January 28 – December, 2017

Art & Heritage, Three San Diego Jewish Artists: Baranceanu, Braun & Sternberg explores the artwork, lives, and Jewish heritage of three historically-important San Diego artists: Belle Baranceanu, Maurice Braun, and Harry Sternberg.

Raised in Jewish households Belle Baranceanu, Maurice Braun, and Harry Sternberg, are bound by this commonality, yet each embodies a uniquely personal artistic path and divergent experiences within the Jewish faith.

Just as each of us brings predispositions, influences, and beliefs to our everyday actions and decisions, so too do artists to their creative practice. Though all three artists showcased in Art & Heritage were raised within the Jewish religion and customs, as adults Baranceanu and Braun became Theosophists and for the most part did not self-identify as Jewish, from young adulthood onward. Sternberg developed a feeling for Christian beliefs and symbolism through his study of art, gravitated toward Zen Buddhism and in his last years had a revived appreciation for Jewish thought. Through their exhibited works, we investigate the influence and entwining of religion, family tradition, and devotion to their artistic practice.

Exemplifying one of the wonderful traditions of Judaism, this exhibition encourages critical discussion and flourishes in the engagement of active thought, as opposed to defined answers. Art & Heritage presents as much as it questions. What is Jewish art?  Do we intend this question to reference the identity and history of the artist and their religious beliefs; or are we referencing the work itself and its incorporation of imagery and references to the Jewish faith?

The three exhibited artists all have extensive professional careers, which could not be captured fully in an exhibition of this size. Highlighting the exemplary collection of Baranceanu works in the SDHC Fine Art Collection, we explore several works created during the Works Progress Administration (WPA) including two large murals (Portola’s Departure and Building Mission Dam). Additionally visitors will enjoy preparation sketches for these murals and several landscapes from this time period. A collection of earlier Baranceanu portraits and landscapes will also be on view, giving insight into her progression as an artist as well as allowing for a more personal view of the artist’s family life.

Representing Maurice Braun is an inspiring body of landscapes from the SDHC Fine Art Collection as well as works in SDHC’s care from the San Diego Unified School District. The displayed landscapes depict both East and West Coast scenes, with several specific to areas within San Diego. These exemplary works ranging from 1910 to the 1930s embody Braun’s deep love of nature and his acute ability to capture its serene essence through a bold palette and beautiful texture. 

With an artistic career eight decades in length, Harry Sternberg, a prolific maker, is the third artist in the exhibition lineup. Like Baranceanu, Sternberg created artwork for the WPA which he considered some of his life’s most important work. Most notably is his large scale mural entitled, The Family Industry and Agriculture located in the post office in Ambler, Pennsylvania. The selection of prints showcased in this exhibition is pulled dominantly from a portrait series Sternberg did of his artist friends while living in New York. Playful in nature each image incorporates the sitters own artistic style within the background of the print.

Belle Baranceanu, Maurice Braun, and Harry Sternberg all significantly impacted and contributed to the arts in San Diego during their time here. This exhibition will also explore their immense and long lasting impact on our cultural community and celebrate them as some of the founding San Diego artists.

Tara Centybear

Bruce Kamerling Curator, San Diego History Center

Exhibition Catalog

The San Diego History Center will produce a full-color catalog for this exhibition. The catalog essay is written by visiting professor of art history at the University of San Diego, freelance art writer, and long-time art critic, Robert Pincus with an introduction by exhibition curator and the History Center’s Bruce Kamerling Curator, Tara Centybear.

Catalog on sale beginning March 2017 in the History Center Store.

Sample Image Gallery:


San Diego History Center exhibit explores work, lives of Jewish artists by Roxana Popescu, San Diego Union-Tribune