Artist Sol Schwartz dies; captured Berkshire arts on sketch pad

December 29, 2015

By Jeffrey Borak
December 29, 2015

Artist Sol Schwartz made his sketches using only the light of the stage. Scribblings, he called them. It’s no accident that a 2011 exhibit at the Norman Rockwell Museum was titled “Drawing in the Dark.”

He may have sketched in the dark, but his work illuminated a community for which he held a deep passion, the arts, specifically the performing arts: dance, music, theater.

Schwartz died Christmas Day at his New York apartment at age 84 — four years after the death of his second wife, arts philanthropist Elayne P. Bernstein. Information regarding his cause of death or funeral plans was unavailable.

Schwartz was a familiar figure in the audience at Shakespeare & Company, Tanglewood, Barrington Stage Company and Jacob’s Pillow. His subjects included James Levine, Yo-Yo Ma, Tina Packer, Seiji Ozawa, Savion Glover, Jeff McCarthy, Andre Previn, Itzhak Perlman.

In addition to the Norman Rockwell Museum, his work has been exhibited in the Berkshires at Shakespeare & Company (2011) and Welles Gallery at Lenox Library (2013). His art also has been shown at Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston (2012) and La Musica Festival in Sarasota, Fla. (2013). Four books of his work have been published.

“His pencil was an extension of himself,” Barrington Stage Company founding artistic director Julianne Boyd said by phone. “He was so in love with the art. He would come (to a show) and sit and take out his pencil and just ‘doodle away,’ as he called it. The actors were fascinated.”

Three Schwartz pieces — sketches of actors Christopher Innvar and Jeff McCarthy, and composer-lyricist William Finn, who directs BSC’s Musical Theater Workshop — hang in the Greylock Lounge upstairs at BSC’s Boyd-Quinson Mainstage.

“It happened by accident,” Schwartz wrote on his website. “I used to make little sketches in the corners of my programs when I attended concerts.”

Eventually, he began bringing a sketchpad with him and his work took off from there.

“The novelty of my work is that I do it while a performance is underway, sometimes in the pitch dark,” Schwartz wrote.

“(Sol) loved to watch rehearsal for our productions, sketching students and adult actors for hours on end,” Shakespeare & Company founder Tina Packer said by email.

“We will miss the sight of Sol passionately sketching away,” Anthony Fogg, director of Tanglewood, said by email.

“He captured an era of musical luminaries during the decades he spent privately sketching during BSO concerts and rehearsals at Tanglewood. We’re fortunate he left such a rich visual legacy.”

By his own account, Schwartz began drawing in his father’s hand laundry on the Lower East Side of New York City, using shirt cardboards as his sketch pads.

He attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan and then studied at Brooklyn College, where his classmates included artists Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Ad Reinhardt and Jimmy Ernst, among others.

“I also studied drawing with the great anatomist Robert Beverly Hale at the Art Students League,” Schwartz wrote. “Here is where I sharpened my skills in drawing the figure.”

After college, he gave up his art and spent 35 years supporting his family as a music teacher, general contractor and director and founder of Options, a nonprofit educational and career counseling service for young men and women.

He eventually retired to the Berkshires where, he wrote, “I could be close to the music, theater and art that I love.”

He married Elayne P. Bernstein in 2004. It was a second marriage for both. She died in 2011. They had homes in Lenox, Manhattan and Sarasota.

Schwartz began by using oils, watercolor, lithography, etching and all drawing media. In recent years, he worked with pencil, ballpoint pen and Japanese sumi brush. On his website, Schwartz wrote that he preferred not to change a sketch or drawing once he was done.

In addition to his art, Schwartz served on a number of boards, among them the national council of the Norman Rockwell Museum and Shakespeare & Company’s board of trustees.

“I was struck by Sol’s intelligence, his extraordinary vision, how he saw the world,” museum director and CEO Laurie Norton Moffatt said by telephone. “His ability to draw without looking down at his pad was remarkable. He captured the intimacy and essence of creative people. He had a remarkable mind a clear facility for art and for business. He was a truly renaissance man.”

As a board member, Packer said, Schwartz played an active role, “involving himself in hard questions and finding answers. Everything was possible for Sol — no scheme too big or too small.

“Now that he is gone, it feels somewhat as if an era is over,” she said. “Though, as Sol would say, ‘What’s next?’ ”

Originally published by The Berkshire Eagle