Krohn, Fechheimer, Wise…

Every settlement is established by what is put in the ground.

It all began with the arrival of a small man who was a professional jeweler, watch and clockmaker.

As Joseph Jonas arrived in Cincinnati in March of 1817, the city’s residential population hovered around 6000. Jonas was to become the first permanent Jewish settler in the Queen City.

When a member of the fledgling Jewish community wanted to be buried as a Jew, Jonas, along with several others purchased a plot of land in the West End from Nicholas Longworth for seventy-five dollars.  When the deed was executed November 6,1821 and recorded December 17, 1921, Chestnut Street Cemetery was established and the Jewish community was born in Cincinnati. This cemetery stands today as the oldest Jewish cemetery west of the Allegheny Mountains and was appropriately rededicated in this year of 2021 to inaugurate the bicentennial celebrations.

The Skirball Museum, located in the Hebrew Union College Complex on Clifton Avenue, is featuring the exhibition: “A Portrait of Jewish Cincinnati”. The achievements of Jewish Cincinnatians have indeed contributed to the civic vibrancy, cultural heritage and industry of the Queen City and the surrounding region. The exhibition brings together forty likenesses to tell the story of Jewish commitments and contributions from early nineteenth century to the present day.

Among the images are works by Raphael Strauss, Henry Mosler, John Aubery, all of Germany and Thomas Satterwhite Nobel of Lexington, Kentucky among others. Also included are sculptures of Moses Jacob Ezekiel and Sir Jacob Epstein.

Cora & Edwin Fechheimer   Oil portrait by John Aubery ca. 1878-80

Cora and Edwin Fechheimer were two of four children of Leopold and Mary Hollstein Fechheimer. The portrait of these siblings was painted by John Aubery who for almost 20 years shared a studio with Raphael Strauss a Jewish artist who also emigrated from Germany.

Their portrait shows Edwin seated with a large open book on the lap of his conventional knickers. Cora stands turned to his side in the best frock of her day, her hand gently on Edwin’s shoulder. She also carries a basket of vintage floral specimens. The posture of the children exudes filial piety, early interest in education and knowledge of nature’s gifts.

Cora  eventually married  Irwin Krohn (1869-1948), founder of the Red Cross Shoe Company which became the U.S. Shoe Company with his cousin Marcus Fechheimer.

Irwin Krohn was president of the Cincinnati Park Board for 35 years, serving also on the City Planning board, the board of the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden and the Zoning board of Appeals. In 1933, when the exceptional new conservatory was opened in Eden Park, it was named the Irwin M. Krohn Conservatory.

Two canvases of Raphael Strauss depict Gertrude Stern and her older brother Harry R. Stern.

The Stern family was one of the founding members of Plum Street Temple. Gertrude’s future  husband Jesse Joseph was also involved with the Plum St. Temple where Gertrude was president of the Sisterhood. The delicate rendering of laces and sumptuous fabrics in these portraits is recognized as a distinctive feature of Raphael Strauss’s oeuvre, who with Aubrey catered to the social elite in the 1880’s and 90’s from their studio in the Pike Street building on Fourth Street. At the time of his death, Strauss was vice-president of the Cincinnati Art Club.

Matching oval portraits of Fanny and Abraham Aub are attributed to Henry Mosler and are indicative of the portraiture format of 1860. Abraham Aub was established in the wholesale clothing business and taught at the K. K. Bene Yeshurun, today’s Wise Temple on Plum Street.

Abraham was instrumental in bringing Isaac Mayer Wise to Cincinnati from Albany, New York. Involved in the movement to build Plum Street Temple, Abraham and Fanny were also concerned with many philanthrophic organizations, including Cincinnati Jewish Hospital and the Cleveland Jewish Orphan Asylum, the oldest Jewish social service agency in Cleveland which cared for Jewish Civil War orphans from fifteen states.

In this pair of portraits, both husband and wife prominently wear their wedding rings on the left hand. Traditionally, Orthodox Jewish men do not wear wedding rings while the wife wore a wedding ring on the right index finger to be easily seen. Abraham Aub’s second cousin, moderate Reformer Rabbi Joseph Aub was the first rabbi to suggest the practice of a double ring ceremony. Fanny and Abraham were influenced by this modern notion well in advance of its adoption by the Reform Synod of 1871. The double ring symbolism expresses an equal participation of both parties in the marriage contract, turning aside the notion that women are passive objects in an arranged exchange.

The Therese Bloch Wise portrait is an impressive life-sized painting by Henry Mosler ca.1867 from the collection of the Skirball Museum. Therese Bloch married her tutor, Isaac Mayer Wise, in Bohemia before coming to the United States in 1946. Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise would become the leading figure in the establishment of Reform Judaism in America with the founding of such institutions as the Hebrew Union College and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

Portrait of Isaac M. Wise.   Artist unknown ca. 1879

The exhibited portrait of Isaac Mayer Wise is not accredited to an artist’s hand and is in the collection of the Skirball Museum. Rabbi Wise is seated at a side desk with his right hand pressed against his temple. An issue of The American Israelite and an open book exemplify his scholarship in the Talmud and the Bible as well as his involvement in national Jewish issues.

It was under his leadership that the Cincinnati congregation outgrew its quarters. He led the campaign to build the Plum Street Temple, an architectural marvel of Byzantine and Moorish style that is on the National Register of Historic Places and declared a national landmark in 1975.

Two portraits of Nelson Glueck usher this exhibit into the 20th century. An oil painting by Austrian artist Joseph Margulies, depicts Glueck in academic robes, known worldwide for his work in biblical archeology. Glueck delivered the benediction at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in 1961. He also served a long tenure as president of Hebrew Union College, notably overseeing its merger with the Jewish Institute of Religion. A second portrait of Glueck by Bernard Safran is an oil on canvas created in 1963 for the cover of Time Magazine.

Safran was known for his realistic portraits. Among his commissions for contemporary portraiture are Queen Elizabeth II, Pope John XXIII and several American presidents for the cover of Time Magazine.

As the Jewish community of Cincinnati continues its legacy into the third century, the vibrant story to its continuing contribution is told through artifacts, exhibitions and engaging public programming at the Skirball Museum.

–Marlene Steele

The Skirball Museum is open with online reservations

Exhibition extended through January 2022.

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