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Harry Sternberg papers, 1927-2000

Biographical Note

Harry Sternberg (1904-2001) was a New York painter, muralist, printmaker, etcher, teacher, and political activist who relocated to California in 1957.
Harry Sternberg was born in 1904 in the Lower East Side of New York City and grew up in Brooklyn. As a child he attended his school art club where he met and became lifelong friends with artists Peter Blume and Philip Reisman. He took free Saturday art classes at the Brooklyn Museum of Art for two years and attended the Art Students League part time from 1922 to 1927 where he studied with George Bridgman. In 1926 he shared a studio with Philip Reisman where they received private instruction in etching from Harry Wickey. Sternberg began exhibiting his etchings and intermittently had drawings published in New Masses, a prominent American Marxist publication. In the late 1920s he became friends with Hudson Walker who also became a major collector of his work. In 1933 Sternberg was hired as instructor of etching, lithography, and composition at the Art Students League and continued teaching there for the next 33 years. Also around this time he became politically active in artist rights organizations, serving on the planning committee to create the American Artists' Congress and later serving as an active member of the Artists Equity Association. In 1935 he became the technical advisor of the Graphic Art Division of the Federal Art Project. From 1937 to 1939 he completed three federal mural commissions. His first mural Carrying the Mail was created for the Sellersville, Pennsylvania post office in 1937. His most famous mural Chicago: Epoch of a Great City was painted for the Lakeview post office in Chicago. It depicts the history of the city and its workers, particularly life for the workers in Chicago's stockyards and steel mills.
During the 1940s Sternberg remained very active in arts organizations, as one of the founders of the National Serigraph Society and a member of the Committee on Art and Education in Society. In 1942 he published the first of five books on printing. Sternberg had his first retrospective in 1953 at ACA Galleries, and in 1957 he taught summer painting courses at the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts in California. He continued teaching in the summers there from 1960 to 1967 and 1981 to 1989. Suffering from lung disease, Sternberg moved with his wife, Mary, to Escondido, California in 1966 in hopes that the climate would improve his health. In 1972 he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. During the 1970s and 1980s Sternberg traveled extensively throughout the US and Mexico where he found new inspiration for his artwork. He continued teaching, exhibiting, and creating new work until his death in 2001.