Great-grandmother, artist and Holocaust survivor Anna Lowenthal celebrated her 100th birthday last April and insisted on one thing – that no fuss be made about it.
“Mom asked all of her friends, acquaintances and relatives, whoever knew her, to send a card and describe a little about their relationship,” said Anna Lowenthal’s eldest daughter, Myra Lowenthal. “She accumulated a big box of cards with meaningful messages, including a card from Justin Trudeau and Queen Elizabeth.”
The CJN caught up with the mother and daughter at Anna Lowenthal’s home in Toronto. Treasured family photographs were proudly on display, several scattered across the very dining room table that also serves as Anna Lowenthal’s artwork space. Myra Lowenthal’s pride was evident in the books she created over the years, to document her mother’s paintings, drawings and collages, and, as a walking art tour revealed, the walls are adorned with both Anna Lowenthal’s paintings and Myra Lowenthal’s larger-than-life portraits of her mother during different periods of her life.
Anna Lowenthal was born in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, in 1918. She is a survivor of three camps. While her creative aspirations were deterred by the Holocaust, she eventually found ways to fulfill her artistic passion. Postwar Belgrade may have been an unlikely time and place for anyone to think about fashion, but Anna Lowenthal found a way to design for a magazine by creating cover illustrations and fashion drawings.
“My mother was always talking about this magazine called Okus Magazine. Translated in Serbian, it means Good Taste,” said Myra Lowenthal.
“I remember my whole life, I was connected with fashion. In Budapest, I took a course with the best designer, where I got my certificate,” added Anna Lowenthal.
“When mom was pregnant with me, she was working on Okus Magazine and she claims that’s where I got my talent,” Myra Lowenthal said with a grin.
“My parents were married before the war and during wartime, became separated. My father was a prisoner of war for four years, but because he was an officer, they were allowed to correspond. My mother still has all of his letters. By a miracle, they met after the war and shortly thereafter, I was born. My younger sister, Julia, was born in Jerusalem. We came to Canada in 1951.”
Anna Lowenthal took art classes at the Art Gallery of Ontario when she was in her 30s and 40s. “I still have her paintings from that time, but essentially, life got in the way of her passion,” said Myra Lowenthal. “Mom resumed her love of art after my father passed away. In 1995, I enrolled her in an art class and she just blossomed. She came back full-stead, painting still-life.”
Anna Lowenthal loves to make collages, as well. Her subjects can be anything from fashion, to sports, to politics, to flowers. “Every day, she thinks of ideas and she will make one or two collages a day. My favourite is her Green Palm Face collage. It showcases her creativity, as well as her draftsmanship. It also highlights her abilities still present, from her early years in fashion magazine illustrations and design,” said Myra Lowenthal.
“Before I create, I have the idea and then I find the material. For texture, I’ll use anything from candy wrappers to the wrapping of flowers Myra brings me,” said Anna Lowenthal.
“Mom is a non-stop creative mind,” added her daughter.
Just like her mom, Myra Lowenthal also started out in fashion. “I never stopped drawing or painting, ever since I could hold a brush or a pencil. I have worked for different publishing houses and I was also doing fashion drawings up until the mid-’70s, when I gave up commercial art and advertising art and focused on fine art,” she said.
As a graduate of art programs at Central Technical School and OCAD University, she has a keen interest in capturing light and movement, leading her to explore themes such as cycling, soccer, musicians, dancers, beaches and city scenes. Myra Lowenthal’s work includes portrait painting and exhibitions.
“She is the best,” her mother piped in. “She is my Picasso.”
Asked if she had any words of wisdom, Anna Lowenthal said firmly, “Stay curious. Be satisfied. Make the most of every day.”