Leo V. Berger Immigrants Trunk:
Saul Bernstein: a Lithuanian immigrant and famed Jewish artist. Saul is portrayed by actor Grant Cloyd, who also performs as Mendes I. Cohen.
Saul Bernstein’s story of coming to American is quite similar to many other Jewish immigrants. Born in 1872 in Posvol, Lithuania which was, at this time, under the rule of Czarist Russia, Saul was given the opportunity to start a new life in America in 1889 when he received a letter from his uncle Abram who had already made the journey. His mother helped him purchase a ticket on a ship by giving him all the money she had saved over the years as a dressmaker. At the age of 17, Saul traveled by himself on a ship that arrived in Castle Gardens, New York (Ellis Island did not open as a port for immigrants until 1892).
From New York, Saul made his way to his uncle’s home in Baltimore. He stayed in his uncle’s home for only a week before he embarked on a career that became a way of life for so many Jewish immigrants as a peddler. He started by peddling tin wares in small towns on the Eastern Shore but he soon moved onto a new route and began traversing the mountains of western Maryland and West Virginia.
Grant Cloyd as Saul Bernstein.
Saul found success as a peddler and by 1891he was able to pay for the passage of his parents and brother to the United States. By 1892, he became part-owner of a dry good store in Coopers, WV. Despite his success, however, Saul had a dream that was not typical of many other young Jewish immigrants; he wanted to become a professional artist. During his years as a peddler, he always carried a sketchpad and art supplies which he used to capture the life of the small towns that he passed through. His dry goods store, Silver and Bernstein Clothing, was distinctive because of the art that filled its walls.
His talent was noticed by a customer passing through who helped Saul apply for admission into the prestigious Maryland Institute School of Art and Design (now the Maryland Institute College of Art – MICA). His art studies took him to New York and Paris where he studied at the famed l’Academie Julian. As his art career was flourishing – his work was even purchased by noted Baltimore art connoisseurs Etta and Claribel Cohen – he also became a Zionist activist and attended meetings of the local Hovevei Zionist chapter. It was at these meetings that he met his future wife, Jennie Abel.
A young Saul Bernstein stands in a group of peddlers and railroad workers in the town of Bluefield, West Virginia.
It was also through his Zionist activism, that he had the opportunity to meet Henrietta Szold, the Baltimore-born founder of Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization. Szold became a friend, mentor, and patron to Saul and helped promote his art to the cream of Baltimore’s Jewish society.
Saul died a young man at the age of 33 just as he was entering his prime as an artist. His artwork can be found in the collections of the JMM and the Baltimore Museum of Art as well as in the homes of individual patrons and family members. Saul’s letters to his family and to his patron, Henrietta Szold, reveal such rich details of his life and are preserved in the JMM’s archives. And Saul’s story comes to life dozens of times each year through the JMM’s Leo V. Berger Immigrant’s Trunk, an educational resource devoted to immigration history.
The Leo V. Berger Immigrant’s Trunk – Saul Pre-Performance Materials
Grant Cloyd has worked with numerous theater companies in and around the DC/Baltimore area including Rep Stage, Source Theatre Festival, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, Venus Theatre, 1st Stage, Spooky Action Theater, Synetic Family Theatre, Wandering Souls Faction of Fools, and The Washington Rogues of which he is a company member. Grant has also been seen in television commercials, independent short films, industrials, and print work. He is a 2008 graduate of the SMCM Theatre/Film program and has additional training from Mamet’s Atlantic Acting School.
Living History Program performances are available for schools, public and private events and can take place at the Museum or outside venues. The cost for the living history program is $300 plus mileage reimbursement at $0.50/mile. To schedule a Living History performance or to learn more, please contact Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 443.873.5167.