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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Folk Art and Found Art

Folk Art by Sam Corenzwit - a piece I've owned for over 20 years.
When were were in Baltimore this past March, we visited the American Visionary Art Museum.  I love found art (no secret to any followers of my blogs or Instagram accounts), folk art, and art created by self-taught artists.  I've collected, viewed, and documented this for well-over 20 years. It wasn't until we visited the AVAM exhibits that I remembered once knowing a man named, Sam Corenzwit, a local Philadelphia artist.  This was back in the very early 1990's, way before the Internet, digital cameras or any other modern day gadget that kept us plugged in to the whole wide world.  Something about the exhibits at the AVAM struck a chord for me.  It took me a few weeks to finally pull out the above work of art, by Sam, but here it is, my first piece of folk art, or any sort of real art, that I ever purchased. 

The back story:  I first saw Sam's works at Day By Day Restaurant and Catering.  I worked at DxD, first as a bookkeeper in the office, then as a cater waiter, on and off for most of the 1990's.  Sam Corenzwit lived in a condo on the same block as the restaurant.  He was a regular patron at the restaurant.  I guess he had a lot of art work and was quite fond of showing it off to anyone who might be interested.  Robin, the owner of the restaurant, (bless her heart!) started holding art shows by local artists in the restaurant.  Remembering what a charming character that Sam was, I'm sure he cajoled Robin into showing off his creations.  Mind you, Sam was in his late 70's, so one could hardly resist a charming older man with an eccentric streak to him!

I  saw Sam's show and fell in love with his stuff.  I bought a few things, something Dalmatian inspired for the woman I was dating at the time (she had a thing for Dalmatians); and this funny fella - the Fisher Boy.  I had little money at the time. I was probably making all of 23K at the time, which felt like a lot but I was still counting my pennies.  To splurge on buying something other than groceries, rent/utilities and clothing was a big deal for me.  I'm sure I felt that whatever his prices were they were more than I could spare at the time.  But, I was young, in love with the woman, and in love with Sam's art work…you know how it goes.  I suffered for the art!  I bought the art and became friendly with Sam for a while.  I visited with him and his wife, listened to his stories, looked at his collection of works and became a fan of his.  I think I bought some other stuff of Sam's too.  I also remember that he gave me a piece, which I've long ago lost or gave away.  

The love affair with my ex ended long ago and Sam passed away in 2000 but I still have this drawing and I'm still fascinated with outsider artists.  I hadn't thought about him, or his art in years.  But as I said, being at the American Visionary Art Museum jogged my memories of Sam.  I'm so glad I still own this jolly piece.  Sam's memory lives on in my life and his artwork will find a new home, in a proper frame, for our son's room at some point.  Good art lives!





S. Corenzwit, Antiques Dealer, 'Whimsical' Artist

Posted: February 05, 2000
Samuel Corenzwit, a retired antiques dealer and an unconventional artist in his later years, died of cancer Wednesday at his Center City home. He was 88.
Born in Philadelphia, Mr. Corenzwit graduated from West Philadelphia High School and attended Temple University for a year before embarking on a life-changing adventure: He traveled around the world with a friend in 1932, at the height of the Depression, making the trip on $800.
When that friend later married, Mr. Corenzwit had another life-changing encounter. At the wedding, he met Anne Goldberg, the bride's niece, to whom he would be married for more than 60 years.
"He was a wonderfully loving man," Mrs. Corenzwit said. "We really had a very exciting life, thanks to Sam. He reached out to people and was a joyful person. We laughed a lot."
During the 1950s and 1960s, he was active in the civil-rights and peace movements. When their children were younger, the Corenzwits moved from South Philadelphia to East Camden and then to Cherry Hill, returning to Center City about 13 years ago.
When he was younger, Mr. Corenzwit for a few years operated an ice cream parlor near Central High School that became a hangout for the students. At age 30, he became an antiques dealer, which occupied him for the next three decades. When he retired from that pursuit, he discovered a latent talent.
He would doodle constantly, said his wife, and an artist friend said he should draw on larger paper and submit his work to an art contest for older adults. He did and immediately won a prize.
He did more than draw. His son, Michael, said Mr. Corenzwit saw a David Smith sculpture made of scrap iron and said, "I can do that." Soon nothing was safe from being incorporated into one of his creations.
"He would take objects he found and make them into art," Michael Corenzwit said. "He grew up during the Depression, and he was always very careful. . . . He would go to art supply places and get their discarded pieces and do very unique things."
For his art, he utilized everything from the clip-on buttons patrons are given at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to old shoes. Mr. Corenzwit's art, his son said, could be described as "whimsical."
In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by daughters Roslyn Lieb and Hope; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at noon tomorrow at the Kennedy House, 1901 JFK Blvd., where his prolific artwork will be on display and given away to his friends.

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