Monday, January 8, 2018

My Remarkable Grand-Uncle Max Leibowitz

As the images in this posting show, my Grand-Uncle Max Leibowitz was a remarkable artist in aluminum sheet-metal. He was also one of my favorite relatives. Although he lived in the Bronx, he'd often travel to Brooklyn for our Friday family evening dinners in the basement apartment of his older Brother, my Grandfather Louis, and my Grandmother Lena.

Uncle Max would always bring an excellent cake, purchased at the wonderful Jewish bakery on Brighton Beach Avenue, beneath the elevated BMT station. My Parents, Ruth and Morris, my younger Brother Lee, and I would be so happy to see him! When I was small, he'd grab my hands and lift me with his powerful arms. Then he'd spin around, with the centrifugal force lifting my legs up in the air. 
Some examples of the aluminum sheet-metal artistry of my Grand-Uncle Max Leibowitz.
[Upper left] A trio of aluminum sheet-metal penguins (always remind me of the wonderful kids book "Mr. Popper's Penguins") and a spectacular elephant with a canopied seat fit for Russia's Queen Katherine the Great.
[Lower left] A shoehorn with a "V" for my wife Vi and a jewelry box made for her.
[Right] This woodcut of Max was done by Isaac Friedlander in 1957. (Thanks to Cousin Fran for the image. I remember Uncle Max gave us a print, and it hung in the 2nd-floor walk-up one bedroom apartment where my parents, brother, and I lived. I have no idea where it is now.) 


Uncle Max came to the US from Russia [see NOTE below]. Like many others in the Russian Jewish community in the early 1900's, he left his home country to escape poverty and pogroms. (Like those in the classic play and movie "Fiddler on the Roof".)

Uncle Max's sheet-metal artistry was strictly a hobby. He was a professional sheet-metal craftsman. His regular job involved creating models for products that were later put into production for customers. 

I believe Max's Brother, my Grandfather Louis, came to the US first. Louis was the eldest of 13 siblings, and newly married. He was followed by his brother Max, and sisters Dora, Fanny, and Zelda. An upholsterer, Grandpa Louis was also an artist in his trade, as were his sisters Zelda (a woman's fashion designer) and Fanny (who designed costumes and fashions for Hollywood productions).

Most of Louis and Max's other brothers and sisters remained in Russia. I do not know how many survived WWII, but, after that war, my Grandfather exchanged letters with at least one Brother, Yasha.

Max's first wife was a taciturn woman named Irene. They had one daughter, who moved away to Mexico and married well. When Irene passed away, Max started taking ballroom dancing lessons and ended up marrying the instructor, Barbara. The product of that romance is my cousin Hope ("Tiki" in Hebrew), who now lives in Canada, and is a Facebook friend of mine. 

When I posted photos of Uncle Max's artwork to Facebook, my cousin Fran and my daughter Lisa posted photos of some of his artwork they happened to own. Also, Fran's brother, my cousin Philip, posted that he feels like he is channeling Uncle Max when he is in his art studio!


The only photo of Uncle Max I could find for my Facebook posting was this one. It shows Max, his wife Barbara, and daughter Hope at my wedding in 1964. I'll continue to look for an additional photos. If any cousins who read this happen to have one, please email and I'll be happy to add it. advTHANKSance!

[Upper left] Uncle Max at our 1964 wedding with his wife Barbara and daughter Hope "Tiki" Leibowitz, now one of my Facebook friends.
Others in photo (from left) are cousin Adele "Delly" and her parents Izzy and Diane Levine; Vi and Ira; and friends of my parents, the Aufrichtigs and Kaufmans


After I posted my pictures to Facebook, my Daughter Lisa and Cousin Fran posted photos they had. I especially appreciate the woodcut image of Uncle Max provided by Cousin Fran.

A dresser tray and my Grand-Aunt Zelda's hair ornament, created by Uncle Max. (Photo from Zelda's Grand-Daughter, my Cousin Fran.)

A dog created by Uncle Max. My Daughter Lisa proudly displays it on her mantle at home. (Thanks for the photo Lisa!)

Close-up image of a penguin and elephant created by Uncle Max. 

NOTE: My Grandfather always said they were from the Russian city of Ekaterinoslav (Russian: Екатериносла́в, translit. Yekaterinoslav). However, although they considered themselves ethnically Russian, it appears they were from an area that is actually in the Ukraine!

After the Russian revolution, Ekaterinoslav, originally named in honor of Katherine the Great, was renamed Dnepropetrovsk, (Russian: Днепропетро́вск), because it is on the Dneiper River. Dnepropetrovsk is in the Ukrainian section of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

If you've been following current events, you may know that, after the breakup of the USSR, Ukraine became independent. The two eastern provinces, which have majority Russian ethnic populations, have been in a tug-of-war between the main part of Ukraine and the Russian Federation. The Dneiper River is the dividing line between the contesting parties.

In 2016, Dnepropetrovsk was renamed Dnipro (Ukrainian: Дніпро).

Ira Glickstein