Mirel Bercovici; Westbeth artist and poet dies at 93


By Albert Amateau

Mirel Bercovici, a Westbeth painter who once sat in the Philharmonic orchestra pit during rehearsals to capture the image and spirit of Leonard Bernstein, died Sunday at home two weeks after her 93rd birthday.

Born in the Village, she was the daughter of the writer Konrad Bercovici and the sculptor Naomi LeBrescu. She was raised in a circle of luminaries that included Constantine Brancusi, Charlie Chaplin, Theodore Dreiser, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Diego Rivera, Paul Robeson and George and Ira Gershwin.

In July 2002, she had a one-woman show of her work at the Westbeth Gallery on Bethune St. and at the same time was represented in a group show of women artists at the Pen & Brush Gallery on E. 10th St.

The 2002 Westbeth show covered her life as an artist with about 150 paintings ranging from works she did as a prodigy when she lived with her mother in Paris to paintings executed at age 84.

She went as a child with her mother to Paris where she was the youngest person ever admitted to the Académie Julian.

She took long walks with Paul Robeson and listened to Isadora Duncan rage that she was old, fat and couldn’t dance anymore, according to an article in Gallery and Studio magazine in September 2002. In the early 1930’s, Sigmund Freud warned her father against exposing her to the prewar political turmoil in Europe, The Gallery and Studio article revealed.

Back in the U.S, Mirel Bercovici studied at the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design. At the beginning of World War II she organized the official New York Art Information Bureau under Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. She married William Morris Abbott, a Grolier Society editor and professor at City College.

“My mother collaborated with a documentary film director on a project that documented Konrad Bercovici’s lawsuit, settled out of court, that charged Chaplin with stealing the script of ‘The Great Dictator’ from her father,” recalled her daughter Mirana Comstock.

Mirel also devised theories and methodology for working with color during the advent of color television, her daughter said.

A poet as well as a painter, her poem “Unfinished Time” ends: “Far too soon you still me. Death, / For I have still a little breath, / A question here and there. Like why? / Why I so meant to laugh now cry? / Cry I, weep I with all the bleating sheep, in the shadow of the valley in the Shepherd’s keep / The Lord is not my shepherd, / Let him keep his god-dammed sheep!”

Her son, the artist Konrad Bercovici Abbott, died in 2001 at age 56.

A memorial celebration will be held in her Westbeth apartment the week of Dec. 27, her daughter said.