Left in Andover: Hope in the Book of Job

By Susan Leader
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

In the biblical Book of Job, Satan bets that Job, the archetypal “billionaire” of his time, will not remain true to God in the face of misfortune. God gives Satan permission to visit any tribulation except death upon Job, to test him.

Against all odds, in the face of devastating illness, death of his children and loss of his fortune, Job does not lose faith in God, and Satan loses the bet.

Gustav Wolf (1887-1947), a German-Jewish artist who fled to this country in 1938, explored this parable in a series of wood engravings while living in a colony of fellow refugees, established in the small Berkshires village of Cummington, Mass., during the early 1940s.

The Cummington Story, a propaganda film produced by the U.S. Overseas War Information Bureau, highlighted the American way of life, and showed the refugees in their new Yankee home. It was to be screened in post-war Europe to generate good will and trust for our occupying troops.

Ironically, the film, with its original Aaron Copland soundtrack, exposed the fractures within the small Yankee bastion of Cummington, as it was itself “occupied” by the almost 50 refugees.

Through a traumatic process of living and working in close proximity over almost five years, many of the cultural divisions between the two groups were eventually bridged. The film, which can be watched on YouTube, is a case study for our times as well, as communities across our country welcome diversity — or not. In this case, the only thing harder than welcoming the refugees in the first place, was watching them leave at the end of the war.

Stashed away in one of the most protected compartments of my father’s roll top desk when I was growing up was a very fine folio of Gustav Wolf’s Book of Job wood cuts, a gift from the artist. I was aware that Dad had worked with Wolf at the fabled Cummington Press during the war years, but only learned some of the details of that arrangement recently.

Friday, January 9, 1942, The Rutland Daily Herald ran this classified ad:

“YOUNG man desirous learning hand weaving, spinning, printing, blacksmithing. Will work for board, anywhere Vermont. Herbert Leader, Bennington.”

One way or another, Gustav Wolf brought him on as a printer’s assistant in Cummington — not so far outside the boundaries of Vermont. Gustav’s wife Lola Wolf picks up the story in this telling private account, which a family friend stumbled across and subsequently shared with us:

“Our first assistant was Herbert Leader, a tall, strong, sturdy young man with a beard, which was quite unusual in those years. He was very friendly, liked forests and the outdoors and told us that his favorite occupation was sugaring off in the spring, something new to us. He was a vegetarian and it took me quite an effort to cook for him. He had interesting political views and we had good discussions. I remember, once while I worked on an embroidery assignment, he read to me from a book with Rosa Luxembourg’s letters. Later we have called our kitten, which was given to us, Rosa.”

It is only fitting, then, that our family’s Book of Job prints now hang, beautifully framed, on my sister Rosa’s stairwell wall. For Lola’s cat was not the only one to be named after the martyred Polish revolutionary.

Gustav Wolf lost money on his Book of Job folio, but nevertheless the American Institute of Graphic Arts awarded it Top 50 status for 1944. Cummington, it turned out, was a hospitable refuge for this artist to work.

And making new art in a strange land after suffering great misfortune, it seems to me, is as positive an affirmation of hope as there is.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

RSSComments (0)

Trackback URL

Comments are closed.