Alma Binion Cahn
Alma Binion Cahn was born in New York City in 1907, the oldest child of immigrant parents, themselves having come to the United States as children; her mother from Poland, a school teacher and her father from Russia, a lawyer. The family moved to Brooklyn and when Alma was seven to Washington Heights, where she went to public school and for one year to George Washington High School. She then went to the Ethical Culture School, which in those years had an Arts Division, where many courses were taught with an emphasis on art.
She took some courses at the Art Students League while she was still in high school and after graduation studied there for two years. When she was twenty, her parents sent her to study painting in Paris at the Académie de la Grande Chaumiére and the Académie Julien. One of her teachers was Juan Gris, who, she used to say, poked his head into the studio, looked around and said, “Trés bien, mes enfants, continuez, continuez.” She stayed in Paris for a year and a half with a springtime trip to Italy, spending time in Florence, Arezzo, and Rome.
When she came home, she painted in her studio on Lexington Avenue and 27th Street and taught art at Julia Richmond High School.
In 1929, Alma Cahn married Morris A. Schapiro, born in Lithuania, educated at Columbia College and the Columbia School of Mines; he was a chess master and amateur violinist. The same year as their marriage Morris founded M.A. Schapiro & Company, a dealer in bank stocks and government bonds. They had their first child in 1931, their second in 1933. During this time Alma’s palette was on the shelf but in 1940, she began to study with the painter Morris Davidson at his studio on 56th Street and later in Rockport, Massachusetts with her lifelong friend, the painter Eleanor Lockspeiser. She worked in a studio overlooking the Hudson River in Piermont, New York. Living in Rockland County, she became a friend of the painter David Sawin, writer Hortense Calisher, and other nearby artists.
Alma Schapiro had many exhibitions at the Bodley Gallery in New York City. Her subjects include still lifes, landscapes, New York cityscapes, interiors with figures, and gardens. Although influenced by the modern movement, she was never an abstract artist. Her draftsmanship, keen observation, and fine rendering of people and natural forms express her deep sense of human experience. Among her most beautiful works are her ink drawings of plants in nature and of her family.