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Maryland Digital Cultural Heritage

About this collection

A collection of pen and ink drawings and watercolors produced by Baltimore artist Aaron Sopher from 1938-1941. Created for publications of the Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Maryland, the illustrations include scenes of people and places in Baltimore and throughout the state.

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Drawing of two couples seated at tables in restaurant and drawing below of Aliceanna St. in BaltimoreCollection Location: Special Collections Department, Enoch Pratt Free Library / State Library Resource Center

Collection Overview: Aaron Sopher was born in East Baltimore, on December 16, 1905, the tenth of thirteen children. His father, Samuel A. Sopher was the son of a Lithuanian immigrant and his mother, Jennie Saperstein was a Russian immigrant. His father owned a small cigar factory and tobacco shop near Baltimore harbor. Aaron’s drawing ability might have been inherited from his grandfather, who owned a bookshop and sold Hebrew religious books and was a prominent scribe who hand lettered the Torah for synagogues. Sopher attended Maryland Institute of Fine and Applied Arts (now the Maryland Institute, College of Art). While there, he trained with institute director Alon Bement who became his mentor; however, when a new director came on board in 1925, he did not award Sopher a diploma because of his frequent absences and lack of discipline.

Sopher was a free spirit and wanted to draw people in action. After he left MICA, Sopher made a living by working on freelance illustration jobs for the Baltimore Sun and his drawings began to appear regularly. In 1927, he received his first large commission from the newspaper to illustrate a story about the Baltimore waterfront. These illustrations were the first to bring him wide recognition. During a two-year residence in New York from 1929-1931, his cartoons regularly appeared in The New Yorker. After the stock market crash of 1929, artists' prospects dimmed and he needed to supplement his income by designing lampshades. During the depression, Sopher felt a moral responsibility to portray in a meaningful way the devastating problems faced by Americans. Throughout his career, his drawings evoked a mood or scene, both humorous and somber of people with universal appeal. His quick, deft lines and apparent spontaneity recall the work of Daumier, Hogarth, and Rowlandson. Aaron Sopher died in Baltimore in 1972.

The Aaron Sopher Collection is housed in the Special Collections Department of the Enoch Pratt Free Library / State Library Resource Center. The collection is comprised of several series of pen and ink drawings and watercolors produced by Sopher from 1938-1941. The drawings appear to have been produced under the auspices of the Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Maryland, which was for a period of time headquartered at Enoch Pratt's Central Library. Many of the drawings were intended for two Writers' Program publications, the Baltimore Almanac (which was never published) and Maryland: A Guide to the Old Line State (which was published in 1940, but Sopher's illustrations were not used). Most have local significance, but some are general.

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