West Islip was home to an artist who spent over 25 years redefining art with lithographs at her home studio on Gladstone Avenue. That may not sound remarkable, until you discover that the artist, Tatyana Grosman, who studied art in school as a young girl in Europe, did not pursue her career as an artist until she was 53 years old.
Grosman was born Tatyana Auguschewitsch in Siberia, Russia in 1904. Her father was a successful typographer who started a newspaper when he was 21 years old. The family led a fairly privileged life until they were forced to flee to Japan in 1918 because of the Russian Revolution. Grosman's family returned to Europe and settled in Germany where she studied fashion design and drawing at the Academy of Applied Arts in Desden. She met her husband, a painter named Maurice Grosman, during that time. They were married in 1931 and moved to Paris a year later.
The next ten years proved to be trying for Grosman. Her only child, Larissa, died in 1934, just 16 months after she was born. Grosman's father, depressed and despondent over his personal life and the state Germany was in, committed suicide in 1938. In 1940 the couple escaped occupied France and lived on the run for three years until 1943 when they arrived in Greenwich Village.
The couple eventually moved to a six room cottage on Gladstone Avenue in West Islip. Grosman's husband supported them by teaching and painting. He suffered a heart attack in 1955, leaving his wife to find a way to support them.
Her love for paper and print led her to buy an old press and try lithography. She invited other artists to her home-based studio to work with her. Eventually she had the vision to publish American artists in books similar to the illustrated books by French artists. That vision led her to start Universal Limited Art Editions at the age of 53 on November 16, 1955.
Some of the artists she worked with and/or inspired included Jasper Johns, Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg and Larry Rivers. In fact, it was Rivers who was responsible for bringing Grosman together with poet Frank O'Hara to collaborate on “Stones”, a 13 page portfolio book which took two years to complete and became known as the first ULAE publication, according to their website.
In 1962, almost 100 prints from the ULAE workshop were featured in a new gallery at the Museum of Modern Art. The museum also featured many of the works in 2007 exhibit celebrating the ULAE's 50th anniversary. In the 1980's, the Art Institute of Chicago bought all of Grosman's work from the ULAE, and eventually she gave them another 4200 prints and drawings. She also went on to receive honorary degrees from Smith College, Brandeis University and Dowling College.
Another artist Grosman worked with, Jasper Johns, is credited with introducing her to Edwin Schlossberg while he was a student at Columbia University. Grosman encouraged him by inviting him to the ULAE to print some of his poetry. He completed three projects there between 1967 and 1981 and in the process, he became one of Grosman's closest friends. Schlossberg married Caroline Kennedy in 1986, and supposedly named their second daughter, Tatiana, for his friend.
Grosman died in 1982, six years after the death of her husband. Last year, a new book of her life story featuring photos and historical documents was released entitled “Tatyana Grosman: A Scrapbook By Riva Castleman." The author is Chief Curator of Prints and Illustrated Books at the Museum of Modern Art.
The answer to last week's trivia question is: The Beach Street Middle School was completed just after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. The President's wake, which was televised, was held in the rotunda of the Capitol Building. When names were being decided for the circular building of the new middle school building, the word rotunda was on people's minds and it was eventually chosen, to the chagrin of some of the parents. To this day, that part of the school is known as the rotunda.
(Special thanks to Daria Williams for last week's trivia question).
This week's trivia question: A prominent member of West Islip became one of the elders in the church he helped finance, the First Presbyterian Church of Babylon. Who was that WI resident? The answer in next week's column.