Esther’s quilts tell a startling, uncomfortable story

 

MILWAUKEE – Prior to 1977, Esther Nisenthal Krinitz used words to tell the story of how she and her sister Mania survived Nazi-occupied Poland.

At 50, Krinitz began working in a new medium – textiles. Between then and her death in 2001 at age 74, she created the 36 exquisitely detailed collages featured in “Fabric of Survival: The Art of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz.” The exhibit opens Feb. 17 at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, 1360 N. Prospect Ave., a program of Milwaukee Jewish Federation.

Molly Dubin, the museum’s curator, said this particular Holocaust-related exhibit is unusual for several reasons.

“Depth of the Forest” by Esther Nisenthal Krinitz, 1994. The “Fabric of Survival: The Art of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz” exhibit, featuring her work, opens Feb. 17, 2016 at Jewish Museum Milwaukee. Courtesy of Art & Remembrance.

“Depth of the Forest” by Esther Nisenthal Krinitz, 1994. The “Fabric of Survival: The Art of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz” exhibit, featuring her work, opens Feb. 17, 2016 at Jewish Museum Milwaukee. Courtesy of Art & Remembrance.

 

“Fabric is usually associated with craft and comfort,” she said. “But then you realize the haunting story that’s being told.”

Because of the nature of the exhibit Dubin said, “‘Fabric of Survival’ is allowing us to share the (Holocaust) story with a much wider audience.”

Nina Edelman, a local fiber artist and exhibit committee chair, is an integral part of helping museum staff connect with community resources to engage that wider audience.

Edelman became familiar with Krinitz’s story when “Memories of Survival,” an illustrated children’s book featuring the collages, was released. It was 2005; she was the Milwaukee Jewish Day School librarian. She bought two copies, one for her library and one for herself.

“I have kept it next to my bed all these years,” she said. “It’s spectacular.”

As chair, Edelman helped brainstorm and develop programs to complement the exhibit. Her knowledge, experience and contacts in the local textile community provided museum staff with a range of choices for programming ideas.

“I brought people from the textile community … and people I know who are interested in textiles that they may not have thought of,” she said.

Among them are Maikue Vang and Ethel White, who will join Edelman for a panel discussion titled “Diversity in Cloth: Culture and Catharsis.”

“Prelude to The Final Solution” by Esther Nisenthal Krinitz, 1992. There are traveling exhibits of both photographic works and the original fabric art. Milwaukee is to house the original fabric art, starting Feb. 17, 2016. The original fabric art exhibit next travels to metro Detroit. Courtesy of Art & Remembrance.

“Prelude to The Final Solution” by Esther Nisenthal Krinitz, 1992. There are traveling exhibits of both photographic works and the original fabric art. Milwaukee is to house the original fabric art, starting Feb. 17, 2016. The original fabric art exhibit next travels to metro Detroit. Courtesy of Art & Remembrance.

 

“It’s about other responses to tragedy through textile art,” she said. “I’ve been doing a lot of research and I thought I knew a lot, but I keep finding more.”

In addition to other Holocaust quilts, Edelman has found quilts and textile art about a range of human rights violations and historical events.

“People think of quilts as something comforting, warm and fuzzy on your bed, but there are quilts that are anything but warm and fuzzy,” she said.

“There are quilts about indigenous rights, abuse, minority injustice, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, lynching, wars, terrorism and violence,” she said. “There are also quilts that people make to garner solidarity for political change, and a whole series of quilts created to restore calm and help people through personal crisis.”

Other programs include a day-long event where people can learn about quilting, embroidery, beading on fabric and other types of threadwork. There will also be a three-part series on Theresienstadt and an examination of art therapy for veterans and survivors of sex trafficking.

The exhibit is sponsored by the Brico Fund, Anonymous Foundation of the Jewish Community Foundation, Nina Edelman, Suzy Ettinger, Bruce Gendelman Insurance Services, Dorothy InBusch Foundation, Dr. Paul Loewenstein and Jody Kaufman Loewenstein and Florence Eiseman Company.

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Fabric of Survival exhibit

Esther Nisenthal Krinitz was a survivor of the Holocaust in Poland and created works of fabric art to share her story with her daughters. Jewish Museum Milwaukee will have all 36 pieces on display, telling a complete story, starting with a childhood home in Europe and ending in America. The “Fabric of Survival: The Art of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz” exhibit, featuring her work, opens Feb. 17, 2016 at Jewish Museum Milwaukee, a program of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, 1360 N. Prospect Ave. Museum hours: Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (open until 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month); Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Sunday 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. 414-390-5730. JewishMuseumMilwaukee.org. Museum admission: Adults $7; seniors $6; students $4; children age 6 and under are free; active duty military are free.

Opening preview

7 – 9 p.m.

Thursday, Feb. 16

7:30 p.m. presentation by Bernice Steinhardt

General Admission: $15/members $10

“World War II Milwaukee”

Lunch & Learn book talk with Meg Jones

11:30 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.

Thursday, Feb. 23

General Admission $5/members free

“Diversity in Cloth: Culture & Catharsis”

7 – 9 p.m.

Thursday, March 2

A panel discussion featuring Nina Edelman, Maikue Vang and Ethel White

General Admission: $5/members $3

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About Esther Nisenthal Krinitz

Esther Nisenthal Krinitz was a survivor of the Holocaust in Poland. In October 1942, after living under Nazi occupation for three years, the Jews of the village of Mniszek were ordered to report to the nearby train station for “relocation.” The 15-year old Esther decided she would not go but would instead take her 13-year old sister Mania and look for work among Polish farmers.

Esther Nisenthal Krinitz

Esther Nisenthal Krinitz

Turned away by Polish friends and neighbors, the sisters assumed new names and evaded the Gestapo, pretending to be Catholic farm girls. They never saw their family again. After the war ended, the two sisters made their way to a displaced persons camp in Germany, where Esther met and married Max Krinitz. In 1949, Esther, Max, and their daughter Bernice immigrated to the United States. (Mania met and married Lipa Kalenberg, and moved to Israel, and many years later to Texas.)

In 1977, at the age of 50, Esther Nisenthal Krinitz began creating works of fabric art to share her story of survival during the Holocaust with her daughters. Trained as a dressmaker but untrained in art, she eventually created a collection of 36 fabric pictures. Meticulously stitched words beneath the pictures provide a narrative.

Esther died at the age of 74 in March 2001, after a long illness.

Source: Art & Remembrance