Jewish Renaissance Magazine Article 2003

Article from Jewish Renaissance magazine by Janet Levin Winter 2003

Here is the text from an article from Jewish Renaissance magazine, Winter 2003:

Westacres, in the Newton Mearns district of Glasgow, is as much art gallery as residential home. This is thanks to one of its oldest and brightest residents, Hannah Frank, whose sculptures enliven reception areas and lounges and whose black and white prints embellish the walls with grace and elegance and the flowing curves of Art Nouveau.

Hannah’s sharp mind and wry sense of humour are remarkable for a 95 year old. She talks to us about her early life in South Portland Street, opposite the shul; of her determination to be an artist from earliest childhood; of paying her way through art school by working in her father’s photographic shop at 67 Saltmarket.

While she studied art in the evenings, Hannah studied at Glasgow University. She published poems as well as drawings in the university magazine, and tells us that she achieved her ambition of appearing in every issue. Most of her drawings, painstakingly created with pen and ink, were inspired by poetry, which she loved. “I would bore my brothers every week at our Shabbat dinner by reading from Job and the Psalms. These are the ones that inspired me – but I wasn’t a bit religious.”

After obtaining a degree Hannah went to Jordanhill teacher training college. She taught for several years and loved it. “When I asked the children what they wanted to do at the end of the day and one of them said ‘read us a poem’, then I thought I had suceeded.”

It was on a Jewish student ramble in 1939 that Hannah met her husband to be. “I was just looking in one of my diaries,” she told us. “It said ‘Two new people turned up, Lionel Levy who was a gentleman and his friend who was a pain in the neck.’ I don’t remember who the friend was – it’s just as well. Lionel took me home and what he was most impressed with was the front door. He stayed up a stair” (tenement).

Lionel and Hannah were happily married for 63 years and stayed together even when they moved to Westacres, until Lionel died less than a year ago.

Hannah went to Art School to improve her knowledge of the human figure and help her drawing “and it seemed natural to do sculpture”. Encouraged by Benno Schotz, this became her preferred medium. Her sculptures are mostly figure studies, in plaster, terracotta, or bronze, and all on a fairly small scale. Along with her drawings, they have been exhibbited at the Royal Scottish Institute, the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Hannah’s favourite is the bust of her father, and that stays with her in her own room at Westacres.

Artist of the Century

Born in 1908, she is the last living link to an artistic explosion that put Scotland on the creative map

By Jim McBeth of the Scottish Daily Mail, 23rd August 2008. (reproduced with permission)

SHE is frail these days, a venerable old lady with delicate hands that once created beautiful sculpture and the inimitable other-worldly drawings  that characterised the artistic fashion of her youth. As she reaches 100  today, Hannah Frank’s hands are idle but then her work is done and her  honoured place in the history of Scottish art is assured as the last  living link to Art Nouveau.

Jessie M King, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, his wife Margaret and her sister Frances Macdonald, were the great stars of the decorative new movement of the late 19th and early 20th century. Glasgow led the way and
Frank, who was born in the city, embarked on a career that would span eight decades.

The simple, elongated lines of her ethereal figures defined the zeitgeist and built a bridge to the era of Modernism before she embraced sculpting – a discipline she was guided to by Benno Schotz, the great Scottish sculptor who is regarded as a giant in the field.

In a career lasting from the late 1920s to the early years of the new millennium, her work has been exhibited on three continents, an artistic legacy that makes her one of Scotland’s most significant artists.

‘When there is a discussion about 20th-century art, her work will always be considered,’ says Sandy Moffat, the former head of painting at Glasgow School of Art, where Frank studied in the late 1920s.

His colleague, Mark O’Neill, head of arts and museums for Glasgow, which is absorbing more of her work into the civic collection, adds: ‘She is a significant figure in the history of art in the city and her work is delightful.

‘Hannah is undoubtedly one of Scotland’s treasures and it’s amazing to think that the last connection to the Glasgow Girls should be with us still.’ Today, when Frank receives her birthday card from the Queen, the
redoubtable Jewish artist can look back on a long life and sparkling career. ‘My ambition was to leave footsteps in the sands of time,’ she says, quoting one of her favourite lines from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

But the diary of Hannah Frank was not always easy to write. She had to overcome prejudices that would be regarded by modern society as unthinkable. Her father was a Russian émigré, who fled persecution to settle in Glasgow in 1905. As young Hannah grew up, she realised persecution of Jews was not confined to pre-revolution Russia.

In her teenage years, the burgeoning artist suffered the routinely casual sexism and bigotry that dictated Jewish girls should not be given higher education. In spite of it, the brilliant pupil was accepted by Glasgow University, where she began studying to be a teacher, a career she gave up to become a fulltime artist. Her father, who by now was running a photographic shop at the corner of Glasgow’s Saltmarket, supported her ambition but counselled her to get a career and pursue art as a sideline.

Persuading the executive of Glasgow School of Art to allow a Jewish girl to study there in the evenings presented a high hurdle. She recalls:

‘There were no Jewish artists. I remember how upset my mother was, having to ask one of our neighbours – a city bailie – if he could help me get in. My mother said it was the hardest thing she ever had to do.’ But the
bailie’s influence worked and Frank was allowed to study.

She reflects: ‘Being a woman and a Jew made me a one- off.’ Among people whose religion and culture combine to assume the dimension of nationality, she could not escape her roots: ‘In spite of being born in Glasgow, I regarded myself then as Jewish rather than Scottish. It was something you could not escape.’ Her religion definitely added more steps on the climb to success: ‘You mustn’t think that Germany was the only place where people discriminated against Jews. I remember standing in a grocer’s shop and hearing a couple complaining that those Jews were buying up all the fruit. But the things that happened to the Jews in Germany were especially terrible and it had an impact on my work.’ Works such as ‘Flight’ (1939) demonstrate that dark side, with grim figures reflecting the plight of the fleeing refugees. Yet despite the gathering clouds over Europe, life for Frank, with her father, her mother and three siblings was happy.

But she burned to be an artist and the studious girl based many of her drawing on passages from the classical poets and the lyrical language of the Old Testament.

Between 1927 and 1932, she produced fortnightly illustrations for Glasgow University magazine. It was these pen-and-ink drawings, with their echo of the English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, that helped build her career.
And this week that career will be celebrated in her home town when her life and work will take centre-stage in a series of celebratory events, including a new exhibition.

An anthology of her art, Hannah Frank: Footsteps on the Sands of Time – A Hundredth Birthday Gallimaufry, was published yesterday and she is to be honoured by MSPs with a reception at the Scottish parliament.

She quips: ‘I’m flattered – I hope I’m alive to see it all.’ The honours are deserved, according to Gavin Wallace, head of literature for the Scottish Arts Council, who says of Frank’s art: ‘The dark and beautiful heart of Glasgow sang out from every work. We are delighted to celebrate an important artist.’ Mr O’Neill adds: ‘Hannah emerges with honours from the illustrious cluster of Glasgow Girls such as Margaret Mackintosh, Frances Macdonald, Jessie M King and Bessie McNicol. She is the sole survivor of a group who experienced at first hand the momentum of a
European art movement.

‘Her drawings, even as a teenager, were similar to King. Hannah was very modern and, of course, her sculpture was influenced by the great Schotz. ‘Because there were so many “stars” of the period, it is inevitable she is
sometimes regarded as less well known than them. It would be nice to redress the balance, in honour of her birthday.’ Frank’s pen-and-ink drawings, done between the 1920s and the 1940s, and her sculptures, dating from the 1950s to the early 2000s, are exhibited all over the world.

But many of her early drawings have languished in suitcases. The new exhibition, which opens today, includes 17 recently discovered works dating from the 1920s.

The artist’s niece, Fiona, says: ‘We’ve discovered many of her artworks in old suitcases. I’d noticed pieces of sugar paper and assumed they were packing material. To my amazement, they were revealed as coloured
drawings of figures.

‘We think she did them during life classes at Glasgow School of Art. She used vibrant colours, quite unlike her trademark black-and white work.’ Frank refers to the drawings as the ‘selfish children’ she never had with her late husband Lionel Levy, whom she married in 1939: ‘We did not have children. That is my biggest disappointment in life. Lionel was a good man and I could find no fault with him.’

The newly discovered artworks are more precious because Frank all but gave up drawing in the early 1950s to concentrate on sculpting after being influenced by Schotz, who had seen her modelling clay.

Her sculptures are reminiscent of Schotz’s unfussy forms. One work – of a woman – will also be seen for the first time in the exhibition.

Fiona Frank adds: ‘It was found on top of a wardrobe. It has its arms stuck out and a big fat bottom. It looks a bit like a crucifix. When Auntie looks at it, she says, “Oh, that’s not like me. It looks a bit goy-ish (non- Jewish)”.’ Frank may have learned from the best but she was  resolutely her own woman. She says: ‘I just did what I wanted and, if people liked it, so much the better. My advice to young artists is always to do what makes them happy.’ Like the work of earlier Romantics, her drawings and sculptures were inspired by Palgrave’s Golden Treasury of English poetry – Yeats, Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth and Edgar Allan Poe, whose work she learned by heart.

Frank’s younger self was characterised by daydreams of ‘the boys I liked who didn’t fancy me. I thought I was ugly – I certainly wasn’t beautiful. I knew I wasn’t good-looking but, like my Jewishness, I don’t really know
how much it influenced my work. ‘You can’t be Jewish without knowing it and thinking about it. It’s not that I’m religious but it’s like something that won’t go away. ‘There were no Jewish artists in my early days. I shunned models and always worked from imagination. The figures in my works come from poems I’d read. Sometimes, I would think of the images during a walk or in bed. I would also read the Old Testament for its beautiful and
lyrical poetry.’

Her earliest drawings were signed with a nom de plume – Al Aaraaf. It was inspired by Poe’s poem about the mysterious star, discovered by Danish astronomer Tycho Brake in 1572, which appeared suddenly, attained in a few days a brilliancy surpassing that of Jupiter and then disappeared.

It is, she says, a fitting analogy of her life: ‘That will do me. I had a few days of brilliancy and I’ll disappear, never to be seen again.’ .

Hannah Frank, a Glasgow Artist: 100th Birthday Exhibition is at the chapel of Glasgow University, Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm; Sundays, 12pm-4pm, until Oct 11  (also open 9-11 a.m. on Sat 11th October).

Hannah Frank by Gordon Casely


 by Gordon Casely – reproduced with permission (Appeared in the Herald Dec 27 2008)

Artist, sculptress and a last survivor of Glasgow’s Art Nouveau blossoming

Artist and sculptor; Born August 23, 1908; Died December 18, 2008.

HANNAH Frank, who has died aged 100, was the last living link with the art nouveau period, when Glasgow style became a global hallmark.

In an artistic career that endured for an astonishing 80 years, her distinctive style overcame the vagaries of fashion, and her work, like that of art nouveau classicists Margaret MacDonald, Aubrey Beardsley and Jessie M King, proves constantly both modern and dateless.

The daughter of Jewish Russian emigres fleeing persecution, Frank was born in Glasgow and grew up in the expanding Jewish community in Gorbals. Her mother, Miriam Lipetz, married Charles Frank, a scientific instrument maker whose shop in Saltmarket later became a byword for excellence in cameras and telescopes.

From her father, Hannah inherited dexterity and the art of sustained concentration. A tiny bird-like person with piercing observation, Frank grew up in a loving home as someone who loved people, and made friends easily.

Destined in her own mind to be an artist, and encouraged in her talents by Miriam and Charles – the latter was a friend of John Quinton Pringle, a Glasgow colleague of the colourists Peploe, Hunter and Cadell – she went on to graduate from Glasgow University in English and Latin, and, after teacher training at Jordanhill, taught for a time at Campbellfield School in the city’s east end.

During this period, she attended evening classes at Glasgow School of Art, studying lithography and drawing, widening her interests to include wood engraving, for which she received the James McBey Prize for 1930. Her drawings were a regular feature of annual exhibitions of the Royal Glasgow Institute.

At Glasgow School of Art, she discovered a talent for sculpture, taking up clay modelling under Paul Zunterstein. But it was Benno Schotz who really propelled her. Under his genial direction, she concentrated solely on sculpture, exhibiting at the RGI and the Royal Scottish Academy, with shows at Stirling University, the Portico in Manchester, the Edinburgh Fringe and the Royal Academy in London

Her black and white illustrations with their elongated structures, medieval romanticism and melancholy air bear the instantly recognisable stamp of Frank. Four years ago, Sandy Moffatt, head of painting and printmaking at Glasgow School of Art, described her work as bearing “a kind of romantic idealism”, adding: “I can understand why in the sixties and why today her work is speaking to a new audience. There’s a youthfulness about it”.

Frank had begun her trademark monochrome line drawings while still at Strathbungo School, and her skills were such that in the five years from 1927, GUM, the Glasgow University Magazine, under the editorship of Gilbert Highet (later professor of Latin at Columbia University), rarely appeared without a drawing from Al Aaraaf, her pen-name based on a poem by Edgar Allan Poe.

Her emerging talent was reported by the Jewish Echo in 1929: “The current issue of GUM contains some splendid art work by Miss Hannah Frank, a young Jewish student whose work in this sphere is attracting much favourable comment.”Her drawings possess an austerity and stylisation, elongated figures in long flowing dresses expressing pensive melancholy, or filled with sunshine and capturing youthful exuberance. Painter Alma Wolfson, recent president of the Glasgow Society of Women Artists, confirms that Frank’s oeuvre bears “very definite Glasgow influences”.

Wolfson cites both Margaret MacDonald, wife of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and Jessie King as influences, with Frank producing lettering in the intricately detailed fashion beloved of those two artists, and goes on: “As a young artist in her twenties, she created a sort of poetic parallel universe, fantasy but beautifully realised. Like Jessie King, I think people love (her drawings) as much now as when they were done”.

Her last drawings are dated 1952, by which time her earliest sculptures appear – small-scale figure studies in plaster, terracotta and bronze, with the influences of Benno Schotz, Paul Zunterstein and Henry Moore evident, yet continuing a style that remained markedly her own into her largest torso- sized pieces.

The standard of her work drew covetous eyes from Sydney Goodsir Smith, who, when reviewing the 1965 Royal Scottish Academy exhibition, wrote of her work: “Hannah Frank’s voluptuous Reclining Woman is classical in her ease of pose and perfect calm, a lovely wee thing.” He went on: “One of the most covetable pieces is a tiny green bronze, Woman Resting.”

Frank continued to sculpt into her early 90s. In 2002, aged 94, she moved with her husband Lionel Levy to a care home in Newton Mearns, where her drawings and sculpture became much admired. Her 100th birthday was celebrated with the opening of an exhibition of her work at Glasgow University, and a reception a month later in the Scottish Parliament.

Throughout her long life, Frank maintained diaries, voluminous material that, along with the rest of her papers, has been archived by her niece Fiona Frank as part of a permanent memorial to Hannah and her work. The recognition now given to Hannah Frank emerges almost entirely to the efforts of Fiona, tirelessly promoting her aunt’s creations through a succession of galleries and broadcasts. Like a veteran trouper, she took all this attention in her stride.

The Levys were active members of the Glasgow committee of the Friends of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and she contributed sculptures and drawings for its fundraising appeals. She also leant on Lionel, a maths and science teacher, for technical expertise in defining spatial aspects of her sculpture.

Lionel predeceased her five years ago after 65 years of marriage. They had no children, but are survived by a loving and wide family of cousins, in-laws, nieces, nephews and their children.

Among the mourners at Hannah’s burial in Cathcart Jewish Cemetery was her constituency MP Jim Murphy, her visitor when she turned 100 in August, and who shares the same birthday.

The day before she died – unfortunately, too late for her to know – a letter had been sent from Glasgow University offering her the award of an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters in recognition of her “international distinction”.

Hannah in 1984 with "Bird Woman" (1969)
Hannah in 1984 with “Bird Woman” (1969)

Falmouth Navigator Article

From the Falmouth Navigator: magazine of University College Falmouth

Frank, fearless and free

Clio Millett Published: Thursday, May 5, 2005

Three never-before-seen illustrations by the neglected Glasgow artist Hannah Frank are currently on show as part of an exhibition at the Falmouth Art Gallery. The pictures contribute to the Gallery’s spring opener, the rather wincingly-entitled “Tree-mendous” exhibition, whose name perhaps belies the importance of the works on show.

Prestigious loans, including work by John Constable, Henry Scott Tuke and Paul Mount, feature alongside a raft of local artists in this showcase exploring man’s relationship with the leafier species.

The daughter of Jewish Russian immigrants fleeing their homeland to escape persecution, Frank was born in Glasgow in 1908. Growing up in the Laurieston district of the Gorbals, she graduated from the University of Glasgow, later attending the famed Glasgow School Of Art where she discovered a latent talent for sculpture. Her artistic career spans 75 years, her life 97, across a tumultuous century when so much has been lost. The pictures, however, remain: a thin pen-and-ink rendering of the past.

These black and white illustrations – harking back to Art Nouveau with their elongated structures, medieval romanticism and melancholy air – are instantly recognisable. Like any artist of the age, Frank was clearly influenced by that master of monochrome Aubrey Beardsley (as well as her inherited legacy of the Glasgow School) and yet her style is unmistakably
her own.

Her works seem to betray the hand of someone haunted, perhaps by her years lived between two world wars: the plight of the refugees, the Jews, her brothers in the army, and these tense times appear reflected in the designs. Danger waits, in the wings.

And yet there is hope there too – in this linear midnight world of characters who stand luminous and pale against their shadowy backgrounds. Such illustrations contrast starkly with the sculptures which Frank later became known for: bare, muscular bronze casts invoking Henry Moore.

Deeply influenced by poetry, Frank illustrated and penned her own verse. “I did like melancholy poems,” she recalls, “There was one; ‘O melancholy, turn thine eyes away’… Poetry doesn’t carry happy, cheery messages.” A result of what she modestly referred to as “being very romantic but not very pretty”, she would spend hours alone, sketching and daydreaming over various loves. Perhaps in a nod to this, many of her earlier works were signed “Al Aaraaf”- an appropriation from Edgar Allan Poe’s cosmic poem about two lovers who live on a star.

Brian Stewart, the curator of the Falmouth Art Gallery and already an admirer of Frank’s work, was only too happy to include her pieces in the upcoming show. Encompassing the exhibition with a sweep of his arm, he describes his plans for her illustrations. “We have six pictures in total although only two are currently on display. I’m intending to rotate them as the show goes on – it all depends on the mounts.”

Those currently available for viewing are “Adam and Eve” (1930); an unfinished work, and “There Sits Repentance” (1925), both of which have been published before, though Stewart hopes the unseen works will later get their airing.

It is the artist’s niece, Fiona Frank, who emerges as the person responsible for bringing so much of Hannah’s work to public attention, working tirelessly to promote her aunt’s creations in a succession of galleries and broadcast shows. “My aunt, who’s in good health, is very happy with all this attention she’s getting at this stage in her life – though having to walk through a gallery four times while the TV cameras were rolling to ‘get it right’ made her feel that the price of fame might
be a little too high.”

One book has already been published – Hannah Frank: A Glasgow Artist- Drawings And Sculpture – but so many lost articles have recently been recovered that another is now in the making. “I am planning a new book,” says Fiona, “of my aunt’s poetry, diaries, and the unpublished drawings and sculptures that we’ve found since the [first] book went to press.”

What precisely will become of this body of work is unknown; whether it might become part of a permanent gallery exhibition or dispersed among relatives had not yet been decided. Much of the collection is already on show at the retirement home in Glasgow where Hannah now lives, to the admiration of visitors and residents alike.

The artist’s personal desire for her life’s works are, however, all the more clear: “I want them to be the footprints on the sands of time. As long as people remember them and know them, then I feel as if I’m still alive.”

A website dedicated to the work of Hannah Frank, respected Glasgow artist and sculptor. All images copyright Hannah Frank. Reproduction needs prior written permission. Contact Fiona Frank (tel/email below) with your requirements.

Fiona Frank, tel (+44) (0)7778 737681 email  [email protected]

New Poetry Anthology

A call goes out to put together a voluntary editorial team for a new poetry anthology. The book will contain a large selection of the poems entered in the Hannah Frank poetry Competition and will be illustrated with Hannah’s drawings plus additional little sketches – never before seen – that she drew in the margins of the diaries that she kept through her teens and early twenties.

Feature in Faith Initiative

A feature on Hannah Frank by Fiona Frank and Judith Coyle is published in ‘Faith Initiative’, a national magazine. The magazine is distributed to schools and other educational establishments to promote religious harmony by educating the public
in the diverse nature of religious belief.

The article, illustrated with Hannah’s art, looks at Hannah Frank’s Jewish life.

Alongside the main feature one of the commended poems from the Hannah Frank Poetry Competition is reproduced. It is ‘Egypt’s Agonies’, by Rhona McKellar from the Isle of Harris. Rhona based her poem on the drawing ‘Then to the Rolling Heaven’ from 1928 and this is used to illustrate the poem.

Cataloguing at Scottish Jewish Archives Centre

Glasgow University student Allan Madden joins Cristen Sarg in cataloguing the Hannah Frank and Lionel Levy archive at the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre in Glasgow.  Allan is working towards a Master in History of Art. Allan says that as well as cataloguing certain elements of the Hannah Frank Collection he is also trying to discover whether Hannah had a solo exhibition at the McLellan Galleries, Glasgow, in the early to mid-1930s. We appeal to newsletter readers to help with providing information about this exhibition. Preparations for the exhibition were mentioned in the Jewish Echo in the 1930s but we have no record of the actual event taking place.

Glaswegians with a Flourish

Glaswegian writer Michael Meighan tells us he plans to profile Hannah Frank in his forthcoming book, ‘Glaswegians with a Flourish’. Michael bought a signed copy of ‘Moon Ballet’ when he was a student which he gave to his parents in the 1970s.

“I was struck by the drawings’ clear fluid lines and the balanced contrast of black against white. The drawing still hangs in my parent’s house,” he tells us.

The book will reproduce an image of ‘Moon Ballet’ as well as a photograph of Hannah.