Today, FF2 celebrates the work of artist Malcah Zeldis. On this day twenty-six years ago, Malcah and her daughter Yona published Anne Frank. The book, with colorful, impactful illustrations by Malcah and words by her daughter, tells Anne Frank’s story for younger readers. The picture book strives to highlight not only Anne’s strength, but the importance of our commitment to ensure that Anne’s history never be repeated.
Born on September 22, 1931 in the Bronx, New York, Malcah Zeldis grew up in Detroit. Surrounded by a Jewish community, and making frequent visits to the Detroit Institute of Arts, Malcah’s childhood experiences in Detroit would go on to influence the work she produced throughout her career. After graduating from high school, Malcah moved in 1949 to the newly formed state of Israel. Though not previously overly religious, Malcah used this time in Israel to explore her heritage. It was also in Israel that Malcah met her soon-to-be husband, Chayym Zeldis.
In between working at a kibbutz and settling into married life, Malcah began to paint. Her pieces, which bring to life crowded scenes in bright, contrasting color, drew the attention of one visitor to the kibbutz, the artist Aaron Giladi. Aaron expressed admiration for Malcah’s work, which in turn bolstered her own self-confidence.
Though Malcah took a break from painting for the birth of her two children, she picked it up again after the family left Israel for life in Brooklyn. However, Malcah’s return to the United States was not an easy one. As FF2 editor-in-chief Jan Lisa Huttner explains in her own article on Malcah, “Charismatic Chayym was determined to become a writer and he succeeded. But he was also a womanizer who neglected the wife he assumed was a ‘mere’ wife and mother. Surprise! After Chayym deserted her and moved back to Israel with a new wife, Malcah raised their two children in Brooklyn while transforming herself into a world-famous painter!”
Transform herself Malcah did, even while in a period of her life with more stress and less time than ever. In 1970, Malcah submitted her work to Brooklyn College as part of an application to study education there. The professor, so astonished by Malcah’s talent, put her in touch with an art critic. Soon, Malcah found herself thrust into the professional art world. Her talent in painting, praised internationally, has flourished ever since.
Through many of her paintings, Malcah tells Jewish stories; both timeless and everyday. Jacob’s Dream features Jacob, one of the three patriarchs and the father of Joseph. Malcah paints Jacob asleep on a rolling green hill, as three angels descend from a golden, celestial staircase to visit him. In another painting, Seder, a family sits down to celebrate Passover together. Candles and wine adorn the table. A little girl plays with her doll on the rug, and a white dog sits at attention, waiting for dropped crumbs.
Malcah’s folkloric style brings to life shared cultural experiences. The people in her paintings could be substituted for countless families. The religious scenes, oft-repeated and familiar to many, take on a comforting hue in her warm colors.
Malcah has exhibited her work in the Jewish Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the International Folk Art Museum, and the Milwaukee Museum of Art. In 1988, Malcah had the honor of being the first living artist to have a solo exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum.
Outside of the gallery, Malcah’s work can be found in homes across the world. Malcah and her daughter, writer Yona Zeldis, have collaborated to create several children’s books together. The books center important religious and cultural stories. Titles include Eve and Her Sisters: Women of the Old Testament, Sisters in Strength: American Women Who Made a Difference, and 1997’s Anne Frank.
Malcah’s work can also be purchased as a calendar through Pomegranate, a website which specializes in bringing gorgeous art into the home. In Pomegranate’s description of the calendar, they write, “From everyday rituals to annual holidays to ceremonies that mark life’s milestones, the 13 images in this calendar joyfully illustrate the union of the spiritual and the domestic that characterizes Judaism.” A link to purchase Malcah’s 2024 calendar will be provided below.
With a career that stretches decades and countries, Malcah’s work connects and educates its viewers. She is a vital part of Jewish, folkloric, and American art history. With the High Holy Days fast approaching, now is the perfect time to revisit the art of Malcah Zeldis.
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Read Jan’s article on Malcah here.
Browse Malcah’s 2023/2024 calendar here.
Order Yona and Malcah’s Anne Frank here.
Explore Malcah’s biography on the Jewish Virtual Library here.
Visit Malcah’s Wikipedia page here.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Images from Pomegranate’s 2022 Malcah Zeldis calendar have been provided by Pomegranate and are used here by FF2 Media with their permission. All Rights Reserved by Pomegranate.