The month of May has been officially designated by presidents of both parties as “Jewish Heritage Month,” a tribute to the contributions that Jewish immigrants and their descendants have made to the United States of America, their patriotism and appreciation for American values.
In honor of the occasion, the Wall Street-based Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce has reintroduced the legendary “Presidential Collection” portraits of US presidents painted by legendary artist Morris Katz to the general public. The full private collection is now available online for the first time in history, so that it can be viewed and appreciated by Americans far and wide under Coronavirus lockdown.
The Presidential Collection was the apple of Katz’s eye; an artist and a Holocaust survivor who painted the collection to perfection as a show of appreciation to the nation that provided him refuge and protected his religious freedoms.
Nearly a decade since his passing, the Chamber is committed to preserve Morris’s legacy and highlight this historic collection in celebration of Jewish Heritage Month.
Earlier this month, Congress passed with overwhelming bipartisan support the “Never Again Education Act,” which provides funding for Holocaust education in US schools. In his official proclamation of Jewish Heritage Month for this year, President Trump stated, “Throughout history, the Jewish people have demonstrated an unbreakable spirit, overcoming suffering, cruel oppression, violence, and bigotry.”
Morris Katz was a larger than life personality and representative of these values. He lived them and commit himself to promote them. Morris’s legacy is particularly crucial at this juncture in history, as anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic violence are seeing a frightening rise both at home and abroad.
Born in Galicia in 1932, Morris’s once-in-a-generation artistic talent was evident at a young age. During the Holocaust, Morris suffered unspeakable horrors in Nazi concentration camps and lost most of his family. After arriving in New York as a refugee, Morris began working as a carpenter. However, after struggling to find a job where he was able to keep Shabbos, he began painting.
Morris’s art career in the US would earn him global acclaim, with nicknames such as “the world’s fastest artist” and “the Albert Einstein of Art.” Morris was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as both the fastest and most prolific artist in the world, wresting the latter world record from Picasso in his presence! Morris was prominently featured by “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” and a cross section of major US media shows. Morris taught his unique “Instant Art” painting method at art schools and it is being taught through today.
Fame and all, Morris Katz maintained an approachable, good natured persona. He remained at heart a persecuted Jew hailing from one of the world’s poorest regions. He prized his ability to use Judaic art to transmit his heritage to the next generation. Similarly, Morris’s gratitude towards the US for providing him sanctuary and his reverence for the American value of religious liberty knew no bounds.
Within minutes of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Morris began his longest and dearest project ever: The Presidential Collection. Morris spent years painting meticulous masterful portraits of each president, from George Washington through, eventually, George H. W. Bush.
“The artist famous for completing beautiful portraits within minutes spent an average of 200 hours(!) on each Presidential Collection portrait in “Old Master” style.
These were the first presidential portraits in history in which the flags featured a precise number of stars, equal to the number of states/colonies in the union at the time.
These portraits became world famous. Millions of postcards featuring them were sold, each one featuring a tribute from the artist to the presidents and the great nation they led.
“Morris is an incredible larger-than-life inspiration to every American Jew, indeed every American,” says Duvi Honig, Founder and CEO of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce.
“He took enormous pride in both being a Jew and an American patriot. He selflessly dedicated himself to thank and contribute to America and the liberties it stands for. It is an honor to perpetuate Morris’s legacy during this important occasion and recognize all those who are supporting the American Jewish community today.”
“Morris’s contributions to American culture and his deep seated patriotism cannot be overstated,” says Ezra Friedlander, VP of Public Policy for the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce, who has hosted numerous Jewish Heritage Month events in Washington over the years. “There is no more worthy representative of this honor and I am humbled to participate in this effort.”
In honor of the artist, the Chamber has founded the “Morris Katz Foundation” along with a special website, MorrisKatz.org, featuring his private Presidential Collection. Please pay a visit!