June 15, 2016
by Aaron Ehrlich
Associated American Artists tended to favor artworks that were widely relatable, non-confrontational and often bucolic. As a result, relatively little of AAA’s stock dealt with religious themes or imagery as, by definition, this kind of work generally appeals only to certain demographics. Joseph Margulies’s Man of Peace (1945), is an exception: one of relatively few AAA prints to deal explicitly with religion, and one of even fewer to depict Judaism. Man of Peace, a three-quarter-profile of an aged Chasidic man, is unlike much of the other work in Art for Every Home, most of which celebrates Americana, honest field work, and the war effort.
Margulies’s only work in Art for Every Home, Man of Peace underscores AAA’s desire to achieve an honest representation of American life, as well as a willingness to defy its primary aesthetic. Slightly less altruistically, AAA profited from egalitarianism, and had no pressing desire to alienate any potential customers. Man of Peace is also unusually emotive and melancholy, undoubtedly as a result of its cultural and political moment, 1945.
Born in Vienna in 1896, Margulies and his family soon emigrated to America, settling in Brooklyn. He took classes at the Art Students League of New York, and began working with AAA in 1936, producing forty prints for them up to 1980. Man of Peace is not his first depiction of Judaism or Jewish people for AAA; in fact it is his fourth, after Scholars and At Peace, both 1941 and Morning Prayer, 1944.
In addition to Jewish life, the other great pillar of Margulies’s graphic oeuvre is his depictions of New England maritime scenes. In fact, without its title, his 1968 Chasid might be mistaken for a Maine fisherman. Margulies’s treatment of these two different but similarly recognizable and storied groups of Americans indicates his interest in the less obvious pockets of American society. If Thomas Hart Benton’s American everyman is a Midwestern grain farmer, Margulies’s are a Brooklyn Chasid and a Boston seaman.