Malcah Zeldis is another artist who uses color and style as a way to lift her spirits. She imagines herself as different characters in her paintings and uses art as a way to bring joy to herself and others. She says that “as she gets older she gets bolder.” I have learned that many artists feel an renewed sense of freedom in their work and style as they age.

Malcah’s daughter, Yona McDonogh, who has inherited her mother’s love of style, describes Malcah below:

Yona writes, “A good friend said to me: ‘Your mother is not just a great person, she’s a great event!’ And it’s true. Her super-sized style is apparent in her art, her clothing and her décor. Born in 1931 and raised in Detroit, she spent nine years of her life in Israel, and returned to the United States in 1958 to settle in New York City. After raising my brother and me, she finally found the courage to pursue the life of an artist, a long-held dream of hers. Although she did not study formally, she achieved her own form of expression with her brightly colored, densely packed oil paintings and gouaches, as well as with her sculptures, many of which were created using found objects.

Today she has a thriving career which includes many museum shows (the Smithsonian andThe Museum of American Folk Art are two high points), important private collections and numerous publications. I was always enchanted by the way she dressed and I can still remember outfits she wore back in the 1960s, when I was a small child. Some highlights: a pair of floor length cherry velvet evening pants (cut so full as to resemble a skirt) worn with a glittery purple belted tunic and long strands of red crystal beads; a wool coat in a black and white checkerboard pattern with black fox trim; a white hand-embroidered caftan from Israel; a cotton summer dress in a denim blue with contrast red stitching (there was a matching bow for her long black hair); a sleeveless shift in sky blue and brown, with what looked like a red, black and white target dead center. I loved her look back then, and I still love it today.”

Here is a video by Lina Plioplyte on Zeldis, her artwork and her style:

A note from Jarrett: Malcah’s exhibition at the American Museum of Folk Art is up through November 7th…I recommend taking a look, it’s a wonderful exhibition and museum!

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Ari Seth Cohen

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