Galleries : The Art of Memory and Experience
Chilmark's Al Hurwitz, who turns 88 next month, has not retired in the way most people do. Although he left the Maryland Institute College of Art five years ago, making Martha's Vineyard his permanent home, he remains busy with what he calls his "projects." They would easily equate to a full-time job for most people.
One of his most recent projects is the book "Memory and Experience," a cross-cultural study of drawings by children that he co-edited with Karen Lee Carroll. Published by the National Art Education Association, the book is based on 1,000 children's drawings collected from Qatar, Taiwan, Malaysia, and the United States, organized thematically into categories such as storms, recess, traffic, family, and shopping. "I have a distorted view of the world because I see it through the eyes of children," Mr. Hurwitz says.
The idea for a cross-cultural study originated in 1981, when Mr. Hurwitz was in the Middle Eastern country Qatar as one of five American educators invited to help set up an art education program. Without much to see or do in Qatar, Mr. Hurwitz announced, "I'm going out into the schools to see what's happening."
Photo by Ralph Stewart
The Qatari drawings that arose from these visits were used in the study and put into an Egyptian edition of "Memory and Experience," published in 1993.
Mr. Hurwitz enlisted Kuo-Hisung Ho, his second-in-command at the Maryland Institute College of Art, to gather drawings from his native Taiwan for the study. Mohamed Ibrahim, a Malaysian graduate student of Mr. Hurwitz's, added Malaysian children's drawings in time for the revised and updated U.S. edition. The resulting book, just published in English with new chapters, contains one of the largest collections of children's drawings ever published.
In keeping with his busy retirement, Mr. Hurwitz presented a copy of the book at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School to the art faculty and other Island art educators last month. He also plans to teach an art class at the Martha's Vineyard Charter School.
The drawings that fill "Memory and Experience" are revealing about the differences and similarities between the cultures they depict. Mr. Hurwitz talks about how Qatari children's work may seem very flat next to those by American children - deep space, he asserts, is a Western form. He also believes that Asian children's experience with calligraphy develops their sense of line.
"Americans have fewer ideas," Mr. Hurwitz says. "In Asia, art can get you out of the slums." Special schooling is provided there, and children are encouraged to enter contests. Scholarships to art school follow.
In contrast, U.S. policy opposes contests and encourages art for every child, says Mr. Hurwitz, not just the gifted and talented. He points out that the average art class in the U.S. meets once a week for 50 minutes, providing only 36 hours of art instruction a year. Teachers must pick and choose what to include.
Mr. Hurwitz's method of instructing came in part from acting theory, something he knows well, having begun his career as an actor. After receiving an MFA in Theatre from Yale, Mr. Hurwitz, then a director, brought a European repertoire to Greenwich Village's Cherry Lane Theatre and the Provincetown Playhouse.
Prior to this, Mr. Hurwitz served in World War II as a military artist for the U.S. Marines. A model of the yellow grasshopper, an open cockpit, twin-engine plane he flew in, can be found at the Martha's Vineyard Airport. It was used for training on Martha's Vineyard. During his military years, Mr. Hurwitz set up an art program for a British grammar school while directing plays at night.
After World War II, he met and married his wife, Helen. They have been partners for 58 years and have three children. They live in a house built for them by their son Mark, an Island contractor. Their son Michael, who lives in Philadelphia, is a furniture designer, and their daughter Tamara, a dancer, is married to actor Bill Pullman. Mr. Hurwitz and his wife spend part of the winter in Hollywood with their daughter and he has appeared in three of Mr. Pullman's movies.
Mr. Hurwitz, who received his doctorate from Penn State, was called back into service during the Korean War and taught at the Marine Corps Institute correspondence school. At Brandeis, he ran the Festival of the Comic Spirit for Leonard Bernstein, before becoming general manager of the Casablanca players in Miami Beach.
There, Mr. Hurwitz directed one of the country's first dinner theatres. When it folded, he decided to become a teacher. He joined the Miami-Dade County school system, eventually becoming art supervisor there. Recruited for a joint appointment with the Newton Public Schools and Harvard School of Education, he spent 10 years as Newton's director of Visual and Performing Arts.
From there, Mr. Hurwitz moved to the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), where he had studied as an undergraduate and continues to serve as Chair Emeritus in Art Education. The Center for Art Education there has been named after him. Of the dozen or so books he has authored, "Children and their Art," co-authored initially with Charles Gaitskell and now in the eighth edition with Michael Day, is probably the best known.
During his teaching career, his fascination with children's art often led him to take on extra jobs, teaching methods courses as an adjunct to his regular position at MICA, so he could earn money to travel in other countries.
A man of prolific accomplishment, he served as President of the International Society for Education through Art. He donated his extensive collection of international children's drawings to his alma mater, Penn State.
Mr. Hurwitz's current project is to develop a chronology of Jewish troubles, dating from pre-Christian times. After that, he may focus on how museums teach. "I'm fascinated by what museums do with their priceless resources," he says - leading one to suspect he might be taking on another assignment while staying with his daughter in Florida.
In addition, Mr. Hurwitz remains active as an artist. In the past four years, he has had one-man shows of his landscape paintings at the West Tisbury and Chilmark libraries, and of monotypes based on Indian dress at Treehouse Studios in West Tisbury.