"Remembering Alaskan Artist Alfred Skondovitch"
Well Street Art Company, 2015
by Jessica Zaydack
Born in 1927 London to Russian-Jewish parents Herschel and Mahlia Skondovitch, Alfred was the youngest of five. Evading the Russian Revolution, Alfred’s parents fled Eastern Europe to Paris, wedded, and began their family. Later, Alfred’s parents moved to The East End of London. As a young child, Alfred began to develop an appreciation for the ghetto lifestyle of The East End as well as a survivalist instinct that carried him through the terrors of World War II which devastated London. During the war he experienced many hardships including death, loss and hunger.
Alfred evacuated to Banbury Oxfordshire to escape the bombings of 1939. There he saw the paintings of Anthony Van Dyck and Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres in the Broughton Castle, which ignited Alfred’s tastes for fine arts. Sadly he could not pursue his interest in art until after the war in 1945. Alfred, deeply affected by the hardships of war, felt a strong desire to help English and Jewish people. He joined a Zionist youth movement and traveled to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to assist in its liberation. He sought potential athletes to fight for the new Jewish state but instead found tens of thousands of corpses and starving sick prisoners. These images continued to haunt Alfred even after he moved to Alaska, resulting in a series of paintings called the Holocaust Series.
Shortly after witnessing the horrors of the concentration camp, Alfred jumped ship to New York City in 1947 with nothing but the clothes on his back and a few dollars. Before arriving in NY, Alfred attended the Toynbee Hall Settlement House where he received an education in art and established connections with Oskar Kokoschka and a few other art teachers from London University.
Alfred arrived in New York at the peak of the Abstract Expressionist movement. While in New York, he attended the Hans Hofmann School and the Artists Club. At the Hofmann School, Alfred adopted Hofmann’s methods of working from a model and his repetitive teaching style. Hofmann’s style of repetition and open studio practices gave Skondovitch the tools and foundation he would need to succeed with his art after leaving the school.
Outside of the school, Skondovitch was heavily involved in activities at several galleries including the Egan/Poindexter Gallery where he participated in a group exhibition Ten American Painters in 1956. Skondovitch exhibited with various artists such as Allan Kaprow, Wolf Kahn, Robert Motherwell, Jan Muller, Leland Bell, Philip Guston, Robert Rauschenberg, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Robert de Niro Sr., William Scharf, Gandy Brodie, Nell Blaine, and several others. Although the art scene was active, artists struggled economically and Alfred worked as a tailor, a boxer and a boxing instructor, and a bodyguard, to support himself and other artist friends.
In 1956-57 the charm of New York began to wane and Alfred decided to seek opportunities elsewhere. He traveled to Claremont, California where he met other students and became involved in the artist community there. These friends persuaded him to fight forest fires in Fairbanks in the summer of 1958. Alfred continued to return during the Alaskan summers firefighting, and spent winters painting in California. During one of these summer trips to Alaska, he met and fell in love with Patti Howard, and married her in 1963.
In Fairbanks Alfred worked various jobs and in1965 Patti gave birth to their son Sidney. Despite the distance, Alfred remained updated with his fellow contemporaries in New York. After continuously reading about their success he and the family moved to New York City. After only three months, the family longed for the freedom and openness of Alaska again. For the remainder of Alfred’s life he resided in Fairbanks where his daughter Lara was born in 1969 and where Patti Skondovitch continues to live today.
Alfred continued to produce art and participated in several joint and solo exhibitions in Fairbanks. He involved himself in the artists’ community working with the university, participating in exhibitions, sketch groups and instructing classes. Fairbanks became a place Skondovitch could finally call home. The subdued culture of Alaska allowed him to work through the trauma he witnessed in Europe and the difficulties he experienced in NY. Here, he could freely express his unique style and art without the public pressure and intense culture of New York. During his career in Fairbanks he produced over 1,000 works of art, including 72 paintings addressing his Holocaust experience, and several others from his time in New York.