When I began this project people asked me two questions: firstly, who was Alice Salomon, and following my answer, how would I make art from social reform and social work? The first question indicates the importance of doing the project, the second illustrates the difficulty.
Alice Salomon is an inspiring figure not only for her numerous achievements but for her open minded and cosmopolitan attitude to life. She possessed a rare combination of skills including intelligence, intuition and pragmatism at a time when women of her social class were denied higher education and were expected to remain in the home. Her autobiography “Character is Destiny”, the last book she wrote, sadly published only 40 years after her death, provided a basis for my research. A mirror of history, an account of social justice and injustice, it raised many questions in my mind regarding her identity from personal, cultural and historical perspectives.
The most remarkable things happen as I trace the past and connect to the present through my art. New discoveries and intense moments are experienced. And not always alone. Alice Salomon accompanied me during the months of painting, cutting, and pasting, my Berlin studio windows closed to prevent the fragments of paper from flying around. It was difficult to keep all the legible information in the collages visible, as was making a choice amongst the vast number of Alice Salomon’s acquaintances, colleagues and friends. Finding suitable photographs of these people was not always possible and this influenced the decision. I would have liked to include more of her colleagues, for example the social worker Siddy Wronsky and Dr. Franziska Tiburtius, who studied medicine in Zürich, to mention only two.
I knew little about Alice Salomon until I met Isabel Morgenstern in February 2016, at the Mitte Museum in Berlin during my exhibition “Kaufhaus N. Israel, 1815 – 1939”. Both Isabel and I deal with memory in our work and she wrote to me suggesting the names of five women for a future project. So firstly, I must thank Isabel for her gesture.
I spent a lot of time at the Alice Salomon Archives which is near my Berlin studio, and I am grateful to Prof. Dr. Sabine Toppe and Carina Huestegge for their interest and assistance in supplying information especially in giving me the original unabridged English version of Alice Salomon’s autobiography to read. The description on Engelberg, which reveals the artistic and poetic side of Alice Salomon’s personality, was omitted in the published version. Engelberg raised associations to another town in Switzerland, Geneva, closer to my home in the French part of the country. Switzerland was not only a tourist destination for Alice Salomon. For her international work she came to Geneva every autumn and in 1934 stayed six months to do research on schools for social work.
For my research I found a lot of information online, thanks to the Leo Baeck Institute, the Jewish Women’s Archive, Wikipedia, and online libraries.
I am grateful to the three institutions which have financially supported this edition: Stiftung ZURÜCKGEBEN, the Ursula Lachnit-Fixson Stiftung, and the Gerda-Weiler-Stiftung; to Claudia Berger, who has been a strong source of support, and to Dr Adriane Feustel, founder of the Alice Salomon Archives, who willingly shared and discussed her knowledge, and contributed her essay to my book; to Nina Lustig, Public Relations, Johannisches Sozialwerk e.V. for sending me photographs of the Franz Mendelssohn family and house concert room; to friends Ines Heinrich, Andrea Siemsen and Dr Maureen Stoessel, my brother-in-law John Eliasov, my husband Hervé Petroz, my neighbours Irmgard and Dieprand von Richthofen, all of whom helped in different ways to collect material; to Dr Petra Lange, Joerg Hammer, Marguerite Marcus, Carolina Winkler, Ayana Halpern and Ulrike Hofmann for their encouragement, to Beatrixe Klein and Kim Engels from the frauen museum wiesbaden for their interest in my project from the very start.
Regarding the picture AN INTENSIVE LIFE
In the centre of the collage is the German sewing machine « Phoenix ». I put it there not only not only
to symbolize women’s work but because In Greek mythology, a phoenix is a bird that cyclically
regenerates by arising from the ashes of its predecessor. This idea of “new life”, of continuation, and
transmission to future generations was central to Alice Salomon’s intensive life and a central concept
in my work. The baby also illustrates an idea of “new life”.
This idea of regeneration comes under pictorial reference to the destruction from the First World War,
during which Edith Cavell, a British nurse was executed by the Germans for having helped Allied
prisoners to escape. From 1917 – 1919 Alice Salomon was head of the women’s department of the
War Office for her home province. During her travels for her work she contracted emphysema.
She also travelled extensively throughout her life. On her first visit to North America she sailed on the
“Laurentic”, one of the several references to her travel and international connections in the collage:
maps of Ireland, the United Kingdom, Italy, visits from Japanese colleagues, St Paul’s Cathedral and
Michelangelo’s statue of Moses.
The statue of Moses looks towards the Phoenix and the baby. Moses received the Ten Commandments
which were engraved in stone. They are fundamental to Judaism and Christianity, and are transmitted
from generation to generation. Next to Moses, in the collage, are a collection of stones. I am
connecting here to my previous art Project “Stolzesteine” and in particular to one piece titled “From
Generation to Generation”. I made it in 2015, and it contains five “Stolzesteine”.
Alice Salomon worked extensively to better the conditions of women and the poor. She wrote 28 text
books and over 500 articles. The above left of the collage represents this part of her professional life,
with the presence of a working woman and reference to Tolstoy, one of her favourite authors who was
concerned about problems of poverty, homelessness and hopelessness. The bottom right hand corner
links to these concerns, where I have superimposed a photograph of parents and children who live in
Nearby is August Bebel. Alice Salomon mentions him in her biography “Character is destiny”, page 41:
“He was one of the first men in Germany to take women’s problems seriously…..Bebel proposed equal
rights long before German women claimed them”. Other people I have included: the journalist and
feminist Adele Schreiber, (who wrote the article featured in my installation “Symbols of a Life”); the
Social Worker Isa Gruner, who visited Alice Salomon in New York, in 1948, a few months before her
death; Norwegian women’s rights activist Betsy Kjelsberg .
To honor Alice Salomon’s work towards education: Pestalozzi on the cover of Album N. Israel, 1907;
Montessori method for the education of children created in 1907; the new building for the Alice
Salomon Hochschule inaugurated in 1998 and the Alice Salomon Platz in Marzahn-Hellersdorf, which
are not far from the Ausstellungszentrum Pyramide.
In 1932 Alice Salomon received an honorary Phd in medicine. I include some references to medicine
on the bottom left of the collage, and under the baby a name of a Klinik.
Alice Salomon loved nature, especially flowers, so these are present in different forms and a piece of
lace not only to remember the women who worked in textile factories but that Alice Salomon often
wore lace collars and did needlework herself.