March 14, 2011

Zevi Blum ’55 Etched Into Art History

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Although the work of Prof. Emeritus Moses Zevi Blum ’55, art, who died Feb. 25 at age 77 of pancreatic cancer, now rests in the Vatican and the Louvre, most remember Blum for his love of teaching, his humor and his commitment to colleagues and family.

Blum’s dedication to his students set him above many, according to Prof. Barry Perlus, art, associate dean of Architecture Art and Planning, and Blum’s friend and colleague.

By 11 a.m. on a typical day, Perlus said charcoal had usually covered Blum’s hands as he painted alongside students in morning class. But his accessibility and enthusiasm did not extend only to students.

“He was instrumental in supporting younger faculty and new perspectives within the department,” Perlus said. “[Blum] was open-minded and willing to release control and put it in the hands of the next generation of artists and professors.”

Alexandra Blum ’91 said her father was very involved with his students and kept in touch with many over the years. His traditional style, always blended with humor and a love for teaching, attracted a variety of followers, many of his colleagues said.

“The thing I remember most about him is that he had wonderful sense of humor and that he was always positive about art and about the department,” Prof. Emeritus Stan Bowman, art, said.

Sarah Albrecht, manager of management information and administrative systems in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, said she did not think Blum ever left the office without leaving his colleagues in a fit of laughter.

Blum’s former professor, Prof. Emeritus Victor Colby, art, referred to Blum as his “go-to person” on issues in the department.

“He was just able to get along with everybody,” Colby said. “I think that was his chief attribute.”

Although Blum taught drawing at Cornell, in his personal work he produced etchings. Blum created black and white engravings in metal plates, using styles and techniques developed in the 15th and 16th centuries by artists such as Albrecht Dürer, according to his son, Jonathan Blum ’89.

“His work came out of the Northern European Renaissance,” he said. Jonathan Blum added that he worked with his father to design and publish a book of Blum’s work, to coordinate exhibits of Blum’s art and to have printers reproduce his etchings.

Frank Robinson, director of the Johnson Museum, said Blum’s work portrays “an extraordinary world of these strange creatures … somewhere between animal and human.”

Robinson praised Blum’s work as unique and inspiring.

“[Blum’s etchings] have a wonderful life and a freshness and energy, a fantasy, a whimsy that is really quite wonderful,” Robinson said. “And that’s what attracted people, and attracted me, and made him very well known.”

His art had “an inventiveness that you don’t often see in artists,” Prof. Bowman said.

Many of Blum’s family and friends said his satire and humor inspired his etchings.

“He was an incredible artist and his sense of humor was really expressed also in his artwork,” Bowman said.

Beginning in the 1980s, Blum began adding color to his etchings — the biggest change to his work over the last two and a half decades, Jonathan Blum said.

Blum was born in France but grew up in New Jersey. He received his degree in architecture from Cornell,                                             then worked as an architect in New York City and at Ithaca College before coming to Cornell. He served as the chair of the art department in AAP.

In 2009, The Ink Shop in Ithaca featured a retrospective exhibit including 26 of Blum’s original etchings, according to Christa Wolf MFA ’96, Blum’s former student and a founder and director of The Ink Shop.

On an international stage, Blum designed a Steuben Glass engraved crystal goblet, titled “The Three Wise Men,” for the Carter administration to give as a gift, according to Jonathan Blum. The piece is now in the Vatican’s permanent collection.

After retiring in 2002, Blum moved to Stockton, California to be with his wife, Barbara, and his three children William Blum ’86, Jonathan and Alexandra.

Even after retirement into his 70s, however, Blum etched everyday, A. Blum said.

A memorial service will be held for Blum in Ithaca in June.

Original Author: Rebecca Friedman