The Life and Art of Theodore Czebotar
The fascinating life of a midcentury American artist determined to live and paint as he pleased
When artist Theodore Czebotar died in 1996, he left behind the work of more than sixty years—oils, watercolors, pastels, and sketches. Once celebrated nationally as a prominent midcentury modernist painter, Czebotar had long ago withdrawn from the public art world. As his extended family grappled with the immensity of their unexpected inheritance, his niece Patricia Hamilton dug deeper into the life of the uncle she hardly knew. What she found was that the talented, driven man who had once made, the New Yorker reported, “something of an artistic sensation here,” both captivated and confounded friends and family, peers and patrons, and the exuberant but fragile wife with whom he shared his resolutely creative path.
In Hidden Treasure Patricia Hamilton provides a lyrical portrait of the life of Theodore Czebotar (1915–96). A child of Polish immigrants to Milwaukee, he embarked on hobo wanderings in the early 1930s, leading to gigs as a WPA mural artist and as a scenic designer for the Federal Theater Project. The sponsorship of John Steuart Curry connected Czebotar to the New York art world, launching him as a successful fine artist with gallery shows and museum exhibits in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. In 1937, Czebotar’s first one-man show of forty-three works was held at the Walker Gallery in Manhattan. Within a year, more than forty critics, artists, collectors, and museums had purchased his work. By 1941, his work was shown alongside noted contemporaries at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Corcoran Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Faulkner Memorial Art Gallery, Albany Institute of History and Art, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art.
Though Czebotar had associated with Curry, William Saroyan, cartoonist Al Hirschfeld, and other prominent artists and writers, from the 1960s onward he increasingly withdrew from exhibiting and selling his work. He believed that the price of commercial success was the compromise of artistic vision. Settling in Fishkill, New York, with his artist wife, Els Snapper, he continued to paint constantly, inspired by their Hudson Valley idyll and by travels to the other-worldly shores of the Olympic Peninsula, his final muse.
Illustrated with both personal photos and art from Czebotar’s prolific career, Hidden Treasure introduces readers to a forgotten artist determined to transpose the world around him into his own mysterious realm.
Theodore Czebotar’s exhibition history and selected works can be viewed at http://theodoreczebotar.com/.
28 b/w photos. 25 color illus.