The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio


May 31, 2006

An illuminating grandfather


Geneva woman's grandfather was a 'One Man Army' against Axis

It's been more than 55 years since Jeanne Persily climbed the stairs to her grandfather's studio in New Canaan, Connecticut, but she still recalls the room's big window, myriad fine brushes and the incredibly talented man who worked there.

"I remember he was very jovial, very kind to his grandchildren," says Jeanne, a Geneva resident. "We weren't scolded if we went in his studio while he was painting."

Only 5 or 6 years old at the time, Jeanne didn't realize just how famous her grandfather was. To her, Arthur Szyk (pronounced Shick) was the grandfather who lived on the big country estate to which she, her sister and parents escaped the compression of Manhattan. However, to the world beyond this estate, he was the "Artist for Freedom" and "One Man Army" who rubbed shoulders with the Roosevelts and many Hollywood personalities.

"I remember that in his day, he was very famous," Jeanne says. "There were always famous people coming to the house. He did kind of go with the Hollywood crowd."

In the 1940s Szyk's brilliant wartime cartoons and caricatures appeared frequently on the covers and inside pages of American magazines like Collier's, Esquire, Time, Look and Liberty. They helped motivate the free world to take up arms against the Axis aggressors by depicting them in sinister, barbaric terms.

Ironically, this same man illustrated children's and religious books. If an illustrated version of "Andersen's Fairy Tales" is in your bookcase, there's a good chance Szyk's illustrations are in it.

There is a hint of Jeanne's sister in one of the illustrations; Szyk frequently used family members as models for his illuminations. Indeed, he cleverly hid his dedication to her in a book that appears in one of the main illustrations. His wife, Julia, bears a strong resemblance to the Snow Queen. And Jeanne's likeness is seen in an unfinished illustration for a book of Mother Goose rhymes.

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