Posted on Sep 23, 2016
Paul Graubard is a self-taught artist based in Lenox, Massachusetts, whose works reference American folklore and Jewish traditions. Though he arrived at painting through grief and trauma, his artworks articulate joy. The painting on paper “The Jewish Cowboy” was recently acquired by the museum through the generosity of Londa Weisman. Below, Paul talks about this piece, painting, and childhood memories of bicycling. –Laura Addison, Curator of North American & European Folk Art.
What a sight – a bicycle equipped with long-horned-cattle handlebars ridden by a one-armed Chasid delivering kosher beef. A bicycle meant everything to me as a boy. It was freedom, pure and simple. Riding a bike let me roam New Jersey – Clifton with its Polish and Czech neighborhoods, Paterson with its silk mills and nearby mountains, and Montclair where the rich people lived. What a vast world compared to my tiny Jewish neighborhood.
My street buddies and I often rode in a pack – Bobbie, Mert, Moishe, Dickie and Floyd. This was during WWII and even children received civil defense training. We rode around, scouring the telephone poles where German spies might be transmitting messages to U-boats lurking off the Jersey shore. We imagined this to be a contribution to the war effort.
Every time I got on a bike I felt adventure might unfold. I was on my own. I could not be reached and asked or required to do things I didn’t want to do. It was great to get out from under. Painting, for me, is like riding a bike. You’re free. You can go wherever you want, do whatever you want. The only voice I have to listen to is my own. It is no accident that my early work is filled with bicycles. I love to play, to roam, the outdoors, my Jewishness, and food. The Jewish Cowboy weds these loves.