Bernard Carl Feldman

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Bernard “Ben” Carl Feldman (American, 1898-1972), noted Western New York artist, illustrator and muralist primarily known for his award-winning illustration for the 1932 lithographic poster “Buffalo Centennial: July 1-10 1932”. Murals throughout the city of Buffalo, NY, and five murals for the Chestnut Ridge Park Casino, Orchard Park, NY were painted by Ben, as he was known to family and friends. He was born to parents of German descent, to Hermanus “Herman” Feldman (1846-1923) and Gertrude Feldman (née Schroer, 1852-1924). They owned a dairy farm in West Valley, NY, and he was the youngest of twelve children.

Although a carpenter by trade, Feldman pursued drawing as a hobby since his childhood. He began work as a dairy farmer following his marriage in 1917 to Mary “Mamie” Elizabeth (née Gerwitz, 1885-1986) and they had six children including: Mary L., Lugarda D., Bernard J., Beatrice H., Donald J. and Geraldine. The family maintained the farm in West Valley before moving to Buffalo, NY, where Ben worked for the Pullman Car Company and also at his brother’s parish. Ben became an accomplished carpenter and cabinet builder before he turned his eye to an art-related profession by opening his own sign painting company in the Fillmore Avenue area of the city called The Fidelity Sign Shop. Sadly, the shop as well as much of Feldman’s artwork was later destroyed by fire. Afterward, Feldman began working for General Motors where he did pictorial work and painted trucks, specializing in detailed lettering and gold-leafing. This led to several commissions by Erie County to do gold-leafing in various buildings in Buffalo including City Hall and the Courthouse. Over the years, he also received commissions to do murals in many of Buffalo’s downtown restaurants and other prominent buildings. All of Bernard’s children inherited artistic influences and talents from him and many went on to win awards for their own artwork.

In the winter of 1931, Bernard enrolled in evening art courses at Burgard Vocational High School and studied under Harry B. Wright, designing drawings, paintings and posters as a regular part of his classwork. It was under Wright's tutelage that Feldman’s winning poster “Buffalo Centennial: July 1-10 1932” was designed. The poster contest was called “Buffalo’s Progress and Present Greatness”, and was open to students and professional artists alike for the “100 Years of Growth Centennial Celebration” to be held along Buffalo’s waterfront that summer. All posters, by request of the Centennial Committee, in its rules for the contest had to bear the wording, “Buffalo Centennial”, and the dates, “July 1-10, 1932”. Approximately 150 students and professional artists submitted design entries to the Committee on February 23rd of that year, with prizes awarded the next day. Nine prizes were awarded for the top three designs in three separate categories, along with ten honorable mentions. The categories were: Buffalo public and parochial high school students, students residing in Buffalo or enrolled in other than public and parochial schools and professional artists. Feldman’s poster won the third prize of $10 in his group and his illustration was reproduced into a lithograph and exhibited shortly thereafter at the Albright Art Gallery and around Western New York in places such as the Central Railroad Terminal, streetcars, and numerous storefront windows. Thousands of lithographs were produced from Feldman’s design but are quite rare to find on the open market today especially in good condition. The scene depicts a Native American Indian sitting on a treed embankment next to a teepee, gazing at the skyline of the rapidly growing metropolis of Buffalo under a cloudless blue sky. The scene is a poignant reminder of the historical shift and contrast from the early frontier days to the industrial growth that rapidly expanded in late 19th century and continued through the early part of the 20th century, while also depicting its affect on the spirit and ideals of the Native American culture.

In the late 1930’s, before the start of World War II, the family moved to the Town of Newstead in Akron, NY, where they settled into a farmhouse. Feldman began working at Curtiss Wright Aviation as foreman in the paint department.

In 1948, Bernard painted five murals for the Chestnut Ridge Park Casino, Orchard Park, NY. As of 2013, the Chestnut Ridge Conservancy, a local group dedicated to preserving, protecting and promoting the natural, recreational and historic resources at the county park, worked to restore Feldman’s murals. The CRC in cooperation with art restorer Eileen Sullivan of Aurora Art Conservation located in East Aurora, NY, painstakingly cleaned and restored each mural from the decades of dirt, grime, cooking grease and fireplace smoke that have accumulated over the years. Ronald J. Michnik, a founding trustee of the conservancy originally had stated that it will cost approximately $60,000 for the project. The group raised the necessary funds which helped finally complete the restoration in April of 2015. "To commemorate the great achievement, the CRC held a celebration at the Chestnut Ridge Casino on April 21, 2015 to share the success with the public and to thank the generous corporations, foundations and individuals that contributed and helped the project's success. April 21, 2015 was officially declared Chestnut Ridge Park/Bernard C. Feldman Day by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, in honor of the artist responsible for creating the five iconic murals. In addition, two commendations were issued by United States Representative Chris Collins (NY 27th District); one posthumously to Mr. Feldman, and one to the Conservancy honoring the Casino Mural Restoration Project." More information can be read on their website at chestnutridgeconservancy.org.

Feldman was later a sign painter for the Erie County Building Department from which he retired. During this time, he was also the Fire Chief at the Newstead Fire Company in Akron. With their six children married, Bernard and his wife Mary, decided to build a new home and Bernard’s second sign shop on a piece of property they purchased in Akron. On May 25, 1972, Bernard passed away and was buried in St. Theresa’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Akron, NY. His wife Mary passed away in January of 1986, and is buried alongside Bernard.


Chronology:

1898- August 21, Born, to father Hermanus “Herman” Feldman (1846-1923) and Gertrude Feldman (1852-1924), who owned a dairy farm. He was the youngest of twelve children, West Valley, NY.

1917- November 17, Bernard married Mary “Mamie” Elizabeth Gerwitz, West Valley, NY and they soon bought a dairy farm.

1918- September 12, Bernard registered for the WWI draft, Gowanda, NY.

Circa the early 1920’s- Bernard and his wife moved to Buffalo, NY, where he worked for the Pullman Car Company and also at his brother’s parish. Ben later became an accomplished carpenter and cabinet builder.

1923- May 2, Bernard’s father Herman died in Ashford, NY and is buried Saint Johns Roman Catholic Cemetery, Ashford, NY.

1924- February 15, Bernard’s mother Gertrude died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Gertrude Fagnan of Canada Hill near West Valley, NY and is also buried Saint Johns Roman Catholic Cemetery, Ashford, NY.

Circa mid-late 1920’s- Bernard opened his own sign painting company in the Fillmore Avenue area of the city called The Fidelity Sign Shop, but sadly, the shop as well as much of Feldman’s artwork was later destroyed by a fire.

Circa late 1920’s-1930’s- Bernard began working for General Motors where he did pictorial work and painted their trucks, specializing in detailed lettering and gold-leafing. This later led to several commissions by Erie County to do gold-leafing in various buildings in Buffalo including City Hall and the Courthouse. Over the years, Feldman also received numerous commissions to do murals in many of Buffalo’s downtown restaurants and other prominent buildings.

1931- Winter, Bernard enrolled in a correspondence art course and evening art courses at Burgard Vocational High School, Buffalo, NY, and studied under Harry B. Wright, designing numerous drawings, paintings and posters as a regular part of classwork. It was under Wright's tutelage that Feldman’s winning poster “Buffalo Centennial: July 1-10 1932” was designed, Buffalo, NY.

1932- February 24, Bernard wins third prize in his category for his gouache on board illustration designed for the poster contest titled “Buffalo’s Progress and Present Greatness”, held for the “100 Years of Growth Centennial Celebration”, from July 1-10 of that same year, in Buffalo, NY. The poster was titled “Buffalo Centennial: July 1-10, 1932” (Poster size 28” x 22”), and was exhibited shortly thereafter at the Albright Art Gallery and around Buffalo in places such as the Central Railroad Terminal, streetcars, and storefront windows.

Circa 1937- The family moved to the Town of Newstead in Akron, NY, where they settled into a farmhouse. Feldman gained employment at Curtiss Wright Aviation as the foreman in their paint department, Buffalo, NY.

1948- Bernard painted five large murals on the walls at the Chestnut Ridge Park Casino, Orchard Park, NY.

1967- November 25, Bernard and his wife Mary celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary by renewing their vows, with a Mass at St. Theresa’s Roman Catholic Church, Rev. Francis Swiatkowski officiated, Akron, NY.

1972- May 25, Bernard died, and was buried in St. Theresa’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Akron, NY.

1986- January, Bernard’s wife Mary died, Medina, NY, and was also buried in St. Theresa’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Akron, NY.

2013- May, the Chestnut Ridge Conservancy in cooperation with Eileen Sullivan of Aurora Art Conservation, East Aurora, NY, began painstakingly cleaning, restoring and preserving each of Bernard C. Feldman’s five large murals located at the Chestnut Ridge Park Casino in Orchard Park, NY which was expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2015).

2015- April, The Chestnut Ridge Conservancy raised the necessary funds which helped finally complete the restoration of the five Bernard C. Feldman murals at the Chestnut Ridge Casino, Orchard Park, NY. "To commemorate the great achievement, the CRC held a celebration at the Chestnut Ridge Casino on April 21, 2015 to share the success with the public and to thank the generous corporations, foundations and individuals that contributed and helped the project's success. April 21, 2015 was officially declared Chestnut Ridge Park/Bernard C. Feldman Day by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, in honor of the artist responsible for creating the five iconic murals. In addition, two commendations were issued by United States Representative Chris Collins (NY 27th District); one posthumously to Mr. Feldman, and one to the Conservancy honoring the Casino Mural Restoration Project." More information can be read on their website at chestnutridgeconservancy.org.

Awards/Prizes/Honors: Third prize of $10 in his category for his gouache on board illustration designed for the poster contest titled “Buffalo’s Progress and Present Greatness”, held for the “100 Years of Growth Centennial Celebration”, from July 1-10, 1932 in Buffalo, NY, and the poster was titled “Buffalo Centennial: July 1-10, 1932” (Poster size 28” x 22”), Buffalo, NY.

Poster Illustrations: “Buffalo Centennial: July 1-10 1932”, Prize-winning Poster, 28” x 22” by Bernard Carl Feldman, printed signature lower right.

Collections: Original gouache on board illustration for the poster “Buffalo Centennial”, July 1-10 1932, (poster size 27-3/8” x 21-1/2”), gift of Geraldine A. Miles, 2006, Permanent Collection of the Burchfield-Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY; Poster, “Buffalo Centennial: July 1-10 1932”, Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, Grosvenor Room, Buffalo, NY.

Memberships/Associations: The Knights of St. John at St. Mary Magdalene’s parish, Buffalo, NY; Fire Chief at the Newstead Fire Company, Akron, NY.

(Rewritten in parts & compiled chronologically by Mark Strong of Meibohm Fine Arts, Inc., East Aurora, NY, meibohmfinearts.com, sources: Too long to list here and are furnished upon request.)
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