1896 - 1963

Abe and estelle



Abe is born on December 25 in Gomel, Russia. His father was a poor Rabbi. Abe showed promise for art at a young age. He writes, “Most children draw on sand, in mud, or on snow and I drew and drew on whitewashed walls. Six years of age then I was when I made pictures on clean walls. With dusty charcoal from the oven I drew papa and mama on white, white walls.” At age 8, Abe got his first job painting markers on the railway tracks.


Estelle is born in Paris as “Esther Gankine” on August 3.


Abe is sent to live with his cousins in Philadelphia.


Abe enlists in the army in WWI and served as a company mechanic. Multiple newspapers report that he lied about his age to enlist early, so it is possible that he was born after 1896. He is honorably discharged in 1919 after he was wounded. He lost three fingers.

In one newspaper article, Abe says that drawing saved his life. When they arrived in one French village, his captain ordered him to stay behind to draw maps. He says, “All eight of my squad, including the company mechanic who replaced me, were blown to bits.”


Abe is discharged to Camp Dix in New Jersey. He is transferred to study at the School of Industrial Art (which later becomes the University of the Arts) in Philadelphia.


Abe is struggling with PTSD symptoms after the war and was to be sent to a sanitarium for veterans, but instead finds singing to be therapeutic, and studies in California under the famous soprano Ellen Beach Yaw. It is possible that Abe met her while she was travelling in Europe.



The Los Angeles Times reports that Abe has a “voice which will make [him] a world singer.” Sometime after this, with support from his wealthy patron, he travels to Paris to study singing. 


Estelle at the age of 16 becomes a naturalized French citizen.


Abe performes recitals in Paris and London. 

Sometime after this, Abe begins to lose his voice. Some articles cite that he was gassed in the war, others state that he got typhoid fever. In one article Abe says that he simply studied with a teacher who didn’t know what was best for his voice. However it happened, Abe gives up singing and focuses on painting.


Abe studies painting in Paris at the Academy Julien, and then privately with Francois Richard de Montholon. It is during this time that he meets Estelle, who is a neighbor. (My grandmother says she was his niece, but I can’t find anything to support or contradict this, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯).

1936 ish

Now married, Estelle and Abe move to Philadelphia, and Abe gets a job as an artist with the WPA. When they first settle back to Philadelphia, they move in for a few weeks with my grandmother who remembers Abe teaching her how to dance.

Estelle eventually gets a job as a mechanical draughsman and will support Abe financially in his career throughout the rest of his life.

Between 1941 and 1948

Abe and Estelle move into an old home that Abe converts into a studio space at 2112 Spring Street in Philadelphia.

In 1941 at the age of 28, Estelle becomes a naturalized American citizen. In 1942, Abe resigns from the WPA due to “ill health”.

In 1943, Abe’s work “Springtime” is displayed at the Victory Show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He does not win any awards.



One of Abe’s prints is selected for the Second National Print Annual Exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. The museum will later acquire one of Abe’s works following his death. 


Abe is teaching art classes at the Cheltenham Township Art Centre and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He develops a system for how to teach art which he becomes extremely passionate about. 

Abe has (possibly his first) solo art show at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Abe’s painting “The Juggler” is purchased by the Barnes Foundation for $100. This painting is still on display today.


Abe’s painting “Terminal Market” is selected as part of the 146th Annual Exhibition for inclusion in the permanent collections of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Abe sells the painting to them for $625.

Abe’s lighthouse serigraph is selected to be the American Color Print Society’s Presentation Print of which at least 100 were printed.


Estelle and Abe travel to Europe for a three-month vacation over the summer. It is the first time Estelle has been her father and her sister in 20 years. She recounts in her journal that when her father opened the door to his apartment in Paris, they did not recognize each other.


One of Abe’s prints is exhibited in the 15th National Exhibition of Prints at the Library of Congress.

Abe loses his position teaching at the Cheltenham Township Art Centre.


The Free Library of Philadelphia purchases two of Abe’s prints, one to hang on the east wall of the Print and Picture Department.



While on vacation in Miami, Abe has a heart attack. He recovers in a hospital but dies after his hospital bed collapses. He was 59 years old.

Months later after a visit from Henry Clifford, a curator of the Philadelphia Art Museum, Estelle writes in a letter to him, “Your generous comments... gave me the courage I needed and a purpose in life, the belief that my husband’s life of complete devotion to art should get some recognition...An unbelievable ambition came over me since [your visit], to try to place Abee’s work in other wonderful homes...like the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas.” She begins to write to her contacts for assistance in placing Abe’s work in many museums. 


Estelle spearheads a memorial exhibition of Abe’s work at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. They also acquire one of his paintings in this year, “Enchanted Forest” for $380.

The director of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Joseph Fraser, writes to Estelle in a letter, “[I wanted to tell you] with what wonderful satisfaction we here at the Academy, faculty and staff, saw the staging of the memorial show. It both honored Abe, and we, in turn, were honored also.”

Estelle writes in a letter to friend and photographer John Condax, “Everybody has been so nice to me, and what is more important has felt a loss with his passing, particularly his students and close friends. If it was not for them the Museum would not have acquired one of his paintings...The whole experience has given me great courage and showed me the way, to place Abee’s work in worthwhile places, so that his life of devotion to art may not be forgotten.”

MOMA decides not to take any of Abe’s work.


10 of Abe’s paintings are successfully donated to the America-Israel Cultural Foundation and displayed at the museum in Ein Harod. They were perhaps later donated to other museums in Israel.

The Jewish Museum in New York decides not to take any of Abe’s work. Estelle writes, “I am disappointed of course, but I shall try to find another way to bring to my husband the recognition he so well deserved.”


The Brooklyn Museum accepts one of Abe’s prints into their collection.

Estelle comes down with pneumonia and writes several letters to lawyers for financial assistance. She is still working “at the  plant”  (as  a  draftsman  for  the  Switch  Gear   division  of  the  General  Electric  Company)  ”. She is having trouble with Abe’s inheritance and also possibly a lawsuit against the Miami hospital. 


Estelle prints 100 of Abe’s wood block prints posthumously.

Estelle donates 20 of Abe’s works to the Philadelphia Museum of Art where they are today.

Estelle  dies  at  the  age  of  55  on  November  13.  Surviving  is  her  sister,  Rose  Gankine.