This charming textile depicting a Seder was made in the late 1930s by A. Nedby, a ten-year old student at the Educational Alliance Art School on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
The Educational Alliance was founded in 1889 to help Eastern European Jewish immigrants assimilate to life in America. In addition to vocational training and English language classes, art, which would “morally uplift the students through developing their aesthetic standards,” was a part of the curriculum.
During the Great Depression, the Educational Alliance received funding to expand its art programs from the Federal Art Project (FAP) of FDR’s 1935 Works Progress Administration. The FAP, best known for the works of art made by the artists it employed, also supported local visual arts programs to help revitalize communities hard hit by the Depression.
The Educational Alliance textile curriculum was unique among FAP programs. Children of all ages participated and drew designs on paper or muslin. They were encouraged to draw what they knew – thus fostering creative expression as well as an interest in their community and visual environment. The finished textiles were sold to help fund the studio and given to the children to take home to use with their families.
At the Passover Seder, it is the youngest person who asks the question, “Why is tonight different from all other nights?” We imagine ten-year old A. Nedby asking that question at his or her family’s Seder and later memorializing that special night, with its distinctive foods and ritual, in his or her textile. The perspective may be awkward and the design not well suited for a textile repeat, but the composition is rich in details – the fringed rug, the Seder plate, the vase of flowers, the girl’s dress (A. Nedby herself?). It is a fresh artistic view of life seen through a child’s eyes.
If you know or knew A. Nedby or any of the other Educational Alliance textile students, we would love to hear from you.
Maleyne M. Syracuse is a candidate for a Masters Degree in the History of Decorative Arts at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum/Parsons New School for Design and is President of the Board of Directors of Peters Valley Craft Center.She recently retired as a Managing Director in the Investment Bank at JP Morgan and continues to work part-time as an independent professional in corporate finance and investment management.