Text from the Jewish Virtual Library
Minna B. Harkavy (1887-1987), U.S. sculptor, active in artistic and political circles. She is recognized for figurative sculptures, with Expressionist tendencies that often address social issues, in bronze, wood, and stone.
One of 10 surviving children born in Estonia to Yoel and Hannah Rothenberg, Harkavy immigrated to the United States in her early teens. She studied art in American and Europe, most notably with French sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, and showed her work at the Salon d’Automne and the Jeu de Paume in Paris. She graduated from Hunter College in Manhattan and married Louis Harkavy, a pharmacist who also published in Yiddish-language periodicals. Some of the artist’s subjects were friends like art collector Leo Stein, singer Paul Robeson, and anarchist (and lover) Carlo Tresca. A copy of Harkavy’s bust of Tresca was installed in his birthplace of Sulmona, Italy after his 1943 assassination. Other works immortalize downtrodden or oppressed people, such as coalminers in the American Midwest and European Jews threatened by Hitler. Harkavy’s celebrated bronze American Miner’s Family (1931), owned by the Museum of Modern Art, features heads of the miner, his wife and children in a tableau of stoic resolve. The elongated terra cotta head of her New England Woman, displayed at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, is reminiscent of African art and Modigliani. Harkavy’s large stone sculpture Two Men, a comment on human communication, won first prize in a 1951 national sculpture competition held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Harkavy was heavily involved in political advocacy and in organizing other artists. She was a founder of the New York Society of Women Artists in 1920, the American Artists’ Congress, and the Sculptors’ Guild, both in the 1930s. An activist in two languages, Harkavy represented the John Reed Club at a Communist anti-war conference in Amsterdam in 1932, and served on the Art Committee of the American Section of the Yidisher Kultur Farband (YKUF), the World Alliance for Yiddish Culture. Harkavy was deeply concerned with the fate of European Jewry. Her entry in the 1939 Sculptors’ Guild Exhibition, Lamentations: My Children Are Desolate Because the Enemy Prevailed, portrays a mother with arms wrapped protectively around her child.
The artist participated in a variety of group exhibitions, including those organized by the Jewish Art Center in the 1920s and the John Reed Club in the 1930s, as well as at the Whitney Studio Club, and, later, the Whitney Museum, from the 1920s to the 1950s. In the 1930s, she worked under the aegis of the WPA Fine Arts Program. A one-woman show was devoted to Harkavy at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1956. Her work is included in numerous prominent collections, including the Whitney and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tel Aviv Museum, the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, and several university museums. During her last decades, she taught students in her studio at the Ansonia Hotel in Manhattan. Harkavy died in New York, three months before her 100th birthday.