painted memories and vignettes from several periods of her life: in Poland and Austria; under British internship in Trinidad, in the West Indies, during World War II; andin New York City and San Francisco.The artist was born Esther Wachsmann in Wieliczka, Poland, near Krakow, in or around 1884. She and her husband, Baruch Hamerman, moved to Vienna, wherethey successfully operated a business, importing straw for hats, and raised four daughters. During this period, Esther Hamerman stitched wall hangings and needlework tapestries. The family fled Vienna on the brink of the war in 1938. They lived in Port of Spain before immigrating to New York. Helen Breger, the Hamermans’youngest daughter, remembered that just before her mother’s sixtieth birthday, she and her husband, both artists, encouraged Esther to pursue art after seeing somesmall drawings she had made. Hamerman began to paint seriously in New York, and she continued painting when she moved to join Breger in San Francisco.Hamerman lived in San Francisco for twelve years before moving back to New York in 1963.Hamerman painted somewhat naturalistically, although she also abstracted forms and flattened the perspective of her compositions. Her palette was jewel-like and beautifully nuanced. She devised a personal style by painting in oils on canvas or canvas board and then outlining the forms in India ink. Occasionally, Hamerman used photographs or printed images for reference, but she then transformed the subject in a personal way. She completed some seventy-five works that include paintings,drawings, and watercolors; nearly fifty remain in the possession of her family.One of her strongest works,
(c. 1957), glows with the warmth of a ritual family meal, the seder. The setting appears to be based on an early memory: themuted golden tones of the European-style carved furniture and woodwork contrast with the white tablecloth and ritual garment worn by the leader of the
. Thefamily members sit around a table bearing all the appropriate ceremonial objects as they recount the Passover story.The critic Alfred Frankenstein called Hamerman “the Grandma Moses of the West Coast”; he added, though, that “with all due respect to Grandma Moses, she paints more beautifully.” Hamerman received recognition and several honors during her lifetime, such as an award from a jury at the Whitney Museum of American Artin New York. There were one-person exhibitions of her paintings in the later 1950s and early 1960s at the De Young Museum (San Francisco, California) and theOakland (California) Museum of Art.
Kaufman, Barbara Wahl, and Didi Barrett.
A Time to Reap: Late Blooming Folk Artists.
South Orange, N.J., 1986.Oakland (California) Museum,
Cat and Ball on a Waterfall: 200 Years of California Folk Painting and Sculpture.
Oakland, Calif., 1986.Rosenak, Chuck, and Jan Rosenak.
Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century American Folk Art and Artists.
New York, 1990.