A truly amazing exhibit by artist Jerzy Kajetanski -"Images of War"- opened here on April 20, 2005 inside the Amalie Rothschild Gallery, a component of the Creative Alliance At The Patterson. It consisted of 36 remove-drawn "scratchboards" depicting the horrors and suffering of Poland during World War II at the hands of a most cruel, murderous Nazi Germany, led by Fuehrer Adolph Hitler. In all, Kajetanski created over 200 works that recorded this tragic and blood-soaked chapter in Poland's history that he had personally witnessed and experienced. The stark panels cover the initial attack and siege of Warsaw in September 1939 (18 dedicated panels) as well as the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the city-wide Warsaw Rising of 1944, and the hell-on-earth, genocidal, Nazi concentration camp ultimate insult to humanity.
Most of Kajetanski's war-time art is executed using the scratchboard technique whereby a sheet of white paper is first completely covered with a black crayon. Then the artist uses a thin, sharp object (such as a needle) to gouge out the image from the background substance. Emerging is a contrasting, dramatic scratching formed by white lines on a black background, eventually leaving a stark and haunting image behind. The end product is very similar looking to a woodcut print of past centuries. Expressionist-style drawings and oil paintings were also mediums of Kajetanski's artistic expertise and repertoire, and over his lifetime he created approximately 3,000 works of art.
Kajetanski's biography tells us that in September of 1939 he was a graduate student at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts when the German army and air force attacked and besieged the city. After Warsaw fell, the Germans closed the Academy and summarily executed many of the professors. His education thus cut short, Kajetanski took a job at the Lilpop railway car factory where his father worked. He also joined the resistance Home Army (AK) and designed political cartoons for the underground press. He coursed through the Warsaw ghetto before the German occupiers built the enclosing walls, memorizing what he saw there to be recorded afterwards in his drawings.
The Warsaw Rising of 1944 found Kajetanski taking his post and attacking the oppressors along with the other Home Army Poles. He was captured by the Germans but managed to miraculously escape execution by firing squad, the only one in his unit to survive. In the aftermath, he was transported with his family to a forced labor camp at the Hermann Goring Werke munitions plant in Germany, where he labored with thousands of others, including inmates from the neighboring Immendorf Concentration Camp.
After the war ended, the Kajetanski's spent 5 years in Displaced Persons' camps in Germany until they was able to emigrate to Ambridge, Pennsylvania. While working at the H.H. Robertson steel plant there, Kajetanski collected discarded mimeograph master pages from order forms and stubs of black crayon used to mark finished sheets of steel. These salvaged materials were used to make his first series of scratchboards from memory since all of his original WW II drawings were lost in 1944 during the especially tumultuous period in Warsaw and his impressment to Germany. He later moved his family to New York City where he worked as a screen cartoonist for Paramount Pictures Corporation. He was a member of American Abstract Artists and exhibited his art in many prominent New York galleries.
Jerzy Kajetanski was born in Kulebaki, Russia in 1913 after his father was dispatched there to assist in a steel manufacturing project. The family returned home to Partitioned-Poland in 1917 during the chaotic upheaval of the Russian Revolution. Kajetanski died in Columbia, Maryland in 1999. He was an amazing man who lived an amazing life, bound-up by his amazing art.