Samuel Lewis Shane (14 April 1900 – 14 October 1993) was a modern American painter whose works span a period from the early 1920s to shortly before his death in 1993. Beginning in 1920, he studied under John French Sloan of the Ashcan School at the Art Students League in New York City. His classmates, including John Graham, Stuart Davis and Alexander Calder would have important influences on his career. In 1927, he went to Paris with Graham, Davis, and Calder and they worked with some of the most renowned European painters of the time. In particular, he was befriended by Fernand Léger with whom he lived and shared a studio. Man Ray photographed him along with many of the other artists of the time. Upon their return to the United States, Graham, Davis, Shane, and others would evolve an abstract expressionist style that came to be known as the New York School. Shane exhibited with the Independent Artists in NYC, was a member of the art colony in Provincetown and continued to paint as a lifetime member of the Art Students League.
Shane was born Sholem Luzar Olshansky, or Sholem Luzar ben Moyshe HaCohen v’Esther. on April 14, 1900, in Ryzhnyifke, (in Russian Ryzhanovka ) in the Kiev Gubernya, Ukraine, Russian Empire. Ryzhnyifke was a shtetl, or a small market town with a primarily Jewish population, serving the surrounding peasant villages. The family ran and owned the inn, the only building in the town with a wooden floor and "porch." Sam was the first child, so his parents were probably married in 1899. It was an arranged marriage. Esther was about 16 or 17 years old and Moyshe was probably 25 years old. Family oral history suggests that the family had run the inn for 300 years.
Sam remembered having very little to eat as a small child. He also remembered being carried to kheder (religious school) as a child by the young men who helped the teacher; the streets were dirt, and in summer either deep mud or deep dust not navigable by a small child. He started kheder when he was three years old as was the custom. He also held memories of a series of pogroms (organized attacks on Jewish communities). The peasants in neighboring villages would warn them when the Cossacks were coming, signifying a coming pogrom. Some of the houses and the synagogue had pogrom cellars in which they would hide during such a rampage.
His mother used to pick the children up to kiss a photo of Moyshe, their father, in America. His father had left Russia in 1903 to avoid being drafted into the Russian army for the Russo-Japanese war.
Shane came to Philadelphia in 1906 with his father's youngest brother Bernard, his mother Esther (née Dzubati; in America the name was changed to Sabbath) and his younger brothers Edward and Bernard.
In Philadelphia the family first lived on South Beulah St. in a row house with an outhouse. Across the street was a store with glass show windows. When he was about 11 he saw workmen painting the name of a new business on the glass and decided that he wanted to do that. He later saw workmen painting an advertisement on a billboard. Art and calligraphy became his life passion. He took classes at the Graphic Sketch Club in So Philadelphia, the forerunner of the Fleisher Institute. After a few years he also went to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts to study. He may also have studied at the school of the Art Museum, later the Philadelphia College of Art.
New York City
In 1920, Shane moved to New York City, where he studied with John French Sloan at the Art Students League. His classmates, including John Graham, Stuart Davis and Alexander Calder, had important influences on his evolving art. In 1922, the Art Students League featured a Shane line drawing on the cover of their school bulletin. While Sloan’s Ashcan School was focused largely on New York scenes and everyday people, the student's art evolved into abstract expressionism and later the New York School. Shane supported himself doing free lance calligraphy. He painted, sketched and created art in various media.
Shane became involved in left wing political and art circles, at first with Jewish anarchists under the influence of his uncle Bernard. Bernard was editor of the Fraye Arbeter Shtime, or Free Workers’ Voice, the Yiddish anarchist paper for a number of years, and was an important part of the Stelton, New Jersey anarchist community. Shane later became sympathetic to the Soviet Union and the "revolutionary" developments there. In Manhattan he was a member of the John Reed Club, of artists, writers and other creative people sympathetic to the Soviet Union. After the Soviet Pact with Germany in 1939, he rejected Soviet style political ideas. Later, he became very committed to Israel, particularly during the 1967 June war. He remained a steadfast supporter of Israel and even the more conservative Israeli policies and politics.
In 1927 he went to Paris with Graham, Davis, and Calder to paint and study. He worked with and lived with Fernand Léger with whom he shared a studio. While in Paris he continued his close friendships with John Graham, Stuart Davis and Man Ray among others. He studied French and lived the life of an artist, painting Paris street and cabaret scenes. He exchanged art with his artist friends. John Graham sold over 150 of Shane’s paintings. Man Ray took several photos of Shane as part of his compilation of photographs of artists in Paris. The Man Ray photographs are part of the family collection. There are also works by John Graham and Stuart Davis as well as letters between them.
He married Belle Schwartz informally on New Year's Day 1930 in Philadelphia. She was a dancer and actress. They later remarried legally with a Justice of the Peace in NYC after their oldest child was born. Shane kept his interests in dance and music for the rest of his life. They made folk, social and square dancing their hobby. Dance and music became a major theme of his paintings. Their marriage was tempestuous and emotional. They remained partners until they died 63 years later within 8 months of each other. He died at age 93 on 14 Oct 1993 and she aged 86 in July, 1994.
In the early 1930s he participated in a number of exhibits organized by the Independent Artists in NYC. In 1931 a major painting of his, "Speakeasy", was given particular positive mention in the World Telegram as part of a review of the group's exhibit in the Armory. He also exhibited his paintings at the Downtown Gallery. He and Belle also became part of the Provincetown, Cape Cod, artist community going there for six months a year, April through November. They returned to Greenwich Village in Manhattan for the winters. In Provincetown, Belle worked in the Repertory Theater with Eva LaGalienne and he painted and played chess. He would paint pictures of Portuguese fishermen for fish to eat. They lived in fishermen's houses, renting them for the six months. There are many scenes of the upper Cape among his paintings. The last year they went to Provincetown was 1936 from the date on his last paintings made on the Cape. Many of these paintings were sold. The family was told that various prominent people including Ben Hecht had a number of his paintings.
In 1936 the long trip to Provincetown was abandoned as was Sam's participation in exhibitions. They moved from the Village and eventually settled in apartments in Sunnyside in Queens. He took a full-time job in advertising doing lettering and layout work. He worked for some of the largest advertising firms in NYC, Benton & Bowles, D'Arcy and others. Upon entering the advertising world he changed his professional name to Sinclair Lewis Shane.
In 1938 they bought a plot in a newly formed cooperative community, eventually named Shrub Oak Park for a summer home. It was near Peekskill, NY and a much older community, Mohegan Lake, to which they had connections. Shane built the house, a 24’ square Cape Cod, with the help of his father-in-law and some friends. All three children and the oldest grandchild spent their summers there growing up in a progressive political community. He was a devoted husband and father.
He took a hiatus from painting in oils after he started regular employment in the late 1930s. Although there were practical reasons, i.e. a growing family and regular employment, he also was very affected by the Great Depression and worsening situation in Europe with the Spanish Civil War and Hitler's rise. World War II affected him strongly. There was a map he kept of the Eastern Front. The sweep of the German armies through the Poland, Russia and Ukraine and Jewish settlements there was very traumatic for him and the whole family.
Returns to painting
Shane's first new oil was painted towards the end of World War II. He called it "Exodus". It depicts a large rowboat full of people (refugees). It represents the movement of the Danish Jews to Sweden or just the plight of the Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi extermination. He made a number of studies and paintings of this subject in various formats, impressionist to abstract. After the war he slowly started to paint again and continued to draw many pictures in pastel, gouache and charcoal. He didn’t exhibit again and kept most of his work or gave or sold them to friends and family.
During the war and after Shane would go out on weekends with the family and paint, usually water colors of the Hudson Valley towns and landscapes. He considered his paintings his children. He couldn’t bear to be parted from his family or art work. He began working in pastels which for many years was his favorite medium, fast and colorful.
He and Belle were devoted folk dancers and later square dancers. He made many pastels and sketches of folk and square dancing. Their younger two children, Joanne and Mathew, were jazz musicians. Jazz bands and scenes became another favorite subject for his art. The family also loved the ballet which was another subject of his art. In later years he included klezmer bands and other Jewish subjects. Although he never became religious he moved from ignoring Jewish subjects to including them in many of his works as he grew older. Trips to Mexico, Puerto Rico and Israel provided subject matter for his painting in later years.
Return to Philadelphia
In 1976, upon Belle's retirement, they moved to Philadelphia, to be near their oldest two children, Paul and Joanne, and a grandchild, Robert. Shane began painting again in earnest particularly focusing on dance and jazz. He also made paintings specifically for his grandchildren, of sports, circuses and similar more realistic subject matter. He worked in the studio set up in their Philadelphia home right up to the end. He did scenes of his childhood in Ryzhnyifke, particularly with his grandfather, people and scenes in Jerusalem, Puerto Rico and Mexico.
A characteristic of his art is the use of strong colors, crowded scenes, streets without people or night clubs full of people. He did work in many media, oil, gouache, pastel, pencil, charcoal, lithographs. He often made a variety of sketches, black and white and in color before painting a work in oil. He was very skilled in copying exactly, which is seen in his sketches, lithographs and paintings. Most of his works were impressionist with elements of cubism and non-objectivism.
The house, in which they lived in their later years, in Germantown, Philadelphia, is now a repository of a large number of his collected works and has an exhibit of his work from his early paintings through to his latest ones.