The Defiance before Liberation
May 8, 1945
All of history intrigues me. History that also encompasses art and music particularly fascinates me. One such time and place is World War II in the Czech Republic where a former holiday resort for the nobility became a concentration camp for Jews from the northeastern countries of Europe who were captured by the Nazis. This is a camp that held over 150,000 captives of which 15,000 were children. This was also the camp where music became a tool of group defiance, personal dignity, and self-liberation.
Theresienstadt, also known as Terezin was advertised to the world as a “model” alternate society for the “resettled” Jews. On official visits from the International Red Cross, it was just that. Children laughed and played on shiny new playground equipment. Everyone had plenty to eat, clean clothes, and happy dispositions. However, once the delegation departed, the facades fell away, and the ruse gave way to reality.
The camp was indeed a concentration camp with all of the associated horrors. Not only did the Nazis torture their prisoners physically, they also tortured them mentally often utilizing music as a weapon. Music was played through loudspeakers in the camp in order to “re-educate” and demoralize the prisoners. Nazi officers required inmates to sing on demand for their amusement. Prisoners were forced to “entertain” the Nazis in the evenings for their listening pleasure. And if the singing was not performed to perfection, the prisoners would be beaten.
Survivor Eberhard Schmidt reported that,
“Anyone who did not know the song was beaten. Anyone who sang too
softly was beaten. Anyone who sang too loud was beaten. The SS men lashed
out wildly.” (Fackler, p. 1)
Another survivor, Karl Röder, recalls that singing songs on command was part of the
daily routine of camp life: “We sang in small groups, or one block would sing, or several
thousand prisoners all at once. After several hours singing, we were often unable to
produce another note”. (Fackler p. 1)
Daily tasks, prisoner floggings and even grizzly executions were staged to music. Music which is meant to enlighten the mind and inspire the soul was degraded to become a tool of intimidation.
However, at Theresienstadt, as in all camps, there were a large number of highly educated Jewish men and women within the walls. These intellectuals were determined to use their training and mental acuity to defy their captors and take control of the message in the music as well as their state of mind. One such prisoner was Czech composer Rafael Schächter. He along with 150 other Jews performed Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem for the Nazi SS. This complex piece of music was memorized by rote repetition from the single available vocal score and performed alongside a pitiful upright piano. Surviving participants of this 150 voice choir reported that their purpose in performing the Requiem was defiance. The were determined to sing to their captors those words which could not be spoken, the words that meant you can take our bodies, but you cannot have our minds and souls.
Paul King, a violinist in Theresienstadt and a Holocaust survivor stated that,
“There was no happiness. It was survival…Culture is very often
a survival mechanism for nations, as it is for smaller groups… Because, after all,
everybody felt that there is perhaps more chance in surviving if you are unified at
least in spirit if not in anything else… “ (Wadler)
This monumental achievement by innocent people, criminalized only by their race, will forever stand as a testament to the strength of the human spirit. To commemorate their lives and carry on their legacy, a group of musicians travels the world performing Verdi’s Requiem using restored violins previously owned and played by the prisoners within the camps.
Viktor Frankl, a renowned psychiatrist and Theresienstadt survivor reminds us that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
In commemoration of these brave souls who chose to exercise their final freedom in an act of musical defiance, I dedicate this painting. Should we ever forget their suffering, we do them an even greater injustice than has already been done. Instead, let us remember: remember their remarkable lives, their intrinsic value, their indomitable spirit, their all-encompassing hope expressed through the music they performed in the midst of their horror.
Cook, Michael, et al. “7 Astonishing Quotes From Auschwitz Survivor Viktor Frankl.” The Stream, 8 May
Fackler, and Guido. “Music in Concentration Camps 1933-1945.” Music and Politics,
Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 1 June 2007,
ORT, World. “Music and the Holocaust.” Music and the Holocaust: Kling, Paul, 7 May 2020,
Rose, Julie. “'Violins Of Hope': Instruments From The Holocaust.” NPR, NPR, 15 Apr. 2012,
“The History of Terezin - Terezin - Children of the Holocaust.” Terezin, 8 May 2020,
Art inspires us. It moves us. It changes us. It should also honor us. For me, creating art is a way to honor the women in my life who have influenced and shaped me into the woman that I am. In preparation for this Mother's Day, I want to honor two of these women, my grandmothers Lois Lorraine and Jewel Elaine.
As a child, both of my grandmothers were artists. They both painted. One sculpted. When I was born, they were both in their 50's, When I began to pay attention, they were in their 60s. I began to notice that they were always doing something, learning something, engaging in something. Often, that something was art.
My Grandma Jewel was a model 1950s housewife. She filled her role beautifully. She could have been the archetype for any of the popular magazines of the time. She had a hot dinner on the table every night when her husband came home from work with a smile on her face, a clean house and fresh clothing, hair and makeup so he felt warmly loved and wanted when he arrived home. She was active on all sorts of committees at church and in women's groups in her community. She loved her role as a mother and community leader; but her greatest love, other than my grandfather, was her flowers.
Nearly half of Grandma Jewel's yard was filled with flowers, which was impressive since the yard is almost an acre of land. Her gardens were beautiful and well-known around the small Kansas towns just west of Kansas City. More than 10 years after her death, painters still came in the summer from the City just to paint her gardens.
Grandma also painted the flowers in her gardens. She knew the frailty of the flowers and that they came in and out of season. She shared them as often as she could with as many people as possible. She gave them away just to share their beauty and the joy that they brought to others. Grandma knew that the lifespan of flowers is short but that their beauty brought joy that lasted a lot longer in people's hearts and souls. Because she knew their lives were short and that they could not last, she did her best to capture their beauty when they were in full bloom.
Grandma Jewel also cultivated a love for beauty and art in me. Every time, and I mean every. single. time. that I came to visit, she had paper and drawing supplies for me. Sometimes it was crayons, sometimes just pencils, and sometimes markers. She encouraged me to explore my artistic bent and showed joy in my pursuit. She died when I was a teenager and so would never know that I finally did study art and earn a degree in art. I know she would have been so proud to share that with me. She was and is always an inspiration to me.
Grandma Lois had a very different life. She married my Grandfather, a dairy farmer, the son of a dairy farmer who immigrated from Denmark in the early 1900s. I did not find out until after her death how difficult her life had been before marrying and how her dark days haunted her throughout what should have been a happy and full life with a devoted husband and four beautiful daughters. Perhaps this is why she pursued art. Perhaps it gave her an escape into a more beautiful place. I will never know her reasons. All I know is that she never stopped learning.
As a child, I remember her always having her easel up and actively painting some type of pastoral scene or her grandchildren's portraits. She too, cooked and cleaned and helped on the farm, raising those four children to be independent young women. The mason jar of dirty paint water and palette was evidence that she somehow found time to paint in the midst of busy farm life.. Once when I came to visit, there was a sculpture of herself in the living room. She had taken a class at the community college in sculpture and had become quite skilled. The bust was a striking likeness of her. Well into her 60s, she continued to take classes at the community college right alongside other students who were the age of her grandchildren. It never seemed to bother her that she was so much older than the other students. It was just important to her to be able to learn.
Over the years, she and I grew closer. Around the age of 70, she asked me to teach her to play the piano. She picked it up fairly quickly. It always impressed me that she was always striving to learn something new and always encouraged me to do the same. When I moved away to go to college, she gave me another piece of advice. She told me to always find a way to support myself and don't count on a man to do it for me. Her guidance gave me a glimpse into her darker past and a better understanding of why she kept striving and fighting to better herself. Her independence and determination greatly impressed and molded me so that by the time, I was in full bloom as a young women, I was determined to make my own way in the world. I would be strong and independent and achieve my goals with or without a man in my life to do it for me.
It turned out that I met and married a wonderful man who was attracted by my independent spirit and who doesn't want to "do it for me." He just wants to do it with me. I wish my Grandma Lois had felt that bond and partnership and safety. Although she didn't seem to fully grasp how loved she was, she did fully impress on my young mind and heart how important it was to pursue art and to create beauty around me wherever I was and in whatever circumstances I found myself.
So, on this Mother's Day weekend, I dedicate this blog and my latest painting to my grandmothers. These two women continue to inspire and challenge me to be better, to create beauty, and to always, always be learning. With every stroke of my brush, I remember you, I admire you, and I honor you.
It is fitting that Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where so much of our nation’s
history was formed, would be the birthplace of the man who would help form the
Golden Age of Illustration in American history. His art style would influence
realists, surrealists and even pop artists. As a leader in the field of commercial
illustration, Parrish defied the persona of the “starving artist.” His fanciful, lyrical
images carried him to great success, however, in the end, he returned to his roots
and to reality.
Maxfield Parrish began his life as Frederick Parrish on July 25, 1870. He was
an only child, born into an open-minded Quaker family. His father was an
accomplished painter and etcher. His mother came from a family of machinists.
Both parents supported and encouraged his artistic abilities. Because the family was
well-to-do, they were able to travel through Europe, exposing Frederick to classical
architecture and the art of the old masters. They also helped Frederick begin his
formal art studies in Paris. At some point, Frederick decided he would take on his
grandmother’s maiden name of Maxfield by which he would become famous.
In addition to studying in Paris, Maxfield also studied at the Pennsylvania
Academy of Fine Arts and the Drexel Institute. A few of his professors were
Howard Pyle, Robert Vonnon and Thomas Anshutz. It was at Drexel that he met
Lydia Austen, an art instructor who would become his wife. Together they had four
children and built a home which they called The Oaks. This would be the retreat
where Maxfield would create his magical masterpieces along with his mistress and
Susan originally came to live at The Oaks as a housekeeper, but her skills
seemed better suited to inspiring Maxfield’s creativity. Their relationship may have
started innocently; however, at some point it seems to have progressed to become
more personal and intimate. However, after the death of Lydia in 1953, Maxfield
did not marry Susan, and she married another longtime friend. Some believe she
did this out of spite. However, I disagree as she continued to care for Maxfield and
assist him in his studio until his death in 1966. Perhaps, their entire relationship was
innocent, perhaps not. In any regard, they were very close and cared for each other
Maxfield Parrish’s work is known for his androgynous nudes, fairytale
settings, dreamlike landscapes and a dazzling, luminous blue that became known as
“Parrish Blue.” He created the signature color by a process he perfected while
recovering from illness. The process involved layering varnish and pure colors over
a ground of white. He stated that “this varnishing is a craft all by itself and cannot
be too carefully done.” (bpib.com)
It seems that none of his work was “too carefully done.” He was precise and
masterful in his characterizations of both fact and fantasy. He used models for both
his figures and landscapes. Norman Rockwell stated, “When I was in art school, I
admired him. He was one of my gods.” (parrish-house.com) Andy Warhol, one of
the most popular pop artists of the 21st century admired him as well and collected
During his career, Maxfield Parrish was employed by several nationally
recognized magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and Life as well as major American
companies like General Electric. He lived comfortably on the royalties made from
selling prints of his artwork on a commercial basis which had never been done
before. In addition, he also illustrated childrens’ books for authors such as Eugene
Field and Frank L. Baum. The commercial success of Maxfield Parrish and his art
opened up new possibilities for future artists and their work, artists like myself who
dream of creating art, producing art and succeeding in the field of commercial art
in the way that Maxfield Parrish so elegantly modeled for us to follow.
When reviewing the work of Mayfield Parrish, there is definitely a
progression in style. I can see from his beginning work in the 1920s to his final
landscapes in the 1960s that he was constantly experimenting and learning and
honing his skills. It is inspiring and encouraging to me that one who was so
accomplished still returned to the basics with each new piece of work that he
In this early illustration from 1897, it seems that
Maxfield Parrish had not yet found his signature style. The
color palette is limited and the composition simple. this may
have been due to the subject matter. The stylized female figure
is seen face forward unlike the figures in his later work. I like
this style very much and it would have been a great style in
itself had Parrish decided to stick with it. However, if he had,
we would have never known the beauty or the real talent of
In Sing a Song of Sixpence painted in 1910, we begin to see what we recognize
as Parrish’s style. This whimsically illustrated nursery rhyme combines architecture
and nature which becomes the standard in Parrish’s work. The beautiful landscape
in the background and colorful figures and forms in the foreground balance the
composition with symmetrical shapes, flat blocks of color and geometric patterns.
Lady Violetta and the Knave (1923) shows us the profile views
of the human forms that become the norm for Parrish’s
paintings. Instead of a landscape background, however,
this scene is set in the interior of a kitchen. The colors are
muted instead of bright and bold. However, there is still an
ethereal quality to the scene, which I assume is achieved
through the technique of applying translucent glazes. I
especially see this in the rich red of the pot on the top of
he stove and the blues in the dishes as well as in the trim on the boy’s clothing. My
favorite part of this piece is the steam coming out of the oven. I am curious to
know if this is the white ground showing through or if this is a white glaze applied
at the end stages of the painting. I prefer to believe that he planned ahead very
carefully and left the white ground layer showing through with only the varnish
layer over it to leave this bright white effect for the steam.
In 1922, Parrish painted one of his best paintings entitled Romance. This is
classic Maxfield Parrish. It has everything that signifies his work: ethereal landscapes, pensive
figures, classical gowns and architecture and the signature indigo blue. The mountains glow
with warmth. The cold snow in the background and the water in the foreground
are illuminated with light. This has to be a result of the layering technique that Parrish perfected.
I think I could stare at this scene for hours and never get tired of looking at it. The reflections and lighting amaze and transfix me. There is so much to see!
In 1925, Maxfield Parrish illustrated the book Knave
of Hearts. Taken from that book is this illustration where
we again see the classic architecture used with a landscape
in the background. The composition is very similar to Sing
a Song of Sixpence. There is bright and bold pattern used in
the foreground. The figures are in profile and action poses.
All of these characteristics are typical of Parrish’s style and
readily identify his work. What is missing are large swathes
of his signature blue. Instead, blue is used in moderation
and a bright violet pulls our attention into the scene.
Stars was painted in 1926 and is one of several girls on
rocks that Parrish painted of which he later lamented
when he grew tired of it. This one in particular
reminds me of the sculpture of The Little Mermaid in
Copenhagen, Denmark. I wonder if he saw this
sculpture or a picture of it at some point and modeled
the painting after it. The way the girl and the rock are
framed surrounded by only water is so similar that it
seems like it can’t be coincidental. In this painting, we
also see the famed
“Parrish Blue” taking
center stage and
complemented by the
orange skin tones of the
Another girl on a rock entitled Ecstasy (1930) was painted as a part of
Parrish’s General Electric contract. This piece was one of the calendar images for
the Edison Mazda Lamp division. In this image,
the Parrish Blue takes over the background and
contrasts with the orange of the foreground
mountains and skin tones of the girl. The freedom
she feels standing barefoot on the rocks as the wind
flows through her hair and swirls around her gown
is clearly communicated in this image. I can feel it
swirling around me as I take in the image. One
thing I love about this painting is how interesting it
is even with such a limited palette.
The Dinkey Bird painted in 1904 was one of the artist’s
earlier images of his career, but it contained much of what
made him famous and memorable: the androgynous nude
figure in profile view, the landscape in the background with
the fairytale castle. With this combination, Parrish had
found his magic. This illustration in particular brings the
viewer back into their childhood, feeling the freedom of
flying through the sky, releasing the imagination, and feeling
as if anything is possible.
According to some, The Lantern Bearers is the most iconic and
memorable of all of the Parrish paintings and a representation of what all his
painting is about. I disagree. It has the signature Parrish
Blue. It has the whimsical figures in profile and active
poses. It has the complementary color palette. It has a
strong pyramid composition. However, for me, this
painting is too busy. There are too many figures, too
many orbs and just too much going on overall. I feel like
my eye is always moving and has nowhere to rest. In his
other paintings, there is a place of peace; but in this one,
there seems to be constant motion. The glowing orbs are
interesting and are the point of emphasis by those who
particularly like this painting. They call it a “fairytale come to
life.” (artistsnetwork.com) This, however, is my least favorite of all of the Maxfield
Parrish paintings that I have viewed.
Perhaps, Maxfield himself was getting tired of creating the fairytale. In his
later life, he returned to painting only landscapes. He had great success with
landscapes in the past and one of his most famous and memorable was Daybreak
painted in 1922.
Daybreak was the first work Parrish created specifically as an art print for
reproduction and resale. Within three years of its production, the publisher
estimated that one in every four American homes owned a copy. The image has
maintained its popularity and has been used as the basis for movie posters, cd
covers and music videos. The scene is classical, lyrical and romantic. It could be a
real place, but it could also be an imaginary place. This may be what makes it so
irresistible and timeless.
My favorites of Maxfield Parissh’s paintings are his landscapes. I’m not sure I
can pick just one, so I have included three here.
The first is Dream Castle in the Sky painted in
1908. I love his treatment of the nude figure on
the rock. She almost blends in completely. She’s
coy and modest but very comfortable in her
natural surroundings. I also love the light in this
painting. It shimmers off of the trees, the foliage,
all the way to the clouds in the background
behind the mountain and castle. I’m drawn into the center of the painting by way
of the light shimmering off the water. It’s reminiscent of Monet’s water lilies and
just as entrancing.
Riverbank Autumn is another of my favorite landscapes by Parrish. Supposedly,
this is a painting of the secret meeting place of Mayfield and a lover. Regardless of
its meaning to the artist, it is a tranquil scene,
masterfully painted in light and shadows.
Again, I admire how the light reflecting off
the water pulls the eye into the scene right
past the large tree that anchors the
foreground. I would love to know how many
hours he spent painting this one piece. The
detail and lighting is incredible. To paint this
place in this much detail, he must have spent a
great deal of time there. It was obviously a
very special place to him.
The first painting that made me aware of
Parrish as an artist was Aquamarine painted in
1917. It is also the only painting of his that I have
attempted to reproduce. The composition is
interesting and unusual. The odd shape of the
tree stuck on top of the rock in the midst of the
water is unusual and must have caught Parrish’s
artistic eye. The classic Parrish Blue is what
caught my eye when I first saw the painting in
addition to the strange shape of the tree and the
negative space on the right side of the painting. Trees have always intrigued me as
an artist. Perhaps that is why I love the landscapes by Parrish. He treats the trees
with such care and detail. I appreciate that and hope to hone my skills so that I can
paint with the same care for detail, color, light and luminosity as Maxfield Parrish.
In 1936, Time magazine stated that at that time the three most popular
artists in the world were Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cezanne and Maxfield Parrish.
(artistsnetwork.com) Van Gogh and Cezanne both were impressionists. All three used
brilliant colors to bring their paintings to life. However, Parrish’s art was different.
He was a realist painting imaginary scenes in realistic settings. Eight decades later,
his art as well as his influence on the art world has remained timeless. He was a trail
blazer, an innovator and the forerunner for all commercial illustrators who would
follow. Although he did not know it at the time, Maxfield Parrish was pivotal in
forming the Golden Age of Illustration in American Art History.
JVJ Publishing Illustrators. Maxfield Parrish Color and Light bpib.com/
illustrat/parrishc. Accessed 19 September 2018.
Maxfield Parrish. parrish-house.com. Accessed 19 September 2018.
Maxfield Parrish. July 25, 2016, tmlarts.com/maxfield-parrish . Accessed 29
Maxfield Parrish: The Retrospective. americanillustrators.com/travel/
maxfield-parish-the-retrospective. Accessed 29 September 2918.
Ten Masterpieces from Mayfield Parrish, Ranked. https://
19 September 2018.
Maxfield Parrish, Page 11
Debra Caroline - My desire is to create illustrations that tell a story - illustrations that inspire and engage the viewer. A lot of research goes into each one of my illustrations. This blog is where I will share what I am currently working on and learning about. I hope you enjoy it.