An artist and his community

Sam Maitin’s prints at Woodmere Art Museum

3 minute read
'Whatever Magic': Doves, wise words, bright colors, warm hearts.
'Whatever Magic': Doves, wise words, bright colors, warm hearts.
The late Sam Maitin's dedication to both his art and social causes is legendary. As an egalitarian, he believed that art belonged to everyone, and so his signature colorful work—paintings, murals, sculptures, and posters—enrich Philadelphia's schools, hospitals, community centers and museums.

Whenever there was a humanitarian cause worth fighting for, Maitin (1928-2004) took up his pen or paintbrush and entered the fray. Often he donated his work to charitable causes.

When I was editor of Inside magazine, published by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, I often asked Sam to design covers. Although the pay was meager, Sam worked as if I'd given him the world's most important commission. He'd come into the office repeatedly with dozens of brilliant sketches. Needless to say, he was never quite satisfied that he'd done his best.

To many Philadelphians, Maitin was a dear friend whose sudden death was an incomparable loss. When the Woodmere Art Museum launched a comprehensive exhibition of some of his artwork last August, it was a precious opportunity to revisit an artist who was integral to Philadelphia's cultural life.

Calligraphy as design element

One of Maitin's signature methods was to incorporate words into his art. His familiar calligraphy is a design element as basic as his bright, primary colors and organic, plant-like forms. The cover of the Woodmere's handsome catalogue, with an introduction by curator Donald Meyer, shows one of Sam's well-known serigraphs, Whatever Magic (1970), with words by poet John Ciardi: "Whatever magic you expect from dreams is heavy on the air."

Maitin's signature white dove, conveying peace and hope, sails across the paper, as it does in a number of his prints. Sam loved poetry, and his illustrations for Stephen Berg's book, Nothing in the Word: Aztec, are exquisite.

The show highlights 30 prints from Woodmere's permanent collection that have rarely been seen. Among these are lithographs from the Curwen series, which Maitin produced at the celebrated print studio in London in 1968 when he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and which are also in the Tate Modern collection.

A Tony Auth caricature

I first saw the Woodmere show last August, but it was expanded in early October when William Valerio succeeded Michael Schantz as the Woodmere's director. Those who visit the museum now will see an additional room of work, including Inquirer cartoonist Tony Auth's caricature of Maitin, which Auth penned for a SANE peace award given to Sam in 1993 in recognition of his dedication to anti-war and humanitarian causes.

Visitors will find some of their favorite Maitin works, such as the large, bright polychrome aluminum pieces placed in the center of one room. Sketches and photographs represent the many public places in Philadelphia where Maitin put his stamp, among them the new Please Touch Museum in Fairmount Park and the beautiful pastel acrylic dimensional murals for the Christian Association Chapel on the Penn campus, where Sam went to school.

Doctors and architects

Visitors will also see a model of the Clubhouse of the Enclave in southwest Philadelphia, an apartment complex by real estate developer Philip Lindy, for which Maitin collaborated with architect Sam Olshin. Sam's amorphous forms cover the building's exterior walls.

Also on display are sketches for Maitin's paintings for the Department of Radiation Oncology at Hahnemann University Hospital, commissioned by his friend, the prominent oncologist Luther Brady. In the catalogue, Brady writes movingly of their 50-year friendship and collaboration.

Maitin believed art should be accessible to the average man. His refreshingly optimistic and upbeat colorful work is a legacy that can be enjoyed by everyone.♦

To read a response, click here.

What, When, Where

“Sam Maitin†Prints and Places.†Through March 6, 2011 at Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Ave. (Chestnut Hill). (215) 247-0476 or

Sign up for our newsletter

All of the week's new articles, all in one place. Sign up for the free weekly BSR newsletters, and don't miss a conversation.

Join the Conversation