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Szyk Expert Irvin Ungar

Speaking Engagements

Irvin Ungar on the John Rothmann Talk Show on KGO Radio. San Francisco, CA.Irvin Ungar is a popular speaker at museums, libraries, universities, religious institutions, and community centers worldwide.

He offers stand-alone presentations on:

  • Arthur Szyk
  • The Szyk Haggadah
  • Variant presentations

Irvin Ungar at the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin.Irvin also presents an engaging, customizable Scholar-in-Residence weekend and other special programs (complete list below).

To see a selection of Irvin’s previous speaking engagements, please see his work with “L’chayim: The Art of Arthur Szyk” on JBS TV with Rabbi Mark Golub (60 min), Facing History (5 min), Fairfield University (90 min), and the Walters Art Museum (35 min).

For his availability and speaking fees, please contact us.


Celebrating  “Soldier in Art” Arthur Szyk

Szyk scholar Irvin Ungar will demonstrate why Polish-Jewish Arthur Szyk (1894-1951) is arguably considered the most important World War II artist. This powerpoint presentation will focus on the dual role of Szyk’s Jewish soldiers fighting against Adolph Hitler on behalf of the Allied nations while simultaneously fighting to rescue their Jewish brethren in Nazi occupied Europe.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote that Szyk and his art were “as important as if he was on the fighting front itself” while the American military saw him as a “ citizen-soldier of the free world.” His influential art was syndicated in newspapers throughout the US, appeared on the covers of prominent American and Jewish magazines, exhibited at most all major US military bases, and visited by more than one million American servicemen at over 500 USO recreation centers.

Arthur Szyk: Soldier in Art HardcoverArthur Szyk: Soldier in Art

Arthur Szyk often said “Art is not my aim, it is my means.” Yet, his contemporaries praised him as the greatest illuminator-artist since the 16th century. He saw himself as a fighting artist, enlisting his pen and paintbrush as his weapons against hatred, racism, and oppression before, during, and after World War II. As the leading anti-Nazi artist in America during the war, Szyk also created the important and widely circulated art for the rescue of European Jewry. His Passover Haggadah has been acclaimed as “worthy of being considered as one of the most beautiful books ever produced by the hand of man.” The presentation Arthur Szyk: Soldier in Art will expose the viewer to the breadth and depth of the power, purpose, and persuasion of the great artist and the great man.

Arthur Szyk and the Art of The Haggadah

This presentation is designed for educators and those who wish to study The Szyk Haggadah in depth and understand the context in which it was created, against the backdrop of Nazi Europe.

This powerpoint looks at the details within the images of The Szyk Haggadah and focuses on the messages Arthur Szyk delivered to 1930s European Jewry with his visual commentary. Szyk calls attention to the injustices of the past, the unfolding horror in the present, and the heroic means necessary to insure future survival.

“We had the most exhilarating lecture from Irvin on Monday at our CJM docent class. He was fantastic and it felt like the 2 hours were over in a moment. He was most charming and beyond informative. He gave us a lot of literature to read and I will tell you that I cannot get enough of this. I’m about to get on a plane and I’m thrilled with the idea that I can focus on Szyk for all of those hours.”

— Carole Meyers
Tour Guide, Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco

The Fabric of America through the Art of Arthur Szyk

This presentation will explore how and why Szyk, his art, and its messages focus on themes that are continuously relevant by examining the roots of American values and ideals through his art.

At a time when America is trying to articulate what it stands for, and whereas its attitudes on democracy, immigration, big business, and similar issues are under attack, vision and clarity are needed more than ever. At a similar juncture in American history, Arthur Szyk (1894-1951) had expressed such clarity and vision through his art.

Szyk, the leading political artist in America during WW II and the greatest illuminator since the 16th century, was called “The Artist for Freedom” by the Library of Congress in its millennium exhibition in the year 2000, a half century after his death. This visual powerpoint presentation will explore how and why Szyk, his art, and its messages focus on themes that are continuously relevant, by examining the roots of American values and ideals through his art.

This talk was delivered in Washington, DC at the Library of Congress.

Arthur Szyk: Miniature Paintings and Modern Illuminations

Presentation on Arthur Szyk’s brilliant career as a painter and illuminator.

Inspired by the Legion of Honor exhibition of the same name, this illustrated presentation examines the long and varied career of the 20th century artist Arthur Szyk, from the rich illuminations of his Paris period to his World War II political art to limited edition fine art books such as his famous Passover Haggadah.

Justice Illuminated: The Art of Arthur Szyk

Presentation on Szyk’s art and messages, with an emphasis on the 1940s.

Irvin brings his years of curatorial experience—such as major museum exhibitions at The Library of Congress, The US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and The Deutsches Historisches [German Historical] Museum—to an energetic talk about the life and impact of Polish-Jewish artist Arthur Szyk, emphasizing four themes: World War II, Holocaust, Jewish Response and Advocate for Humanity. Szyk’s illuminated Passover Haggadah has been called one of the greatest illustrated books of all times. He was also the leading political artist in America during WWII, and fought the Nazis through his art. The story of Szyk’s crusade against injustice and tyranny will inspire and inform long-time admirers as well as people who have never encountered the artist before.

“Irvin, you were brilliant…Everyone loved your presentation, your display, and you! It was truly a night unlike any other night.”

— John Windle
Antiquarian Bookseller and Master of the Press, Roxburghe Club, San Francisco

Arthur Szyk: Book Illustrator Extraordinaire

This presentation on Szyk’s wonderfully diverse body of work in book illustration highlights why Arthur Szyk has been called the greatest miniaturist painter since the 16th century. His anti-Nazi art and his 1941 book The New Order have helped him earn the title of “soldier in art” and “one-man army” against Hitler. His celebrated post-WWII works for the Limited Editions Club— The Canterbury Tales and the biblical books of Job and Ruth, as well as his acclaimed 1920s Paris period books of Gustav Flaubert’s La Tentation de Saint Antoine and Pierre Benoit’s Le Puits de Jacob—confirm Arthur Szyk as an artist of international stature. This presentation chronologically traces the illustrious career of one of the most brilliant, extraordinary and diverse artists and book illustrators of the 20th century.

“Here at AJR we are all still talking about how wonderful the evening was…your talk was absolutely fascinating! I can speak both personally and for all those who attended when I say that you spoke eloquently and movingly.”

— Rabbi David Greenstein
Rosh Ha-Yeshivah, The Academy for Jewish Religion, New York

Visions of Israel: The Jewish State through the Art of Arthur Szyk

How a Jewish Activist-Artist Played a Leading Role in Israel’s Creation.

Many people know Arthur Szyk through his famous Passover Haggadah or his illuminations of the Proclamation of the Establishment of the State of Israel and the Visual History of Israel.
Yet these iconic works tell only part of the story of his commitment to his people, for no Jewish artist—or any artist—contributed more to the creation of the State of Israel more than Arthur Szyk. This illustrated presentation traces Szyk’s art and activism over the course of his long career, from his life-changing trip to Palestine in 1914 to the creation of The Haggadah in 1930s Poland to his advocacy—before, during, and after World War II—for the creation of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel. The talk will present the full spectrum of Szyk’s long-term public advocacy for the Zionist cause: paintings, book illustrations, magazine covers, editorial cartoons, newspaper advertisements, pamphlets, poster stamps, and more.

“To the Hallowed Memory of Europe’s Martyred Jews”: The Holocaust Art of Arthur Szyk

Presentation of Szyk’s moving Holocaust art, ideal for Yom HaShoah.

This illustrated presentation pays tribute to the memory of European Jewry through the art of Arthur Szyk, the leading artist for Jewish rescue in America during the Holocaust. A self-identified “soldier in art,” Szyk — whom Eleanor Roosevelt called a “one-man army” — fought the Nazis with pen and brush on behalf of the Allies and the Jews of Europe.

“Thanks for sharing so much of your time and expertise with my class yesterday. It was a terrific presentation, and your excitement was contagious. While the arresting beauty of Szyk’s images speaks for itself, the cultural, historical, and biographical context you provided was invaluable. We all learned so much. Thank you! Paul [Hamburg] was absolutely right — the experience was the perfect culmination to our semester.”

— Rabbi Mira Beth Wasserman
Visiting Scholar, UC Berkeley

Building Bridges: The Legacy of Polish-Jewish Artist Arthur Szyk, Fighter for Justice and Freedom

Presentation emphasizing Szyk’s works of Polish interest, such as the Statute of Kalisz.

Arthur Szyk (1894 – 1951) often said “Art is not my aim, it is my means,” and his visual commentary before, during, and after World War II relentlessly attacked oppression and tyranny, and served as a weapon for justice and freedom. His worldly concerns and nationalistic tendencies fostered and cultivated a sense of belonging, pride and shared loyalty to differing cultures and countries, chief of which was his concern for Jews and Poles. As such, Arthur Szyk devoted his life and his art toward serving humanity by building bridges between peoples and among nations. This presentation will illuminate how Szyk’s means achieved his ends.

Additional Opportunities

Scholar-in-Residence Weekend

This series is perfect for synagogues and other institutions seeking a new educational experience. Through a series of entertaining presentations, Irvin builds appreciation for Jewish activist-artist Arthur Szyk, The Szyk Haggadah, and the exciting world of historic and rare Judaica. The weekend may be customized to meet the scheduling needs and special interests of the community. Usually a two-day event, with three (3) presentations and an optional Saturday morning Dvar Torah.

Haggadah Salon Evening

Private event to experience the new Szyk Haggadah.

Designed for small groups of art and culture enthusiasts and/or history buffs, salon evenings are informal, invitation-only gatherings held in private homes. Irvin introduces the history of The Szyk Haggadah and the production of Historicana’s new 2008 luxury edition. Copies of the new Deluxe and Premier editions of The Szyk Haggadah will be displayed.

Haggadah Study Session

Private instruction on the history and meaning of The Szyk Haggadah.

Irvin is pleased to offer personal Haggadah study sessions to proud owners of The Szyk Haggadah who wish to deepen their understanding of the Haggadah text and Szyk’s visual commentary. Study sessions are held in private homes, and friends and family may be invited.