Szyk Expert Irvin Ungar

Speaking Engagements

Irvin Ungar is a popular speaker at museums, libraries, universities, religious institutions, and community centers worldwide.

Irvin Ungar on the John Rothmann Talk Show on KGO Radio. San Francisco, CA.

Irvin Ungar at the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin.

He offers stand-alone presentations on:

  • Arthur Szyk
  • The Szyk Haggadah
  • Historic Judaica

Irvin also presents an engaging, customizable Scholar-in-Residence weekend and other special programs (complete list below).

To view presentations excerpts, please visit The Alcuin Society and The Library of Congress online.

To review Irvin's schedule of upcoming events, please visit our events calendar. For his availability and speaking fees, please contact us.

Presentations

NEW!—Arthur Szyk and the Art of The Haggadah

“We had the most exhilarating lecture from Irvin on Monday at our CJM docent class. He was fantastic and it felt like the 2 hours were over in a moment. He was most charming and beyond informative. He gave us a lot of literature to read and I will tell you that I cannot get enough of this. I'm about to get on a plane and I'm thrilled with the idea that I can focus on Szyk for all of those hours.”

— Carole Meyers
Tour Guide, Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco

This presentation is designed for educators and those who wish to study The Szyk Haggadah in depth and understand the context in which it was created, against the backdrop of Nazi Europe.

This powerpoint looks at the details within the images of The Szyk Haggadah and focuses on the messages Arthur Szyk delivered to 1930s European Jewry with his visual commentary. Szyk calls attention to the injustices of the past, the unfolding horror in the present, and the heroic means necessary to insure future survival.

NEW!—The Fabric of America through the Art of Arthur Szyk

This presentation will explore how and why Szyk, his art, and its messages focus on themes that are continuously relevant by examining the roots of American values and ideals through his art.

At a time when America is trying to articulate what it stands for, and whereas its attitudes on democracy, immigration, big business, and similar issues are under attack, vision and clarity are needed more than ever. At a similar juncture in American history, Arthur Szyk (1894-1951) had expressed such clarity and vision through his art.

Szyk, the leading political artist in America during WW II and the greatest illuminator since the 16th century, was called “The Artist for Freedom” by the Library of Congress in its millennium exhibition in the year 2000, a half century after his death. This visual powerpoint presentation will explore how and why Szyk, his art, and its messages focus on themes that are continuously relevant, by examining the roots of American values and ideals through his art.

This talk was delivered on Election Day November 6, 2012 in Washington, DC at the Library of Congress.

Arthur Szyk: Miniature Paintings and Modern Illuminations

Presentation on Arthur Szyk's brilliant career as an painter and illuminator.

Inspired by the Legion of Honor exhibition of the same name (2010–2011), this illustrated presentation examines the long and varied career of the 20th century artist Arthur Szyk, from the rich illuminations of his Paris period to his World War II political art to limited edition fine art books such as his famous Passover Haggadah.

Justice Illuminated: The Art of Arthur Szyk

Presentation on Szyk's art and messages, with an emphasis on the 1940s.

“Irvin, you were brilliant…Everyone loved your presentation, your display, and you! It was truly a night unlike any other night.”

— John Windle
Antiquarian Bookseller and Master of the Press, Roxburghe Club, San Francisco

Irvin brings his years of curatorial experience—such as major museum exhibitions at The Library of Congress, The US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and The Deutsches Historisches [German Historical] Museum—to an energetic talk about the life and impact of Polish-Jewish artist Arthur Szyk, emphasizing four themes: World War II, Holocaust, Jewish Response and Advocate for Humanity. Szyk’s illuminated Passover Haggadah has been called one of the greatest illustrated books of all times. He was also the leading political artist in America during WWII, and fought the Nazis through his art. The story of Szyk’s crusade against injustice and tyranny will inspire and inform long-time admirers as well as people who have never encountered the artist before. Approximately one hour and 15 minutes.

Arthur Szyk: Book Illustrator Extraordinaire

This presentation on Szyk’s wonderfully diverse body of work in book illustration highlights why Arthur Szyk has been called the greatest miniaturist painter since the 16th century. His anti-Nazi art and his 1941 book The New Order have helped him earn the title of “soldier in art” and “one-man army” against Hitler. His celebrated post-WWII works for the Limited Editions Club— The Canterbury Tales and the biblical books of Job and Ruth, as well as his acclaimed 1920s Paris period books of Gustav Flaubert’s La Tentation de Saint Antoine and Pierre Benoit’s Le Puits de Jacob—confirm Arthur Szyk as an artist of international stature. This presentation chronologically traces the illustrious career of one of the most brilliant, extraordinary and diverse artists and book illustrators of the 20th century.

Freedom Illuminated: Understanding The Szyk Haggadah

Presentation on the history and art of the new edition of The Szyk Haggadah.

“Here at AJR we are all still talking about how wonderful the evening was…your talk was absolutely fascinating! I can speak both personally and for all those who attended when I say that you spoke eloquently and movingly.”

— Rabbi David Greenstein
Rosh Ha-Yeshivah, The Academy for Jewish Religion, New York

This presentation lays the groundwork for appreciation of Arthur Szyk’s masterwork, evaluating the historical development of his Passover Haggadah and its carefully constructed miniatures. Drawn and first published during the rise of Hitler, The Haggadah is a triumphant work of courage and hope, its style and themes remarkably prescient and enduringly relevant. A Polish Jew keenly aware of current events, Arthur Szyk fused his two passions—art and history—into a visual commentary on the dangerous parallel between the Exodus narrative of Egyptian oppression and alarming developments unfolding in Nazi Germany. Copies of the new Deluxe and Premier editions of The Szyk Haggadah will be displayed. Approximately one hour and 15 minutes.

Visions of Israel: The Jewish State through the Art of Arthur Szyk

How a Jewish Activist-Artist Played a Leading Role in Israel's Creation.

Many people know Arthur Szyk through his famous Passover Haggadah or his illuminations of the Proclamation of the Establishment of the State of Israel and the Visual History of Israel. Yet these iconic works tell only part of the story of his commitment to his people, for no Jewish artist—or any artist—contributed more to the creation of the State of Israel more than Arthur Szyk. This illustrated presentation traces Szyk’s art and activism over the course of his long career, from his life-changing trip to Palestine in 1914 to the creation of The Haggadah in 1930s Poland to his advocacy—before, during, and after World War II—for the creation of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel. The talk will present the full spectrum of Szyk’s long-term public advocacy for the Zionist cause: paintings, book illustrations, magazine covers, editorial cartoons, newspaper advertisements, pamphlets, poster stamps, and more. Approximately one hour and 15 minutes.

“Thanks for sharing so much of your time and expertise with my class yesterday. It was a terrific presentation, and your excitement was contagious. While the arresting beauty of Szyk's images speaks for itself, the cultural, historical, and biographical context you provided was invaluable. We all learned so much. Thank you! Paul [Hamburg] was absolutely right — the experience was the perfect culmination to our semester.”

— Rabbi Mira Beth Wasserman
Visiting Scholar, UC Berkeley

“To the Hallowed Memory of Europe’s Martyred Jews”:
The Holocaust Art of Arthur Szyk

Presentation of Szyk’s moving Holocaust art, ideal for Yom HaShoah.

This illustrated presentation pays tribute to the memory of European Jewry through the art of Arthur Szyk, the leading artist for Jewish rescue in America during the Holocaust. A self-identified “soldier in art,” Szyk — whom Eleanor Roosevelt called a “one-man army” — fought the Nazis with pen and brush on behalf of the Allies and the Jews of Europe. Approximately one hour.

Building Bridges: The Legacy of Polish-Jewish Artist Arthur Szyk, Fighter for Justice and Freedom

Presentation emphasizing Szyk's works of Polish interest, such as the Statute of Kalisz.

Arthur Szyk (1894 - 1951) often said "Art is not my aim, it is my means," and his visual commentary before, during, and after World War II relentlessly attacked oppression and tyranny, and served as a weapon for justice and freedom. His worldly concerns and nationalistic tendencies fostered and cultivated a sense of belonging, pride and shared loyalty to differing cultures and countries, chief of which was his concern for Jews and Poles. As such, Arthur Szyk devoted his life and his art toward serving humanity by building bridges between peoples and among nations. This presentation will illuminate how Szyk's means achieved his ends.

Judaica Roadshow

Presentation to build appreciation for historic Judaica and Jewish collectibles.

Have you ever wondered what your grandfather’s prayer book was worth or how to preserve your grandmother’s family Bible? Inspired by the popular TV show “Antique Roadshow” (PBS), Irvin will comment on the history and value of rare books, artifacts, objects, and memorabilia owned by members of the audience over the course of a highly educational and entertaining evening. Advanced planning is required and will be coordinated with a representative of the host venue. Approximately two hours.

Historic Judaica: Rare Books, Manuscripts & Works of Art

Presentation introducing and explaining the world of historic books and manuscripts.

Rare books and manuscripts are usually hidden behind lock and key in museums and library special collections. Only occasionally do we have an opportunity to glimpse the historic treasures of the Jewish people in person, let alone have them explained in a lively and animated fashion. Irvin will discuss the value of Judaica as collectibles, such as: a letter by Einstein about Jewish survival during the Holocaust; 19th century photographs of Jerusalem; the first Hebrew Bible printed in America; or a newspaper printed on the day of the creation of the State of Israel. Approximately one hour and 15 minutes.

Understanding the Printed Torah: A Reflection on Pioneering Jewish Translations that Matter!

This presentation on the history and significance of the Torah translated for Jews, by Jews helps you follow along by referring to a printed Torah text (i.e., Chumash or Pentateuch), which usually includes an English translation, a modern innovation that many take for granted. In this presentation, Irvin will examine early significant translations of the Torah and of the Bible itself (of which the Torah is but one of three parts) written for Jews, by Jews, and also will explore the surprising historical circumstances in which these translations were created. Approximately one hour and 15 minutes.

Additional Opportunities

Scholar-in-Residence Weekend

This series is perfect for synagogues, shuls, and other Jewish communities seeking a new educational experience. Through a series of entertaining presentations, Irvin builds appreciation for Jewish activist-artist Arthur Szyk, The Szyk Haggadah, and the exciting world of historic and rare Judaica. The weekend may be customized to meet the scheduling needs and special interests of the community. Usually a two-day event, with three (3) presentations and an optional Saturday morning Dvar Torah.

Haggadah Salon Evening

Private event to experience the new Szyk Haggadah.

Designed for small groups of art and culture enthusiasts and/or history buffs, salon evenings are informal, invitation-only gatherings held in private homes. Irvin introduces the history of The Szyk Haggadah and the production of Historicana’s new 2008 luxury edition. Copies of the new Deluxe and Premier editions of The Szyk Haggadah will be displayed. Approximately one hour and 15 minutes.

Haggadah Study Session

Private instruction on the history and meaning of The Szyk Haggadah.

Irvin is pleased to offer personal Haggadah study sessions to proud owners of The Szyk Haggadah who wish to deepen their understanding of the Haggadah text and Szyk’s visual commentary. Study sessions are held in private homes, and friends and family may be invited. Approximately two hours.