For over five decades, the versatile expressions of Miriam Cassell, fine artist and art activist have received extensive critical acclaim for her creations, which have underscored sensitive subjects, pushing the envelope and sensitive social issues into the forefront. Born on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1940 to immigrant parents from Poland and Romania and growing up in a home where only Yiddish was spoken, Cassell started school unable to speak English. Her eccentric and artistic penchant began at a young age and was influenced by the world around her. Two of her young cousins were stricken with Polio, which left them disabled for the rest of their lives. Cassell has approached life as a student and observer who “developed a lifelong empathy for people with disabilities or who were ‘a little different.’” Cassell explains, “As an artist, my intention from the very beginning was to create a body of work which would influence and hopefully change for the better the way people viewed the world around them…I have created works with varied and unusual themes.” Cassell is known for being ahead of her time—a forerunner and champion against injustice.
Throughout her storied career, Cassell has created outspoken images against social wrongs: intolerance, sexual hypocrisy, marginalization of the handicapped, the Holocaust, domestic violence, cultural barriers, age discrimination, and the overweight. Her life size work in pastel paintings of people, book art constructions, collages, prints, photography, wall hangings, multimedia installations, and wearable art have been shown in numerous museums and galleries. She holds a Philip Isenberg Award from the Salmagundi Museum of American Art in New York, and has exhibited numerous solo and group shows at the Saratoga Art Gallery, the Islip Art Museum, the Heckscher Museum, and many other Long Island museums. In Manhattan, she has exhibited in The Carlyle Gallery, The Jack Gallery, and The Book Arts Gallery. Posters of her art are distributed internationally, and her work is in many private and public collections. Cassell has appeared on radio and television and is a member of The National League of American Pen Women.
Perhaps Cassell’s most poignant television appearance was when she was featured with her painting “A Child’s Eye,” a portrayal of a young white man pushing a black man who is seated in a wheel chair. During the creation of the painting, Cassell had a young girl fill in the background of the painting with pastel chalk so she would have the physical experience during the creation process of relating to people who were different from her, the artist explained. In 1980, she created a seven-foot painting of her mother in the nude when she was 70 years old to illustrate that beauty transcends all ages. Of course, her mother became widely popular and loved all the attention!
Cassell’s artistic expressions include other mediums as well. She renovated and redesigned a simple Victorian house overlooking Hempstead Harbor in Sea Cliff, Long Island into one that was designated a landmark in her community, and featured in newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Newsday, and The Wall Street Journal. This recognition led her to serve as consultant to the White House during President Ford’s administration. Her work “Endangered Relations” was included in the Artist’s Book entitled “The New Covenant for the People…By the People” which was presented to President Clinton in 1993. The work is part of the permanent art collection of the United States.
Today Cassell lives with her husband Stuart, a New York attorney, Brooklyn Dodgers, and everything “New York” sports fan in the beautiful Lido Shores neighborhood of Sarasota, Florida. Her Florida home was designed by Philip Hiss of the Sarasota School of Architecture, which she has since redesigned and renovated, and serves as the couples’ home, studio, gallery, and warehouse all-in-one, featuring overwhelming examples of her life’s work. Years ago, when Miriam’s art began to “intrude” upon her husband’s space and Stuart expressed his desire to have one room in the home where there was “no art,” he came home to find a hand-painted one-of-a-kind work of art from his wife, a very large white canvas painted with the words, “NO ART ALLOWED IN THIS SPACE” in big black capital letters, in his home office! The couples’ sense of humor has kept them together all these years.
When I first met Miriam, some 25 years ago at a party at a mutual friend’s home in Sarasota, where my family and I had relocated from Long Island (ironically, we were practically neighbors for years on Long Island, having lived in Glen Cove, the very next town), I was quite taken by this cool, colorful (green and blue hair and 10 finger nails, each sporting a different color polish) with this charming “Fran Drescher” accent, but the piece de resistance had to be the business card—a nude self portrait, the artist said certainly turned a lot of heads in then slightly more conservative Sarasota! I loved meeting Miriam, and today, she, Stuart, her family, and mine are great friends! When asked what is her favorite fashion accessory today, Miriam related, “Most of the time I don’t wear matching color shoes. I create and wear purses with funny quotes such as ‘How many husbands have you had?…Do you mean my own or other peoples’?” –Peggy Guggenheim. “I create funny jewelry and wear a ring that says ‘WTF’ (which means Welcome To Florida) and a necklace that says Vintage Whore and I always wear my silver gauntlet and sometimes my necklace made from pacifiers. I always create and wear a shawl or Kimono over my long dress. Last but not least I always wear a headscarf to complete my outfit.” Cassell has created a style and timeless persona all her own.
Cassell’s newest works contain an impressive range of techniques—new concepts with past images in a mixed media format combining digital art, sewing, painting, drawing, collage, construction, photography, xerography, silk screening, and fiber. Recently, Cassell won First Prize for her Art Installation at The National League of American Pen Women Art Show in Venice. The installation first embodied women’s struggle to be taken seriously as artists, and then not only the struggle but the advancement women have made in being recognized as artists—this struggle remains a continuing one. ¨