by Amy Pearson
The Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art in Great Falls is presenting a special exhibition called IL MAESTRO! Works by Morton Levin: A Centennial Celebration, from June through December this year. The exhibit displays the work of Morton Levin, who was a masterfully skilled classical artist dedicated to the human figure as a painter, printmaker, and educator originally from New York, with connections to Butte.
Levin was born in the Bronx in 1923 to immigrant Jewish parents. He said he knew he was an artist when he was five years old because he had “a fever in his stomach to draw.” From a very young age, he enjoyed trying to copy the Masters. His teachers, friends and family deemed him a prodigy by the time he was nine.
In the midst of the Great Depression, Levin’s father lost his job, and the family survived on food stamps. After high school graduation, Levin enlisted in the Army and was called to serve in the infantry in WWII. During his time at war in Europe, Levin would often make sketches with a few colored pencils and a pen during lulls between battles that he would mail home.
When Levin returned to New York, he went to college and created five War lithographs which were displayed at a gallery show in the city. When he finished college, he used the GI bill to move to Paris and paint. Here, he studied with a famous Cubist artist named Andre Ihote and met his first wife.
He returned to New York again and found an advertising job to support his wife and daughter. After a few years in this line of work, he started teaching art, which it seemed he was better suited for. In 1971, Levin relocated to San Francisco where he co-founded Winston Gallery, and the Morton Levin Graphics Art Workshop where he met his second wife, Alanna Zrimsek, who was his partner and collaborator for forty-two years.
Levin died at home in 2020 surrounded by his partner and friends listening to classical music in Butte, where he and Zrimsek had spent part of every year over the previous decade.
The Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art Curator of Exhibitions and Collections Nicole Maria Evans has expertly arranged Levin’s exhibition to include work from his early years, war drawings, paintings, prints, etchings, woodcuts, and engravings. Levin’s passion for representing the human form is evident in many of his works including his Self-Portrait (1939), The Professions (late 1960s), Narcissus (1980), and Double Portrait (2005).
Visitors to the exhibit receive a stunning catalogue organized by Evans which includes an interview with her and Zrimsek, a transcript from the film Tribute to a Keen Observer by Apo W. Bazidi, which can also be viewed in the exhibit, and additional information about Levin’s artwork.
The Square will be hosting two upcoming special programs associated with the IL MAESTRO! exhibit. On October 20 at 5:30 pm, Evans will present a Curator’s Lecture titled “An Artist in the Time of LOVE and WAR,” which will connect Levin’s life and artwork as a WWII Veteran. On November 4 between 11 am-2 pm, visit The Square for a Military Arts Day, which will celebrate the second year of the Veteran Arts Program, honor Veterans, and provide hands on art activities to connect with Levin’s artistic process.