 15 years in garment factories. Borenstein studied art in his spare time at the Monument National from 1928 to 1929 and by the 1930s he was exhibiting in group and solo exhibitions in Montreal and Toronto.

Borenstein's paintings transmuted the ordinary reality of the mainly Jewish working-class district of Montreal where he lived into colorful images of material and natural energy. In addition to painting portraits of his family, Montreal Yiddish poets, and other artists, during the 1940s Borenstein began to concentrate on landscape. His paintings of rural Quebec transformed the Laurentian villages into idealized images of town life reminiscent of his memories of the shtetls of Eastern Europe. In his landscapes, Borenstein's focus was on how the landscape was changed by the sun and wind, as well as on autumnal hues and seasonal aspects such as the color and texture of ice and snow. Borenstein believed that the earth was a cosmic manifestation reflected in individual consciousness, where even the simplest forms of nature could speak directly to the artist. "Art," he said, "is my religion. Just as one prays, so does one paint – for spiritual satisfaction."

Borenstein became an antiquarian dealer who played a pivotal role in developing the first public collection of Judaic ceremonial objects in Canada. This collection is today housed in the Aron Museum located at Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom in Montreal. The Colours of My Father: A Portrait of Sam Borenstein (1991) was an animated film by his daughter, Joyce Borenstein, and produced by the National Film Board of Canada and Imageries Inc. The film won nine international awards and was nominated for an Academy Award.


L. Lerner, Sam Borenstein (2004); W. Kuhns and L. Rosshandler, Sam Borenstein (1978).

[Loren Lerner (2nd ed.)]