Isn’t this a great picture? Anyone who’s been here to the museum will recognize the two buildings on the far left and right: the Lloyd Street Synagogue (1845) and B’nai Israel (formerly Chizuk Amuno) (1876). The buildings in the middle don’t exist today—they have been replaced by our museum building. Right now, I’m sitting in the garage on the left side.
The artist, Harry Evans Jr., was an African American who grew up painting street scenes from the back steps of his home inWest Baltimore. He always wanted to be an architect, and developed a fascination with buildings and streetscapes. He was known for walking the streets of Baltimore, taking pictures of fast-disappearing buildings, which he later immortalized in idealized (but architecturally accurate) form in his colorful works.
Baltimore Sun reporter Carl Schoettler said it well: “He saw the city with a generous, magic eye. He splashed the drabbest Baltimore street with colors as brilliant as a tropical sunset. He loved to paint a long block of rowhouses—say ‘East Pratt Street near Central Avenue’—stretching toward infinity in a blaze of purples, reds, violets, greens and yellows lush as a bank of bougainvillea.”
Evans also had a fascination with synagogues. That’s partly because he was deeply interested in the relationship between people and buildings, and he discovered, in his research, how intertwined Jewish family life was with the neighborhood synagogue. I don’t know how he got the idea to place all the synagogues together on the same block, but the effect is quite amazing. He did two such “composite” paintings. Here’s the second one:
The Jewish Times referred to these paintings as “family portraits. . . . Each synagogue has its own distinct characteristics, but they all clearly belong to the same family. There is considerable humor in the relationship of these religious houses.” And affection.
Harry Evans Jr. died in 1995, at age 69. I thought, since February is African American History Month, it would be appropriate to offer this appreciation of an African American artist whose work is so expressive not only of Baltimore, but also of Jewish Baltimore. (And thanks to Jobi for her suggestion.)