VIDA Voices: Avital Sagalyn

Avital in Paris

In this episode of VIDA Voices we discuss the life and work of Avital Sagalyn, regarded as one of the great undiscovered talents among 20th century artists. Despite gaining early notoriety, Sagalyn chose to keep her artworks largely private for decades until, in 2019 at the age of 94, her work was showcased at her very first solo museum exhibition. Sagalyn was diagnosed with cancer shortly after the three-month exhibition came to a close, and died six months later.

In this episode, VIDA Voices host Peter Tomassi is joined by Daniel Sagalyn, one of Avital’s three children, and his spouse Elaine Grossman Sagalyn. This blog post is offered as an audio-visual companion to the podcast.

The podcast is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts or you can play it from this page, below. A full transcript is also provided here. We encourage listeners to add their comments at the end of the post.

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The hidden work of the last undiscovered 20th Century artists

Works Referenced in the Episode

Videos of Avital, courtesy of Dan and Elaine Sagalyn

When Avital was in Paris on her Fulbright scholarship during the early 1950s she met Picasso.
In 1950 when Avital was in Paris on her Fulbright Scholarship she lived in an apartment that belonged to a friend of her family. The apartment was in a wonderful neighborhood and had many mannequins and three way mirrors.
Avital spent time in Paris shortly after graduating from Cooper Union, and again while on her Fulbright scholarship. She was drawn repeatedly to the Notre Dame cathedral, seeking to capture what profoundly moved her.

Additional videos and artworks are available can be viewed at All Avital Sagalyn videos, photographs, and text are copyright Daniel Sagalyn.

Websites Mentioned in This Episode

Official Avital Sagalyn Website

Avital Sagalyn VIDA Collection

PULP Exhibition

Full Transcript of the Episode

Peter: My name is Peter Tomassi and I’m the host of VIDA Voices, a series of conversations featuring creative thinkers and doers from around the world, who as co-creators in the VIDA community, are reimagining the world of art, design, technology and fashion. VIDA for those of you new to us, is a collaboration between creatives and makers to bring unique original apparel and accessories, creating beauty every step of the way.

Our subject today is artist Avital Sagalyn, who has been called one of the great undiscovered talents among 20th century artists. Despite gaining early notoriety, Sagalyn chose to keep her works largely private for decades until 2019 at the age of 94 her work was showcased at her very first solo museum exhibition. Sagalyn was diagnosed with cancer shortly after the three month exhibition came to a close and died six months later. Born in 1925 in Tel Aviv in what was then Palestine, Sagalyn lived in Brussels until 1940, when her family fled the Nazi invasion of Belgium, a harrowing journey that took her through France, Spain and Portugal before she emigrated to the United States in nineteen 1941and settled with her family in New York City.

Identified in high school as a gifted art student, she was selected to study at the Museum of Modern Art and earned a college degree in fine arts on full scholarship from the Cooper Union in 1946. In 1949 Sagalyn became one of the first women to receive a Fulbright scholarship to study painting abroad. While studying in Paris, she befriended modern art luminaries such as Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brâncusi. Among Avital’s most productive years were when she was in her twenties in New York and Paris. But she continued to be an avid world traveler and artist throughout her life. Along with her sculptures and drawings, she produced paintings that have been variously characterized as cubist, abstract and abstract expressionist. But Sagalyn forged her own unique path that defied these classifications. Upon viewing some of her early paintings that depicted war, the artist Marc Chagall is said to have remarked, “This work is very daring. Even I wouldn’t have dared.”

Since her death, her work has only gained in popularity among critics and the public alike. In May, PULP Gallery in Holyoke, Massachusetts, opened an exhibition titled “Ligne In,” partly a reference to the artist’s focus on the use of line and partly an echo of Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 “Lean In,” a book that challenged women to pursue their life goals even in fields dominated by men.

Our guests today are Daniel Sagalyn, one of Avital’s three children, and his spouse, Elaine Grossman Sagalyn. Dan is a deputy senior producer for the PBS NewsHour and part of the team that produces their foreign affairs and defense stories. And Elaine is an independent journalist, formerly executive editor of National Journal’s Global Security Newswire. Both are award winning reporters who in recent years have become immersed in the art world thanks to Avital Sagalyn’s extraordinary path. Dan and Elaine, it’s so great to have you here.

Elaine: Thank you.

Dan: Thanks.

Elaine: Thank you for having us.

Peter: I want to start with Avital’s Paris years, 1948 to 1951. Most writers who have covered Avital reference the circles she immersed herself in, as well as the friendships she developed. What parts of Avital’s Paris experience do you think influenced her the most?

Elaine: Peter, this is a wonderful place to start Avital’s story. One of the most fascinating things about Avital is that she barely spent any time at the Ecole de Beaux-Arts, which was ostensibly the purpose of her scholarship.

So this is a pretty prestigious art academy. Renoir and Monet are among dozens of famous European artists who trained there. And Avital attended classes for a short while. But she quickly realized that students were expected to learn at this academy by copying the great masters. Yet well before moving to Paris, Avital had already studied painting and art history for years. And so she was already well beyond that method in her development as a painter. She’d already really discovered her own voice. So she felt she could learn more in Paris by working as a painter, as part of the vibrant artist community. So she stopped attending the classes.

So what and who influenced her the most in Paris during those early years? I think I’d start with three key friendships with fellow artists and then maybe Dan could say a word about places and experiences that affected her.

So Manuel Angeles Ortiz, who Avital, knew as Manolo, was a close friend of Avital’s in Paris despite his being 30 years her senior. Like Picasso, Manolo was a key Spanish member of the “Paris School” of painters at that time. And through Manolo, Avital met Picasso and they immediately struck up a friendship. At his invitation she visited him at both his Paris studio and his ceramics workshop in southern France. And Avital also spoke fondly, as you mentioned, of befriending Constantin Brancusi, the Romanian artist best known for his sculptures. He also was working in Paris and was then in his 70s. Brancusi had invited Avital over to a studio several times to watch him work and to discuss painting.

Dan: That’s right. Elaine and I both interviewed my mother extensively over the course of three years and pieced together her story. We had heard bits and pieces of her stories before, but it took us a while to connect all the dots.

As I began working with my mother in 2017 to build a website, I videotaped her more than a dozen times, I asked her about her artwork, what inspired her? What was the story behind the different pieces of work? This is what she told me about meeting Pablo Picasso.

Avital: Manolo was always telling me, “I’d like you to meet Picasso.” And I said, “Well, I don’t want to, because very frankly, I don’t want to be one of those people who are, you know, trying to to to see somebody well known.” I said, “I can have his message through his work.” So one day we went to, to Picasso’s gallery. And who do we see? We see Picasso there. And Picasso came with his arms out like this, and he hugged me. And he said, “Avital, I wanted to meet you.” And and and I started to tremble because, you know, here I am in the arms of of Picasso. And and he said, “Oh, you have to come. You have to come to my studio and come to Vallauris.” I said, “Thank you very much. Thank you.” And that was it. So one day Manolo called me, and he said, “I’m going to see Picasso this morning and I want you to come.” And I said, “No, I already told you, I don’t want to be a nuisance to him.” So he said, “But, you know, you’re not the only one. I have two other people I’m bringing, who have been begging me to introduce them.” So I said, “Well, if they’re — OK, so I’ll go.” So we went. I felt very ill at ease and then the door opened, two doors. Who do I see? Picasso. Then again, he hugged me. And he said, “It’s so nice to see you.” And he said, “Where’s your work? Where’s your work?” I said, “Well, I didn’t bring it.”

Peter: You know, I’ve watched that clip a few times. The video is on the website. What stays with me is how Avital who was a grad student in her early 20s really establishes the conditions under which she would meet Picasso, who by the 1950s was one of the most famous artists in the world.

Dan: You know, that’s right. Picking up on what you said about the conditions under which you meet Picasso, the conditions under which she stayed in Paris, some of my mother’s best paintings and her best work came from living in an apartment in Paris that had fashioned mannequins. During her Fulbright years, she lived in an apartment that had been a high-end fashion workshop. Here’s what she told me about that.

Avital: Since it was a couturier’s atelier, you know, workshop, it had many mannequins and and also three-way mirrors. So I started to paint that and it turned out to be cubist, which I hadn’t planned at all. But the fact that it was fragmented, whatever I saw on account of the mirrors, it became very interesting. And also these mannequins, they’re mannequins of humans, but they were not humans. So that also was a challenge. How do I show this?

Peter: Jane Rosenthal, who was a roommate for a time in that apartment, said that Avital would spend entire days contemplating what she saw in the large room that housed more than a dozen mannequins, as I understand it. It is fascinating to see the complexity that came out of her time and that one space.

I want to talk a little about the importance of light in our Avital’s work, which was particularly evident during her time spent in Paris and in the medieval French village of Gordes. She was invited to Gordes by Marc Chagall, who had a house in the town. And I’ve read that Avital was struck by the ever present blue of the Provence sky and the contrast of light and shadow, as well as the roofless homes that had been overcome by the elements. She mentions light in the context of other places as well as Gordes and Paris. Light is important to many artists, of course. What can you tell us about how it was particularly special to Avital?

Dan: My mother’s work was heavily influenced by the circumstances in which she was painting, especially the quality of light. Here’s what she told me about a series of paintings of Notre Dame, the cathedral in the center of the city.

Avital: When I got to Paris, I was totally intoxicated with the light which was very different from New York. It was a very soft white light which made you dream. New York is very energetic. And this wasn’t energetic, it was more sort of a spiritual light. I mean, that’s the way I saw it.

Dan: After my mother drew her series of Notre Dame, she then went to Gordes and the light there was completely different. Here’s what she said about that.

Avital: The light there was the exact opposite of the one in Paris. It was very blue and very, very sunny to the point that it was sort of blinding. And I was wondering, how did painters who live in Mexico and other countries where there’s a lot of sun, they paint very joyous, colorful paintings. And I didn’t see any color because I would see whatever was illuminated by the sun and and the shadow. So that’s why it’s white and black, and then blue for the beautiful sky.

Peter: It strikes me that Avital is equally interested in the absence of light as much as its presence, and I understand she was interested in how other artists used light. For example, Avital has been compared to JMW Turner, also known for his innovative use of light in his paintings, although their styles were vastly different. Did Avital see a connection with Turner in her work?

Elaine: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, Meyer Schapiro, who was a legendary art historian and critic at Columbia University at the time, became aware of Avital and her artworks while she was still a teenager in high school. It was he who made this comparison. He told Avital that some of her atmospheric works reminded him of Turner, who painted in quite a dramatic way, as you say, and in a realistic style. And at the time, Avital said she politely thanked him and concluded their meeting.

But Avital said that after this encounter with Schapiro, she was aghast and complained to her mother about being compared to this English Romantic painter because he painted in such a different style. But her mother, Dan’s very wise grandmother, reminded Avital about Turner’s unique genius in his depiction of light. So Avital then studied Turner’s paintings more closely, and ultimately was deeply, deeply affected by them.

And you can see Turner’s influence in some of her works, not exactly the same treatment, but the lessons that Avital learned from studying Turner’s paintings, especially in her depictions, I’d say, of reflected light and fog at the seashore, like in Provincetown, Massachusetts, while in college. And also in some of her paintings, as we discussed, capturing the muted light of Paris. So Avital sort of came full circle in terms of initially rejecting Turner’s romanticism, but then ultimately citing Turner’s mastery in atmospheric painting as one of her key influences.

Peter: Before we go further into Avital’s work, I wanted to stop and point out that many of the pieces produced during her Paris years and before, they laid undiscovered until just recently. Dan, as I understand it, you happened upon a trove of museum quality works of your mother’s in 2017, works she had created years before, in fact, before you were born, but had never shared. Can you take us back to the moment when you made the discovery and the conversations with your mother that followed?

Dan: There were so many conversations I had with my mother over the past four or five years. I took her work out of storage and I photographed it. And then I videotaped her and talked to her about her work. And for the most part, I can tell you that I was totally blown away by what I saw.

When I grew up, there were around a dozen paintings on the walls of the house that I had seen, but I was never really aware that there was so much more work. So, for example, there was a drawing of a lobster that my mother did in Maine in the 50s, and that lobster was in the dining room. And it was framed. It was always in one place and I grew up with that lobster. But when I launched this project, I discovered that there were seven or eight other lobsters, just like the one in the dining room that were as wonderful as the one in the dining room.

At some point, I came across the painting Horror of War. And this painting shows a big black bird flying over a church and fire and the Nazis are attacking people. And this was my mother’s depiction of her experience during World War II as a refugee. I’d never seen this artwork before. I was completely blown away. I was like, what is this? And this was also the first time my mother told us about how she had been hand-picked to study at the Museum of Modern Art as a high school student.

During this time, I also discovered the exquisite drawings of mannequins. I’d never seen these before, ever.

Peter: That’s so amazing that you came across this and it was over the course of not just one discovery, but several years, is that right?

Dan: Many years.

Peter: The high school work that you just mentioned was really quite direct in it’s reference to war. War obviously must have had quite an impact on Avital’s life and work. She was in our early teens when she woke up one morning to the Nazi bombing of Brussels and then fled by car toward Portugal amid exploding shells and gunfire and the real possibility of death, right? Do you think war as a subject matter found its way into her work as she evolved more toward abstraction?

Elaine: I’d say that if Avital’s experience in the war affected her works or her evolving approach to art, it was never quite as direct as in her high school pieces. It actually became quite subtle. Avital once said her flight from conflict at a young age “probably lent my paintings and drawings and aspect of impermanence, a sense that reality is fluid and can change at any moment.”

And we can see this in some of the best series of her artworks. For example, the way light refracts differently through Notre Dame’s rose window from moment to moment in a series of graphite drawings showing those different moments. Or the way fog fills a space and some of her ink wash depictions of the wharf at Provincetown. You get the sense that if you blink, the scene will shift and reveal something totally different.

Peter: Yeah, just thinking about other influences in Avital’s work. I’d like to ask about what you think drove Avital to veer away from purely abstract work. I think it’s fair to say that she seems to have infused her abstract work with emotion and even some storytelling.

Elaine: This is one way in which Avital’s work almost defies categorization. She she embraced various elements of abstraction throughout her painting career, incorporating more or less abstraction, sort of depending on the subject matter and how it affected her. Here’s what she described in an interview with Dan a few years ago about grappling with pure abstraction as a young artist.

Avital: After a while, I felt that my painting of Notre Dame was too materialistic. It was too much the stone. And I wanted to give the feeling of spirituality. It has actually nothing to do with religion. Maybe for some people, not for me, but this is the way I felt. I was very moved being there. I thought it was absolutely beautiful, outside and inside. And every time, every time I did a painting in oil or a drawing, I would erase or I would cover some of what I had just done, to the point that finally I was coming back to the white canvas. So that sort of upset me because I felt, why am I doing this? Soon I won’t be a painter anymore, because every time it’s an overstatement and I’m trying to get the essence of what I see and what moves me. And so so a critic said, Pierre Francastel, who was teaching at the Sorbonne and he saw my work. And he said, “It’s really amazing that at your age you came to the conclusion that everything is too much,” and searching for, I don’t know, spirituality I guess.

Peter: Earlier we mentioned the importance of Avital’s use of line. And since it’s in the title of the most recent exhibition of her work at Pulp Gallery and our audience can find examples and a link to that exhibit. The title of the exhibit is “Ligne In,” and I’ve learned that that was not only a commentary on her style, but was also meant to connect to Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 “Lean In,” a book that challenged women to pursue their life goals even in male-dominated fields. How do you think Avital herself would have responded to that theme, had she been alive to see and witness the exhibition?

Elaine: Well, we were really fortunate to have been able to discuss this exhibition idea with Avital herself throughout much of 2019 before we even knew if or where it would ever be held. And of course we did not know at that time that she wouldn’t be there to experience it with us. But before the exhibition, we were advised by two Belgian art historians, as well as several other native French speakers, that “ligne” was the term that the art world used in the late 1940s and the early 1950s to denote the importance of line among European artists at that time. So Avital considered this an interesting play on words, a juxtaposition of two ideas that were meaningful to her.

And when I asked Avital early last year which pieces we should propose to exhibit, and this was after she was sick, so she knew that we were seeking her guidance, she sort of exclaimed, “Line is in all of my work!” So after she passed away, this viewpoint really offered us considerable latitude in selecting pieces appropriate to that theme.

Elaine: And in terms of the exhibition title echoing Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Avital had not read the book. So we discussed it in quite a bit of detail and Avital agreed. She agreed strongly, really, that she had quietly lived this same proposition six decades before the book “Lean In” was published: That women should simply dive into those fields even when they’re dominated by men. And as one example, the French painter Édouard Pignon at one point gave Avital a backhanded compliment: “Continue to paint as you are, paint like a man.”

Dan: I think my mother would have loved the exhibition. It was a great mix of her work. And the gallery owner, Dean Brown, displayed the pieces in a really compelling way that called attention to the strengths of the work themselves. From drawings she did in the 1940s in Provincetown, jugs and pitchers she did in the 50s when she was at the MacDowell Colony as a resident in New Hampshire. The show also included spiky cells and restless crabs that she did in 1970s, at Casey Key in Florida. All the worker was freshly matted. Some of it was framed. There was a lot of natural light in the gallery, so it just looked great. She would have loved it.

So you know, men largely defined the mid-century “New School of Paris” movement and the related “Abstract Expressionist” era New York. Avital flourished as an artist in both.

Peter: It’s such an amazing place she established herself despite the conditions and the status quo. By a number of accounts, including her own, Avital was something of a perfectionist. To some viewers, that insistence on perfection could have been a limiting factor in the breadth of work she produced and the quantity. To more analytical viewers that might have given them greater insight into her process. The fact that she was doing seven, eight, nine lobsters and continuing to to riff on them and explore. And some might even argue that that’s part of the genius of her work itself. And so it’s in her process. Elaine or Dan, do you think perfectionism might have also held Avital back commercially or otherwise?

Elaine: As you say, she was a perfectionist, at least in the sense of pushing herself to capture her subject matter in dozens of ways until she finally felt satisfied. In an interview with me a couple of years ago, I remember Avital saying, you know, “I often paint the same subject many times. It’s a variation on a theme. And once I achieve what I really wanted to say, I stop painting it.”

So did this hold her back? Well, possibly, maybe only in a commercial sense. But selling was not a goal for most of her life. So I’d argue that her eclecticism and and her perfectionism absolutely strengthened her as a painter, both technically and in terms of really finding her own voice.

Peter: Do you think of Avital’s eclecticism closed some doors to her?

Elaine: Some experts have told us that, yeah, artists tend to sell better if they stick to one recognizable genre or style, maybe two. But this just didn’t interest Avital. It would have bored her. Avital told us that early on, she had really admired how radically Picasso’s artworks evolved from realism to cubism and ultimately to abstraction. So Avital, too, crossed style boundaries. But a keen eye can usually see a through-line in her works. She had this loose, jazzy style that I think is uniquely her own across her works.

Peter: Were there other reasons that Avital chose to keep her works private?

Dan: I asked my mother about that. Why did she not pursue having her work on an exhibition? Why did she not want to sell her work? Here’s what she told me.

Avital: I never wanted to have an exhibit that commenee of other painters of my time, younger painters or any painters, many of them would have an exhibit whether they were ready or not. And I absolutely didn’t want to do that because I felt that I don’t want to be under any obligation and I don’t want to have a deadline when I paint. You know, I want to be — if somebody thinks the painting is beautiful and the agent would say, oh, just leave it like that, I would say, no, I’m not going to leave it because I think it’s not good enough. I don’t think it’s finished.

Dan: There was another reason why my mother didn’t exhibit her work. There were certain aspects of the art scene that she did not like.

Avital: I wanted to be totally free of any influence, any flirting with critics, which many women did. And I didn’t like that at all, or people who owned galleries.

Peter: I have another wonderful quote here from a 2017 interview that Avital gave, in which she said, “I’m interested in the essence, not exactly the reality. I always try to get the essence so that it’s more the horse than the horse itself.” Was there a particular set of works in which you think this was most evident?

Dan: In almost all of her work she painted the same subject many, many times.

And sometimes the drawings were exactly alike. So, for example, she painted a bridge in Paris. She must have painted it 15 or 20 times. And each drawing or painting looks exactly alike. They’re hard to tell the difference between them.

But then sometimes she would paint something and it would be very different. So she painted the square in Siena in Italy that we visited in the early 1980s. We must have 20 to 30 drawings and they’re all totally different.

And then she painted the leather tannery in Fez, Morocco, where we visited in the late 1980s. And we must have 10 to 15 drawings from this time period. This is a place where there are lots of holes in the ground and each one was filled with a different color liquid for dyeing leather. And some of the drawings look alike and some of them look different. It just depends on the work and what she felt like doing at the time.

Elaine: One consistency throughout all that is painting a subject repeatedly and an immersive effort to capture what she felt was the core or the essence, as you say, Peter, of her subject matter. These were not studies for a final work, nor was the final piece, the only one in which she felt she had finally found some sort of Platonic ideal.

Rather, she viewed this creative process as an exploration, variations on a theme, much like the way a jazz musician experiments with different interpretations of the same melody. That’s an analogy that she herself made. Taken together, Avital felt these multiple pieces in a given series expressed to her the essential qualities of her subject matter. Often a mix of perspectives or painting styles and sometimes differences in line or color, or a sense of movement in one or stillness in another, or a feel for the light and the shadows cast, or the way in which her perceptions made her feel.

Peter: Dan, Elaine, I know this can be a difficult question. Could I ask each of you to name a favorite work of Avital’s?

Dan: Well, you can ask, but that’s a little bit of an impossible thing. There’s so many works of art that my mother did that I love that it’s impossible to just name one. But I’ll focus on one category, her textile designs. There’s one drawing she did that we’ve called “Abstract Nest,” which is black lines. It’s very abstract. Then there’s another design called “Still Life,” which is black, blue and white. And when my mother saw this design printed on a textile design for the first time, her eyes opened wide, and couldn’t wait to put it around her neck. She loved it. She said, “This, I’ll wear.”

Elaine: Yeah, I really share Dan’s difficulty, too, Peter, of settling on a single favorite painting. There are so many. So I think I’d just add to what Dan has focused on and that is her mid-century textile designs. There were quite, quite bold and most are purely abstract. One of them, which which we call “Lignes” in her VIDA collection bears a strong resemblance to a piece by the late graffiti artist Keith Haring. But remarkably, Haring wasn’t born until 1958, and that’s more than a decade after Avital drew these graffiti-like lines.

So to me, this textile design is the epitome of Avital’s work as an artist. Avital is absolutely unafraid to innovate and explore and imagine what might be. She wanted to express herself in original ways with absolutely no hindrance. And that’s what she did.

Peter: And and no real sense of boundaries at all, you know, really floating between a number of different styles. And at what point did Avital put down her paintbrush or was there a point where she stopped painting?

Dan: You know, my mother told us that when she was a child, she could identify colors by name, like when she was three, and she went on to paint for the rest of her life. Sometimes she was more productive than others. Sometimes she drew a lot. Sometimes she painted a little. But whenever she felt inspired, she worked. And she did that to the very end.

Peter: You launched Avital Sagalyn’s VIDA collection in 2018, of course. How did she view her work on VIDA? And where did it fit into her life?

Dan: Well, when my mother graduated from Cooper Union in the 1940s, she drew textile designs for a year in order to make money, but she was not able to sell her work. Most of it was quite abstract. Here’s a snippet of what she told us about that.

Avital: I had a friend, Ken Scott, who was doing textile designs, and he suggested that I do likewise. So I did. And I opted to do drapery designs because I had studied architecture. And to me, that was more interesting than doing flowers. And so I went to see his agent and she said, “Well, I can’t sell this. You’re ahead of your time.”

Dan: So my mother did all these wonderful drawings of textiles, and when I discovered them, I thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could have them printed on textiles? So a cousin of mine recommended ShopVIDA. And in 2019, I surprised my mother by giving her a set of scarves that had been printed on silk with her own design. And she was amazed. She looked at them and said, “It’s my work. That’s my work. I did these ages ago.” And she was very excited and she could not believe her eyes.

Elaine: And at first Avital was frankly skeptical of selling her textiles on VIDA, I think, because she had long ago put those designs away. And then she spent a lifetime avoiding commercialization of any of her artworks.

But seeing the beautiful VIDA scarves that Dan gave her, as he described, it turned out to be what was a first step in her ultimately embracing the idea of sharing with the public these fabulous-quality VIDA textiles and housewares with her own mid-century designs on them. In fact, actually, the University Museum of Contemporary Art displayed two of Avital’s 1945 textile designs on VIDA silk scarves in its curated 2019 solo retrospective exhibition. The museum viewed these gouache and ink works as among her finest art pieces.

So while she was still with us, Avital came to entrust Dan and me with the judicious placement of her textile designs on selected VIDA products. And we’ve continued that effort since her passing. I think a key aspect for her and now certainly for us has been that all the profits from the sale of Avital’s VIDA wearable art, go to the restoration and framing of her aging artworks for future public exhibition.

Peter: Elaine, while we’re talking about Avital’s collection on VIDA, could you talk a little bit about the story behind one or two of the artworks that ultimately ended up as textile designs in her collection?

Elaine: Avital told us repeatedly that the black ink design on white paper that we call “Abstract Nest” on her VIDA pages — and the one that Dan just mentioned as among his favorite pieces — was simply the result of her testing out a new ink brush. So she hadn’t intended for it to be an artwork, but she loved the result. And this is actually one of the two textile designs that was curated by curators for her 2019 retrospective exhibition.

Others on Avital’s VIDA storefront look a little bit like lab close ups of microbes, and this is actually for good reason. Avital, at the time in the mid 1940s was dating Victor Cabasso, who was an immunologist who later contributed to inventing the polio vaccine. Avital was inspired to paint these colorful pieces by Victor’s photographs of amoeba under a microscope.

Peter: A number of other observers of Avital’s career have asked a lot of what if type questions related to Avital and her work. What if she’d chosen to share her work earlier? What if she had pursued networking opportunities as they presented themselves? I’m not going to fall into that pattern here, but perhaps to just turn it around and ask each of you as a final question, are there any What-If questions that linger for you? And if so, would you each share one with our listeners?

Elaine: I think that Avital made decisions in her life that felt right to her at the time, and I have to applaud that.

For me, it may sound a little bit counterintuitive, but the only what-if that really lingers for me is, I think: What if Avital had continued living a healthy life even longer into her 90s? This is not quite as odd as it may sound. Even in her 90s, Avital had the physical energy and the mental acuity of a person decades younger. So in the last years of her life, she was absolutely in a renaissance. She was being rediscovered as an artist. It was almost like being with someone in her 20s at the start of a promising career.

So the lingering what ifs I face now are like, what if Avital could be here to experience this with us? I mean, we’re so grateful that she lived a long and colorful life. But I think Dan and I can’t help but think about how our journey might be different now and so much fuller if she were still along on this road together with us.

Dan [00:36:08] My what-if is a variation of what Elaine just said. So I was very close to my mother. Sometimes it’s still hard to believe that she’s not here. But my what ifs are what if it’s not too late for Avital to become more widely known and for her art to be appreciated and seen by people all over the world? So I’m hoping that her textile designs will catch on and become very popular. Wouldn’t that be great?

As Elaine said, we put all the profits from the sales into restoring her work so that it can be further exhibited. So we’re focused on the future.

Peter: Dan and Elaine, thanks so much for joining us today and sharing Avital’s remarkable story with our listeners. I want to encourage listeners to explore the VIDA blog at to get a closer look at her work. They’ll also find links to the extensive Web site you’ve co-created, as well as Avital’s works on VIDA.

Dan: Peter, thanks for the opportunity.

Elaine: Thank you so much. It’s been great talking with you, Peter.

Peter: Great talking with you.