Mark Podwal (1945-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1945, in Brooklyn, NY; Education: Queens College of the City University of New York, B.A., 1967; New York University, M.D., 1970. Religion: Jewish.
Office—55 East 73rd St., New York, NY 10021. Agent—Georges Borchardt, Georges Borchardt, Inc., 136 East 57th St., New York, NY 10022.
New York University, New York, NY, clinical associate professor of dermatology, 1974—; associate attending physician, Tisch University Hospital and Bellevue Hospital, beginning 1974. Artist and illustrator, 1971—. Member, Committee on Collections and Acquisitions and Committee on Art in Public Spaces, United States Memorial Holocaust Museum. Exhibitions: Podwal's work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions across the United States and abroad, and is represented in permanent collections, including Israel Museum, Library of Congress, Skirball Museum, Los Angeles, CA, Jewish Museum, New York, NY, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England. Military service: U.S. Army Reserve, 1970-76; became captain.
American Academy of Dermatology (fellow).
Award of Excellence, Society of Newspaper Design, 1989, for drawing in New York Times; named chevalier, 1993, and officer, 1996, French Order of Arts and Letters; Sidney Taylor Award Honor Book designation, Association of Jewish Libraries, 1996, for Dybbuk, and 1998, for You Never Know; Aesop Prize, American Folklore Society, and Silver Medal, Society of Illustrators, both 1999, both for King Solomon and His Magic Ring; National Jewish Book Award, 1998, and Washington Irving Children's Choice Award Honor Book, Westchester Library Association, 2000, both for You Never Know.
FOR CHILDREN; SELF-ILLUSTRATED
The Book of Tens, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1994.
(Reteller) Golem: A Giant Made of Mud, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1995.
The Menorah Story, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1998.
A Sweet Year: A Taste of the Jewish Holidays, Random House (New York, NY), 2003.
Jerusalem Sky: Stars, Crosses, and Crescents, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2005.
ILLUSTRATOR; FOR CHILDREN
Francine Prose, Dybbuk: A Story Made in Heaven, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1996.
Francine Prose, reteller, The Angel's Mistake: Stories of Chelm, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1997.
Francine Prose, You Never Know: A Legend of the Lamed-Vavniks, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1998.
Ileene Smith Sobel, Moses and the Angels, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1999.
Elie Wiesel, King Solomon and His Magic Ring, Greenwillow (New York, NY) 1999.
Francine Prose, The Demon's Mistake: A Story from Chelm, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2000.
FOR ADULTS; SELF-ILLUSTRATED
The Decline and Fall of the American Empire, Darien House (New York, NY), 1971.
The Book of Lamentations, National Council on Art in Jewish Life, 1974.
Freud's da Vinci, Images Graphiques, 1977.
A Book of Hebrew Letters, Jewish Publication Society, 1977, reprinted, Aronson (Northdale, NJ), 1992.
Leonardo di Freud, Sperling & Kupfer Editori (Milan, Italy), 1982.
A Jewish Bestiary: A Book of Fabulous Creatures Drawn from Hebraic Legend and Lore, Jewish Publication Society, 1984.
Also contributor to periodicals.
ILLUSTRATOR; FOR ADULTS
Let My People Go: A Haggadah, Darien House (New York, NY), 1972.
Paul Simon, New Songs, Knopf (New York, NY), 1975.
Francine Klagsbrun, Voices of Wisdom, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1979, republished by Jonathan David Publishers, 1986.
Elie Wiesel, The Golem, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1983.
Howard Schwartz, The Captive Soul of the Messiah, Schocken (New York, NY), 1983.
The Elie Wiesel Collection, fourteen volumes, Bibliophile Library (Paris, France), 1985–1988.
Elie Wiesel, Six Days of Destruction, Paulist Press, 1988.
Elie Wiesel (commentator), A Passover Haggadah, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1993.
Francine Klagsbrun, Jewish Days: A Book of Jewish Life and Culture around the Year, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1996.
Contributor of illustrations to periodicals in the United States, including the New York Times, and abroad.
The Golem has been translated into French, German, Dutch, Portuguese, and Italian.
(Illustrator and creative consultant) A Passover Seder Presented by Elie Wiesel (children's video), Time Warner (New York, NY), 1994.
Podwal's papers are archived in the Princeton University Library, Princeton, NJ, and at the University of Connecticut, Storrs.
Mark Podwal is a man of many talents. Besides being a successful dermatologist in New York City, he is an accomplished author and artist whose works have been exhibited internationally and placed in numerous public collections in the United States and abroad. A number of his special projects have also been recognized internationally, including designing gold medals (a Congressional Gold Medal and one for the United States Holocaust Memorial Council), designing a tapestry that hangs in a New York City synagogue (the largest one in the world), designing a logo for The Future of Hope conference in Japan, creating the poster for the Lincoln Center Jerusalem 3000 celebration, and providing the cover painting for violinist Itzhak Perlman's 1996 compact disc and the Brooklyn Academy of Music's 1998 spring season BAMbill. In 2005 he designed a passover plate for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In addition to these accomplishments, he is the author and illustrator of books for children as well as for adults. Most of these works—Podwal's own as well as those he has illustrated for others—typically focus on events, symbols, and stories from Jewish history and have been well-received by critics.
Podwal's first self-illustrated picture book for children, The Book of Tens, appeared in 1994. In this work, readers learn about the significance of the number ten in Jewish lore, tales, and rituals, many of which come directly from the Old Testament and Talmud. For example, King David's harp had ten strings, there are ten commandments, and God created the world with ten words. Each number ten statement is accompanied by a more detailed explanation and a large watercolor illustration. Ellen Mandel, writing in Booklist, found the book "attractive in format" and noted that it "welcomes readers to an innovative approach to the Bible and Jewish history." New York Times contributor Edward Hirsch called it a "handsomely designed, clearly written and beautifully illustrated" book for "children of all ages." However, Hirsch, as well as other critics, noted that younger children not already familiar with the original stories may need further explanation.
Podwal once explained to Something about the Author (SATA) how he came up with his idea to write and illustrate The Book of Tens. "When the rabbi of my synagogue was planning his vacation a few winters ago, he asked me to deliver the Friday-night sermon. When I asked what the weekly Torah reading was, he told me, 'The Ten Commandments.' When I asked how long he wanted me to speak, he responded, 'ten minutes.' That Friday evening I spoke for ten minutes about the significance of the number ten in Judaism. My young sons liked the talk so much that I decided to expand it into a children's book. So I called Susan Hirschman, who for ten years had been urging me to do a children's book. The result was The Book of Tens."
For his next picture book, Podwal selected the much-written-about Jewish legend of the golem—a sixteenth-century creature formed out of clay to protect the Jews from their enemies. Published in 1995, Golem: A Giant Made of Mud received praise for its brilliantly colored artwork. Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman noted that while Podwal's "folk-art illustrations of the medieval city [Prague] express the magical transformation of the powerful giant," his version of the story "lacks a clear focus." School Library Journal contributor Susan Scheps also cited a "lack of strong plot," but considered the illustrations "expertly rendered." And although New York Times contributor Rodger Kamenets described the narrative as "fitful and undisciplined," he too liked the illustrations, noting that they convey "wonder and delight." On the other hand, a Publishers Weekly reviewer found Podwal's text to have a "shadowy, mythic power," and added that the book "says much about Podwal's ability to work creatively and respectfully within the folktale tradition." In another self-illustrated work for children, The Menorah Story, the author discusses the menorah and the story of Hanukkah.
Podwal again draws on Jewish tradition for A Sweet Year: A Taste of the Jewish Holidays. The book discuses the holidays of the Jewish year and describes traditional foods eaten at each holiday. Podwal uses combinations of images—a solar system of fruit, or food tucked into envelopes like holiday cards, for example—to present the special holiday foods. Susan Pine, writing for School Library Journal, praised Podwal's "artful and witty illustrations," noting that each "creates a colorful and fanciful tableau." A Publishers Weekly reviewer complimented, "The writing matches the art in eloquence and in its deceptively straightforward concentration of different ideas." Ellen Mandell of Booklist found that "Each page of creative art faces thoughtful, yet economically phrased, text explaining each holiday."
Legends of Jerusalem are told in Jerusalem Sky: Stars, Crosses, and Crescents, Podwal's next solo effort. In this book the author/illustrator retells a story of how the rains held off over Jerusalem long enough for King Solomon to build his temple, as well as the tale of the star of Jesus and Muhammad's ascent into heaven. He also describes modern Jerusalem's three faiths and how the prayers of the followers of all three travel up to the same sky.
In addition to illustrating his own work for children, Podwal has also illustrated the works of other authors. Dybbuk: The Story Made in Heaven, The Angel's Mistake: Stories of Chelm, You Never Know: A Legend of the Lamed-Vavniks, and The Demon's Mistake: A Story from Chelm are picture books he illustrated for Francine Prose. Their efforts were considered by Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman to be "Jewish legend[s] of wry humanity." The first draws upon two Jewish tales of matchmaking angels and spirits living in another's body and forms what Marcia W. Posner, writing in School Library Journal, called "a silly noodlehead story, charmingly illustrated." A Publishers Weekly critic observed that Podwal's artwork gives "a vibrant flavor to the story," unlike many folktales with a similar background.
The second story, published in 1997, describes the Yiddish tale of how Chelm became a town filled with fools and features some of its unusual inhabitants. Praising the work in Booklist, Rochman observed that Podwal's illustrations are as "deadpan, wild, solemn, and absurd as the storytelling." A Kirkus Reviews writer similarly noted that the "sly yet strikingly beautiful gouache and colored-pencil paintings" are "a perfect foil for Prose's understated, humorous narrative." You Never Know relates a legend about a poor shoemaker, considered foolish by the townsfolk, who turns out to have the ear of God. Podwal's "glowing gems of illustrations capture the reverence and mystery of this legend," according to Hannah B. Zeiger in Horn Book. "Prose and Podwal bring an unusual agility to their work," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who called Podwal's illustrations "light and springlike."
Podwal teamed up with Ileene Smith Sobel, creating illustrations for Moses and the Angels. "Rarely has the story of Moses been presented with such grace and economy," praised a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The book focuses on the parts angels played in the story of Moses, from the angel who foretells his birth to the angel who announces his death. Commenting on Podwal's paintings, the Publishers Weekly critic noted, "Their light yet bold images in supple colors … give great lift to the storytelling."
Podwal provided illustrations for another Biblical story, this one told by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and titled King Solomon and His Magic Ring. Drawing on stories from the Jewish holy books the Talmud and the Midrash, Wiesel tells of King Solomon's mythical adventures. Podwal's "carefully modulated abstractions are as striking in their embrace of the twentieth century as is the text's pleasure in tradition," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Weisel and Podwal have also worked together on titles for adults, and Podwal was the illustrator for a film for children called A Passover Seder Presented by Elie Wiesel.
Podwal once told SATA about a few events in his life that directly led to and influenced his dual careers as an author/artist and a physician. "Because of a minor illness, perhaps just 'a bad cold,' I missed the first few days of kindergarten. As a result my name was not on the class roster. When my teacher read out the class list, as she did each morning, my name was never called. It was not until my teacher noticed a drawing of a train I had made that she asked, 'Who are you?' And so it seemed to me, at the age of five, that my existence depended on my drawing.
"Although I had the ability for drawing, my parents encouraged me to become a physician. In the words of my mother, 'Since you are such a fine artist, you'll make a great plastic surgeon.' Instead, I chose dermatology, since it requires visual discriminations and with its few emergencies allows me time to draw.
"While attending New York University School of Medicine, I began drawing anti-war posters for the New York Moratorium Committee. Then four students lay dead on the campus of Kent State. The tumultuous events of the weeks that followed inspired me to create some fifty drawings that were published in 1971 as my first book, The Decline and Fall of the American Empire. These drawings were brought to the attention of an art director at the New York Times. In 1972 my first drawing appeared in that newspaper."
Reflecting upon his career, Podwal once noted: "Over the years I have been fortunate to see my drawings published in many books, animated for television, engraved on medals, exhibited in museums, and woven into a tapestry to hang in the largest synagogue in the world. Perhaps it all stems from missing those first days of kindergarten and needing my drawings to say that I am here."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, September 15, 1994, Ellen Mandel, review of The Book of Tens, p. 134; October 1, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of Golem: A Giant Made of Mud, p. 324; April 15, 1996, p. 1444; March 1, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of The Angel's Mistake: Stories of Chelm, p. 1168; June 1, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of You Never Know: A Legend of the Lamed-Vavniks, p. 1774; October 1, 2003, Ellen Mandel, review of A Sweet Year: A Taste of the Jewish Holidays, p. 334.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 1994, p. 23; July-August, 1997; July-August, 1998.
Hadassah, December, 1995, p. 65.
Horn Book, November-December, 1994, p. 746; January-February, 1996, p. 83; July-August, 1997; July-August, 1998, Hannah B. Zeiger, review of You Never Know, p. 504.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1997, review of The Angel's Mistake.
New York Times Book Review, April 9, 1995, Edward Hirsch, review of The Book of Tens, p. 25; December 17, 1995, Rodger Kamenets, review of Golem, p. 28; September 28, 1997.
Publishers Weekly, October 30, 1995, review of Golem: A Giant Made of Mud, p. 61; February 12, 1996, review of Dybbuk: A Story Made in Heaven; April 28, 1997; May 18, 1998, review of You Never Know, p. 79; January 25, 1999, review of Moses and the Angels, p. 86; July 26, 1999, review of King Solomon and His Magic Ring, p. 83; August 25, 2003, review of A Sweet Year, p. 61.
School Library Journal, November, 1995, Susan Scheps, review of Golem, p. 115; April, 1996, Marcia W. Posner, review of Dybbuk, pp. 127-128; August, 1998, pp. 154-155; October, 2000, Teri Markson, review of The Demons' Mistake, p. 152; August, 2003, Susan Pine, review of A Sweet Year, p. 151.
Art at the Center Web site, http://www.artatthecenter.com/ (May 3, 2005), "Mark Podwal."
Forum Gallery Web site, http://www.forumgallery.com/ (July 15, 2005), "Mark Podwal."
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