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Papers of Abbo Ostrowsky

Identifier: RG 681

Scope and Content Note

The Papers of Abbo Ostrowsky consist of correspondence, exhibition catalogs, reports, newspaper clippings, publicity releases, photographs and art work relating to the artistic career of Ostrowsky, materials about his career as the director and a teacher at the Educational Alliance Art School, and materials relating to the Educational Alliance as a community and social institution. There are also several manuscript versions of his autobiography, which it appears was never published. Correspondence with museums such as the Baltimore Museum of Art, the U.S. National Museum, Library of Congress, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bezalel Museum in Jerusalem, and the Tel Aviv Museum pertain to sales and exhibitions of Ostrowsky's works. There is also correspondence with Stanley M. Isaacs, president of the Educational Alliance, and Edith Isaacs, including materials on Stanley Isaac's political career 1937-1961. Correspondence with the alumni of the Art School includes Isaac and Moses Soyer, Leonard Baskin, Elias Newman, Chaim Gross, Peter Blume, and Sir Jacob Epstein.

There is correspondence pertaining to the Educational Alliance Art School and reports on the Art School's activities, lecture announcements, exhibitions, and Ostrowsky's lectures on Elementary Drawing. The collection also contains materials relating to exhibitions and art sales held at the Educational Alliance, materials on the student organization of the Art School, 'The Palette Club,' correspondence with the American Federation of Arts, and with various art councils and neighborhood settlement schools, materials on the National Federation of Settlements, information on the various art programs of organizations affiliated with the United Neighborhood House, exhibition catalogs, and original drawings by Ostrowsky in pencil and in pen and ink. Works include prints and etchings of Maine and France and of the excavations for New York's Second Avenue Subway as well as a portrait painting of Abraham Liessin. There are also photographs of the Educational Alliance and University Settlement, students' art works, and of students and faculty including Abbo Ostrowsky, Chaim Gross, Jacob Epstein, and Peter Blume. Clippings pertain to Ostrowsky's career, the school and well-known alumni. There are also autobiographical manuscripts by Ostrowsky and diary entries from 1924.


  • 1897-1976

Language of Materials

The collection is in English, Yiddish, German, and Russian.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to the public. Permission to publish part or parts of the collection must be obtained in writing from the YIVO Archives.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:

YIVO Archives, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011


Biographical Note

Abbo Ostrowsky, painter, graphic artist, educator, and founder and director of the Educational Alliance Art School, was born in Elizavetgrad, Russia on October 23, 1889. He was educated at the Odessa Art School under Kiriak Konstantinovich Kostandi and in 1906 was the assistant director of the People’s Art Traveling Exhibitions, which brought art to the Ukrainian provinces of Khagan, Poltava and Kiev. This experience helped to shape Ostrowsky’s belief in the social value of art and the importance of supporting one’s community. After arriving in the United States in 1908, Ostrowsky studied at the National Academy of Design, New York, under George W. Maynard and Charles Yardley Turner. In 1914, Ostrowsky started offering free art classes, which became the East Side Art School, at the University Settlement House. In 1917, the Educational Alliance offered its facilities to the East Side Art School, including some financial assistance. Ostrowsky designed the Educational Alliance Art School to foster the needs of the immigrant and to encourage his students’ abilities. He taught his students how to draw inspiration from their environment while also preparing them to enter the American mainstream and insisted that his students reflect their new American and their traditional ethnic heritage. He stressed draftsmanship and fundamental basics in training his students but moved away from the academic tradition of having his students draw from plaster casts. He instead brought in neighborhood residents to serve as models, believing that involving the immigrant community living around the Educational Alliance in the students’ work would both stimulate the artistic progress of students and the social progress of the community. He believed that the source of an artist’s strength should be drawn from the life and cultural tradition of his community.

Once the Art School was part of the Educational Alliance, art scholarships for gifted art students were provided in part by the “Workers Art Scholarship Committee”, which was organized by Ostrowsky in 1922 and which drew upon the support of the labor unions. Ostrowsky believed that identification with one's own Jewish cultural heritage was expressed by commitment to the community through support for organized labor and political reform. The school served in particular the needs of the Lower East Side neighborhood, especially the immigrant community, and quickly established a reputation of quality art education, producing alumni such as Chaim Gross, the Soyer brothers, Philip Evergood, Jo Davidson, Peter Blume, Louise Nevelson, Leonard Baskin, Jacob Epstein, and others. In 1918, Ostrowsky organized an exhibition of student work to be held at the Educational Alliance, thereby instituting a tradition of yearly exhibitions, which were often held in prominent venues. In 1954, he presented the art collections of the Educational Alliance Art School to the Jewish Museum for an exhibit, which was very successful.

Much of Ostrowsky’s work consisted of naturalistic portraits and etchings of the streets and people of the Lower East Side. His artworks were exhibited in galleries across the U.S. and in England and France, among them the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the Baltimore Museum of Art, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, Chicago Art Museum, and Museum of Western Art, Moscow. From 1915-1917, he participated in exhibitions sponsored by the short-lived Peoples’ Art Guild at various settlement and neighborhood houses in the Bronx and Manhattan and exhibited his work in several shows with the Jewish Arts Center in New York. He held one-man shows at Anderson Galleries, 1924, U.S. National Museum and Smithsonian Institute, 1931, and Keppel Galleries, 1937. Among the permanent collections he is represented in are the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, Museum of Western Art, Moscow, American Federation of Labor, Washington, D.C., and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the 1930s, he became a member of the American Artists’ Congress. He was appointed chairman of the Visual Arts Committee of the National Federation of Settlements in 1936 and also served as the chairman of the Visual Arts Committee of United Neighborhood Houses of New York. He received the Kate W. Arms Award from the Society of American Etchers in 1937.

Abbo Ostrowsky retired from the Educational Alliance Art School in 1955, although he continued to be affiliated with the school until his death on June 19, 1975.


5 Linear Feet


This collection contains the personal and professional papers of Abbo Ostrowsky, including correspondence with many important figures from the art world, several of whom had been students of Ostrowsky at the Educational Alliance Art School. There is also information about Ostrowsky’s career as an artist, including some original artwork, exhibition catalogues, and photographs. These materials show Ostrowsky’s significant influence on modern Jewish art and on the success of the Educational Alliance as an institution.


The papers are arranged by topic and in general chronological order. Many of the topics are based upon the original headings on the folders which were given to YIVO by Ostrowsky and his sister. Art works are placed and cataloged in RG 101, Art and Artifacts 18th c.-1980’s. The materials were originally divided into five series and an addendum. The materials from that addendum have been arranged into a sixth series, Writings by Ostrowsky, as well as having been intellectually integrated into the original series. Thus, folders 118-122, while they remain in boxes at the end of the collection, have been integrated into series I and IV within the finding aid.

  1. Series I: General Correspondence, 1900-1973, undated
  2. Series II: Educational Alliance Art School Correspondence, 1897-1967, undated
  3. Series III: Catalogues, Materials related to Exhibitions and Events, Original Art Work, 1914-1976, undated
  4. Series IV: Photographs, 1899-1924, 1936, 1950-1958, undated
  5. Series V: Newspaper Clippings, 1915-1957, undated
  6. Series VI: Writings by Ostrowsky, 1920-1924, undated

Acquisition Information

The papers were donated to YIVO by Abbo and his sister Ella Ostrowsky in 1947 and 1974 and by Abraham Ostrow, a relation, in 1983.

Related Material

YIVO has many of Abbo Ostrowsky’s original artworks. In addition, there is some correspondence from Ostrowsky in the papers of Chaim Gross, Leon Feinberg and Shea Tenenbaum in the YIVO archives. The YIVO library has several books about the Educational Alliance and the Art School, including Painting a Place in America : Jewish artists in New York, 1900-1945 : A Tribute to the Educational Alliance Art School, edited by Norman L. Kleeblatt and Susan Chevlowe and The Educational Alliance by Adam Bellow. In addition, the YIVO Archives has the Records of the Educational Alliance, which contain a fair amount of information about the Art School and Ostrowsky’s activities.

Separated Material

Original artworks have been removed from the collection and placed into RG 101, Art and Artifacts 18th c.-1980’s.

Processing information

The collection inventory was compiled by Janet Blatter in August 1976. The organization of the collection was based in large part upon the original topic headings created by Ostrowsky and his sister. The addendum was processed in 2008. Additional processing by Rachel S. Harrison as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation.

Guide to the Papers of Abbo Ostrowsky (1889-1975) 1897-1976 RG 681
Processed by Janet Blatter. Additional processing by Rachel S. Harrison as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States