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Arthur Rosskam Abrams

T/5 in 603rd Engineer Camouflage Bn : Co A

ASN#32848192 Casualty: Wounded

Born 1909 in PA, Died 1981


County of residence at enlistment: Chemung County, NY
Other residence(s): Philadelphia, PA; Elmira, NY; Taos, NM; Sarasota, FL
United States Army, European Theatre of Operations
Occupation before the war: commercial artist
College education before the war: Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts 4 years; Académie Julian, Paris; Künste Akademie, Munich
Source: Photo of 603rd A Company, 13 May 1945; 603rd handwritten list; Teddy Katz Co A Roster; 603rd roster in Seymour Nussenbaum's scrapbook, June 1943; List of Casualties (Unofficial); photo courtesy Elmira NY Star-Gazette, April 26, 1962

Art Abrams was born on February 21, 1909 in Philadelphia, PA, the third of four sons. His parents had both been born in Germany; his father started out in the US as a cutter in a clothing manufacturing business, eventually progressing to designer.

Art started drawing when he was a child, and began his studies at the Graphic Sketch Club of Philadelphia. He graduated from West Philadelphia High School and won a scholarship to the Philadelphia College of Art (now The University of the Arts). He soon found that he wasn't particularly interested in commercial art, and moved on to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, graduating in 1927. He had earned a scholarship to study in Europe and so he went—first to Paris where he studied at the Académie Julian, the Académie Colarossi, and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. He also studied with Hans Hoffman at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. He toured with other artists into Italy and Spain, meeting the artists of the day and painting.

He returned to the US at the end of 1929, and held a one-man show at the McClees Gallery in Philadelphia. He held his first New York one-man show in 1931. Unfortunately, both of these shows had disastrous results for him—he lost the proceeds of the first show when the bank in which he deposited the money failed. And he lost a number of his paintings in New York when the building where they were kept burned down.

He had met a woman in Philadelphia named Sally Frank, who hailed from Elmira, NY, and he began sketching and painting on a farm near there. He and two other more established artists, Lars Hoftrup and Armand Wargny, began to turn a barn and farm into a studio for artists to come and paint during the summer.

Art married Sally (who had been born in England from Russian immigrant parents) in October 1931 in Rochester, NY, and they settled in Elmira. Art began designing storefronts for his father-in-law, who was a glass maker. Soon he opened his own store, called The Art Shop, where he sold art supplies, did framing, and offered classes. He also lectured at area colleges, including Hobart, Syracuse, Cornell, and Elmira College. And, of course, he continued to paint and show his art. For example, he was chosen to represent the Rochester area in the Great Lakes Exhibition in 1938, 1939, and 1940.

He registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, and enlisted on March 19, 1943, shortly after the birth of his only child, Paul. Like many other artists in the Northeast, he was assigned to the 603rd Engineer Camouflage Battalion, and closed down his shop for the duration of the war. After returning from Europe, he was discharged on September 18, 1945 and returned to Elmira, his family, and his shop.

He added restoration work to the shop's services and became an accredited appraiser. He traveled to Europe to buy art for his growing list of customers, and in 1950 was elected President of the Elmira Art Club. He also served as a curator of the Strathmont Museum in Elmira. He was a judge in a number of local art shows, donated paintings to worthy causes, and gave lectures to local organizations. A 1962 article called him "one of the area's foremost abstract painters."

John Canemaker, who is an Oscar-winning independent animator, grew up in Elmira, and tells a story that illustrated Art's thoughtfulness and generosity. "In 1959 I was sixteen and already deeply interested in animation. . . . At the time, books on animation history and/or the medium's techniques were few. I devoured each book, and searched for more information . . . at The Art Shop. . . . Arthur Abrams, the kind-hearted owner, was an exhibited abstract painter and lecturer who encouraged my flipbook experiments, sequential drawings, and my many annoying questions. He and his wife Sally also allowed me to study and draw an original Disney cel and background setup they owned [of] Mickey Mouse in Fantasia."

In 1966, Art sold his shop and moved with Sally to Philadelphia so that he could concentrate on his art. In 1969 they relocated to Taos, NM. Prior to the move, Art had held 18 one-man shows, 15 in NY galleries and others in Paris and Philadelphia. He won numerous awards during his years in New York. A 1969 newspaper article stated that his art was represented in 24 institutions in the US and abroad. These included the Milwaukee Art Institute, the Philadelphia Museum, the Harrisburg Museum, the Allentown Museum, the Reading Public Museum, and the Boston Art Club.

Art began to paint in a new style in Taos—abstract impressions of the mountains and deserts. And his work found quick success. The jury of the Taos Art Association's Annual Awards Show chose one of his works in 1970, and he was soon having one-man shows in this new part of the country. He was one of only four New Mexican artists to be represented in a 1972-1973 traveling exhibition. However, the cold winters were difficult for his wife's arthritis, and in 1973 they moved again—this time to Sarasota, FL.

He missed the mountains and dramatic landscapes of New Mexico, but learned to appreciate the light of the setting sun on the ocean in Florida, and became a popular "new artist" there. He exhibited in area galleries and sold works from his home until cancer, which he had battled for many years, ended his life on August 28, 1981.


1909 birth certificate

1910 census

1920 census

1930 census

1931 marriage record

1931 marriage announcement in Star-Gazette (Elmira NY)

1939 Elmira city directory

1940 census

1940 article the Star-Gazette (Elmira NY) re his art

1940 article the Star-Gazette (Elmira NY) re his art

1940 draft card

1943 enlistment record

1943 article in the Star-Gazette (Elmira NY) re his military career

1945 article in the Star-Gazette (Elmira NY) re his military career

1950 census

1953 Elmira city directory

1955 article in the Star-Gazette (Elmira NY); he is judge for art show (includes photo)

1956 article in the Star-Gazette (Elmira NY) re his art (includes image of painting)

1957 article in the Star-Gazette (Elmira NY) re his donating a painting (includes photo)

1958 article in the Star-Gazette (Elmira NY) re his art (includes photo of Abrams)

1962 article in the Star-Gazette (Elmira NY) re his art (includes image of Abrams and of a painting)

1969 article in the Taos News (NM) about his relocating to New Mexico

1970 article in the Taos News (NM) about his art with lots of biographical details (includes photo)

1981 Florida death index

1981 VA death record

1981 obituary in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune (FL)

2021 painting shown in exhibit at Arnot Art Museum

2022 post by John Canemaker recalling Arthur and his shop in Elmira

Art images and biography from his son

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