Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ray and Rey

Yesterday I had two hours to use on the Upper East Side, between work and my annual pilgrimage to the accountant (she is not merely "the accountant"- she is my Jewish mother and I've known her for 25 years; but it's her busy time now, and she wouldn't have time to go out to lunch).
So I noticed in Time Out that The Jewish Museum (link above) that they had two potentially great shows running: Man Ray, and the work of H.A. and Margaret Rey, the couple that created Curious George. Unfortunately, once I got there the Man Ray show was closed (it had closed Sunday). So I started on the fourth floor of the permanent collection and worked my way down. I hadn't been there since the Modigliani exhibit (he was quite a piece of work) show a few years ago, and I hadn't seen the permanent collection for ages before that. The section on archeology was great (a glass bowl from Jerusalem under the Romans, without a crack in it), and I learned that Ashkenazy bridegrooms had a tradition of giving their brides Sabbath candle holders. There is a chilling George Segal depiction of a concentration camp that I found so disturbing I didn't want to be in the same room alone with it.
Then I got down to the second floor, where the Rey exhibit was. There were several mothers with children, the mothers much more interested in the exhibit than the kids were, and two little old ladies whispering to each other. The ladies didn't look at the illustrations or the descriptions on the walls, they only whispered.
Hans Auguste Reyersbach and Margarethe Waldstein were originally from Hamburg. In the 1920s, Rey went to Brazil to work. He encountered many monkeys there. Waldstein came to Rio to look for work as well, and they later married. "Reyersbach" was not a common name in Portuguese, so they changed it to Rey. In 1935, the Reys went to Paris on their honeymoon, and stayed for four years.
In June 1940, the Reys fled the approaching German Army (it was not prudent for two German-born Jews to remain in France) by bicycle to the south of France, and then by train and ship to Lisbon and finally New York. They settled in Washington Square, and found an American publisher for Curious George.
I purchased a wonderful book about the Reys, The Journey that Saved Curious George, by Louise Borden and Allan Drummond, in the bookstore. The illustration is from the final page of "Curious George," courtesy of The Jewish Museum.

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