About Abram Kanof

Abram Kanof, 1903–1999, pediatrician, teacher, Jewish historian, collector, benefactor.

Russian-born, Brooklyn-bred Abram Kanof attended Boys High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Columbia and Downstate Medical Center; enlisted in the navy at the outbreak of World War II, where he developed a cure for atheletes’ foot; and eventually had a long and rewarding career as a pediatrician and educator.1Norden, Margaret Kanof, Dr. Abram Kanof, 1903-1999, American Jewish History, Johns Hopkins University Press, volume 87, number 1, march 1999, pp.95-96. He shared an enthusiasm for cultural pursuits with his wife, Frances Pascher, who also became a distinguished physician and educator, and the two would set aside time each week to explore New York, attend concerts and lectures, and visit museums and galleries. They even started collecting the work of young artists, like Milton Avery, Jacob Lawrence and Charles Demuth.2Twardy, Chuck, Saluting a patron of Judaic art in his adopted state, The News and Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina, Sunday, January 11, 1998, p1B-5B This, combined with a passion for Jewish history, grew into lifelong associations with and support of Jewish cultural institutions.

While serving on the board of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Kanof was asked to lead the effort to transform the Warburg family mansion into the Jewish Museum and became its first chairman. He credited its curator, Stephen S. Kayser, with getting him interested in ceremonial objects.3Ibid. In 1956, Kanof and Pascher funded the Tobe Pascher Workshop, an active studio for the design of modern Jewish ritual objects within the Jewish Museum. (Ludwig Wolpert was invited to move to the United States to head it.) Kanof wrote extensively about Jewish art and history and was a member of the American Jewish History Association, serving as its president from 1961–64. After their retirement to North Carolina, Kanof and Pascher continued their involvement with the arts. Through their efforts and with many pieces from their collection, the North Carolina Museum developed a permanent Judaica Gallery.

In a letter dated July 1, 1968, Kanof wrote to Ismar David:

Dear Mr. David,

My book on Ceremonial Judaica is now in process. Mr. Harry Abrams, however, has suggested I include a little more about contemporary American craftsmen who have worked in Judaica. I wonder whether you could write me a paragraph or two about yourself, your important Judaica commissions and your ideas in regard to this type of work.

With many thanks.
Sincerely yours,
Abram Kanof, M.D.

David responded on July 14, during a time of some professional distress. He had been among the instructors that Cooper Union had recently dismissed and had begun working on a series of illustrations for The Psalms without a definite prospect for their publication.

Dear Dr. Kanof,

You were kind enough to ask me about a paragraph or two about myself for your forthcoming book. I am only able to answer now because I have been out-of-town.

Your suggestion seems to me a difficult task because I do not know the style or format that you have in mind. I am not a craftsman who himself works in metal or stone, but I am a designer who had some of his work executed in workshops. Your letter does not indicate whether you are also interested in pictorial material.

I have designed some items for synagogues, an ark, different variations of the Ten Commandments and items for the Jewish home, but I consider my more important contribution to be in the graphic field.

I would consider the design of “David Hebrew” one of my important works. It is comprised of a series of contemporary Hebrew alphabets forming together a family. It was designed for the Intertype Corp. I am aware that to many that is a very esoteric matter, but to me it is an important area of self-expression. I attempted and I hope succeeded to fuse a sound cultural, historic foundation with a true personal present-day expression. If I may phrase it differently, it is a process of absorbing our heritage and then creating out of our own thoughts, feeling and environment. I also have been active illustrating books. As I have only recently chosen Biblical themes, most of this work is not published yet, even so I consider some of these illustrations, what an artist may be allowed to call a personal statement.

I am not sure whether you associate me with the lecture I gave at the Jewish Museum about the Hebrew Alphabet or with the mezuzah design that you had executed at the museum workshop and loaned to the Jewish museum.
Before you include me in your book, I would like you to see some of my work that will be new to you.

I would be glad to arrange [a] meeting with you at your convenience. Looking forward to hear from you.

I am sincerely yours
[Ismar David]

On November 18, 1968, David again wrote to Kanof.

Dear Dr. Kanof,

Some weeks ago I called you to make an appointment with you to get your advice and help in having an exhibition of my work at the Jewish Museum.
You will find enclosed a portfolio, recently published, by the Jewish Publication Society, which is a fair example of the kind of work I would like to show.
I would appreciate very much hearing from you.

[Ismar David]

The two men had a brief exchange of letters in the autumn regarding a prospectus for The Psalms.

Letter from Abram Kanof
A letter from Abram Kanof to Ismar David, 1972.
Letter to Abram Kanof
A letter from Ismar David to Abram Kanof, 1972.

In a letter, postmarked October 11, 1972, Abram Kanof wrote:

Dear Mr. David—

Congratulations on your beautiful book. Since I am now on the retired list, I shall, alas, have to be content with the trade edition.

Best wishes
Abram Kanof

How much would a cut of a return address like yours be?

The response on November 3, 1972:

Dear Dr. Kanof,

Thanks for your gracious note. In answer to your inquiry about the design and hand lettering for an address label, the fee would be $150.00. But it would come to your free with your order of three copies of the psalms special edition.

I hope you are by now well adjusted to your new environment and you can enjoy being near your family.

With best regards
Sincerely Yours,
[Ismar David]

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