Margoulies, Berta

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MARGOULIES, BERTA (O'Hare ; 1907–1996), U.S. sculptor. Margoulies was born in Lubitz, Poland. The artist's early life was marked by frequent emigration: to Belgium shortly before its invasion by Germany in World War i, to Holland, and then to England. She went to the U.S. in 1921, graduating from Hunter College in 1927. In 1928, she received a fellowship from the Gardner Foundation in Boston, which enabled her to travel to Paris for two years of study at the Académie Julien and Académie Calorossi; she also studied at the École des Beaux-Arts for a brief period. In 1931, she returned to New York City; she supported herself as a social worker while opening an art studio and taking classes at the Art Students League. The New Deal offered Margoulies many opportunities to further her career: she completed a head of Andrew Jackson for the Works Progress Administration and received a commission from the Treasury Section of Fine Arts for Postman, 16911775 (1936), an historically accurate aluminum statue for the Washington, d.c., Post Office Building. Margoulies' and sculptor Concetta Scaravaglione's Railway Mail form part of ten aluminum figures positioned in the entrance lobby to the building. In addition, Margoulies sculpted Woman and Deer for the 1939 New York World's Fair garden court. With funds provided by the U.S. Treasury Department, Margoulies completed a painted plaster relief entitled Stillman Foote Acquires Homestead of John Harrington for the Canton, Ohio, Post Office in 1939. The following year, the artist fashioned Tomato Sculpture, a wall-mounted terracotta sculpture commissioned for the Monticello, Arkansas, Post Office. In the composition, male and female figures work side by side to cultivate and harvest tomatoes, a crop associated with Monticello. Margoulies' sculptures, some fashioned of beaten lead and bronze, often depicted human figures. Her simplification, stylization, and exaggeration of sculpted anatomy indicates her work's affinity with expressionism, especially that of Ernst Barlach, Kathe Kollwitz, Paula Mondersohn-Becker, and Jacques Lipschitz, among other artists. The gently smiling face of the sculpture Walnut Boy (1947) suggests early Greek sculpture, while the features of Young Girl (1936), especially her long nose and mask-like eyes, calls to mind Modigliani paintings of seated figures or Karl Schmidt-Rottloff's Male Head (1917). Many of her pieces possess overtly social and political themes, such as the bronze sculpture Mine Disaster (1942), a loosely pyramidal shaped grouping of figures awaiting news about the fate of fathers, husbands, and brothers. She also completed many pieces with Jewish themes and motifs: Blessing Candles, Wailing Wall, and Promised Land, the latter depicting a figure reminiscent of Moses with arms upraised. Margoulies won an Avery Award from the Architectural League in 1937, another award from the Society of Arts and Letters in 1944, and a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation in 1946. She lived in New Jersey and Massachusetts. Margoulies' work has been collected by the Des Moines Art Center, Whitney Museum of American Art, the Neuberger Museum, State University of New York, and Salisbury University, Maryland, among other places.


J. Heller and N.G. Heller, North American Woman Artists of the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary (1995); C.S. Rubenstein, American Women Sculptors: A History of Women Working in Three Dimensions (1990).

[Nancy Buchwald (2nd ed.)]

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Margoulies, Berta

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