Ben Shahn Biography
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Ben Shahn Biography

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Ben Shahn (September 12, 1898 - March 14 1969) was a Lithuanian-born United Statesn artist, muralist, social activist, photographer and teacher. He is best known for his works of Social realism, his leftist political views, and his series of lectures published as The Shape of Content. He was born in Kovno (Kaunas), Lithuania, to Joshua Hessel and Gittel (Lieberman) Shahn. His father was exiled to Siberia for alleged revolutionary activities in 1902, at which point Shahn, his mother, and his three younger siblings moved to Vilkomir (UkmergÄ—). In 1906, the family emigrated to America where they rejoined Hessel, who had fled Siberia. They settled in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. Shahn began his path to becoming an artist in New York, where he was first trained as a typographer. Shahn's early experiences with typography and graphic design is apparent in his later prints and paintings which often include the combination of text and image. Shahn's primary medium was egg tempera, popular among Social Realists. He was recommended by Walker Evans, a friend and former roommate, to Roy Stryker to join the photographic group at the Farm Security Administration (FSA), traveling and documenting the American south alongside Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and other photographers. In May and June 1933 he served as an assistant to Diego Rivera while Rivera executed the infamous Rockefeller Center mural, and by circulating a petition among the workers, Shahn had a role in fanning the controversy. Shahn left the FSA in 1938, and that same year he and his wife Bernarda moved to the new town of Jersey Homesteads (now Roosevelt, New Jersey). In 1975, the Harvard University Press published The Photographic Eye of Ben Shahn, which has a collection of his works.

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