Studio Proof: "Fabric of Survival" is beautiful, but tough to experience

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The current exhibit “Fabric of Survival: The Art of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz” at the Columbus Museum of Art is both a harrowing and uplifting collection of work. Esther Nisenthal Krinitz (1927-2001) is a holocaust survivor, and her horrifying experience is detailed in large, colorful needlework collages. At first glance each piece seems to be a bucolic presentation of rural life in Poland, but upon further inspection one will quickly begin to feel the tragedy inherent to the work.

Krinitz was only 12 years old in 1939 when the Nazi occupation of her hometown Mniszek, Poland began. At first German troops rounded up the Jewish people and used them as slave labor to build infrastructure for their eastern campaign. By the time Krinitz was 15 the Nazis moved on to the deplorable Final Solution.

The collection of Krinitz pieces at the museum is orchestrated in a timeline that circles around the gallery following the artist’s experience during one of humanity’s worst moments. By the time the viewer has reached the end of the first wall, a dire aesthetic begins to take over as Krinitz shows her people being forced onto a train and headed for concentration camps.

Krinitz was the oldest girl in her family and had four siblings, and only she and her younger sister Mania were able to escape with their lives. By the time one sees Mania and Esther separating from their family, the weight of the work becomes fierce and it’s hard to continue on with this cloth-and-stitch portrayal of the Krinitz girls running and hiding for their lives.

But the tale of Esther and Mania does have a happy ending. Eventually the girls endure to the Russian invasion of Poland, and survive their harrowing ordeal. Some of the final pieces show Krinitz as she makes her to way to New York City in 1949, and one of her granddaughter.

Krinitz began sewing at a young age, but didn’t start these pieces until the late ’70s, at 50 years old. The work she created is beautifully rendered, despite the fact it illustrates something completely ugly. Thankfully Krinitz’s story has a happy ending.

Photo courtesy of Art and Remembrance