With a Grateful Prayer and a Thankful Heart: Childhood Boardwalk Sketch by Louis Levine

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Childhood Boardwalk Sketch by Louis Levine

What is one of your most vivid childhood memories? How young were you on this occasion? I have a memory and I also a special keepsake of the experience. It was during one of our summer vacations when my family spent a week down the shore with my aunt and her kids. I was sitting as still as I could as the warm evening sea breezes filled the open shop on the Atlantic City Boardwalk where an artist named Louis Levine drew sketches.

Though I dare not move my eyes and remained motionless in the chair, my senses were heightened. I could hear the sound of feet strolling along the boards outside the shop. I noticed the smells from the nearby eateries. Pizza. Popcorn. Roasting peanuts.

An artist worked at his easel, his eyes darting back and forth from me to his sketch pad and his hands moving rapidly with his chalk. Sitting there for what seemed like a very long time for a five year old was not nearly as uncomfortable as what I could feel and see out of the corner of my eye. An ever growing group of people were gathering to watch this man bring life to a blank page with an image of me. The shop became crowded and I was anxious to be finished.

Louis Levine completed his sketch and the crowd acknowledged his talent. And I was ready for cotton candy, still wondering what all the fuss was about.

My mom was so pleased with the likeness of my sketch that she took my brother to the same shop a few nights later. Levine was not working that night and my brothers sketch did not bear the same strong resemblance as mine did.

Excerpt from an article titled:

Great American Artist Almost Forgotten 
Louis Levine was Boardwalk-bred, Depression-tested
By Eric Shumsky

Atlantic City bathers would call, “Hey, little boy, do our family portrait right here.” In just a few minutes, young Louis Levine, painting directly on the beach, would bring forth amazing renditions.

The happy recipients would marvel at his magic and hand him a penny, maybe even a nickel. But the vivid painting would soon disappear—much as our memory of the great artist Louis Levine has.

Louis Levine would eventually graduate from the Philadelphia Art Institute, become admired by gifted American painters like Ben Stahl, and establish himself as the world’s Fastest Sketch Artist. But when he painted in the sand as a boy, he did so because he needed those pennies and nickels.

Born in 1915 in Philadelphia, Louis was the beloved son of a very poor Russian immigrant family. They had barely enough to eat. His younger sister was mentally ill. His mother was forever grieved by her past in pogrom-infested Russia.

Yet Levine had gifts: a huge personality, a handsome face, and a phenomenal talent for making sketches of anything at hand.

Over time, Levine moved up from the beach (directly below the boardwalk) to the famous Atlantic City boardwalk. People were amazed by the young man’s prowess with the pencil, brush, or pastels. Prices for sketches moving steadily higher—10 to 20 cents a sketch now for paintings that did not disappear!

He became an attraction in Atlantic City, in that quasi-carnival setting with its share of curiosity seekers and con artists. The Levine family had now found roots and support.

I latter had the sketch framed and it has been displayed in different places over the years. Currently it hangs on a wall in our guest room where grandchildren stand beside it to look for family resemblances. 


crochet lady said...

Wow, what a treasure to have, both the sketch and the story behind the man.

Rechelle ~Walnuthaven Cottage~ said...

What a wonderful treasure! Do you display it and enjoy it often or is it something that you take special care with and only peek at now and then. I think it's lovely!
Thanks for sharing and have a fab day!

Susan B said...

What a wonderful talent! It's a lovely sketch, and something to definitely treasure. Thank you for including the article about Mr Levine. Very interesting.

Susan said...

What a treasure and a sweet memory! I enjoyed it!

Cindy said...

Enjoy that treasure! I'll bet your children love it too. I enjoyed your post.

Hootin' Anni said...

That artist's sketch is amazing!!!!!

My show n tell is about the symbol of Native Americans today...the kokopelli.

Have a great weekend.

Leann said...

What a great treasure and treasure memories. We used to go AC too. Now we vacation in MD>

Please stop by The Old Parsonage anytime, I love Company!


Carla said...

How exciting!! The man's talent truly shows. And what a treasure you have there:)

Love Bears All Things said...

What a special story and it must be wonderful to have a sketch by so famous an artist.
Mama Bear

Miss Jen said...

What a lovely story!! :)
I so enjoyed this art/ history post!!

Love~ Miss Jen

Kayren, Pink Daisy Girl said...

That is really special, and what a neat story! I enjoyed reading about it and the history behind it.

Snippety Gibbet said...

How very cool! I remember getting a profile drawing on copper at the state fair one year. Mine actually looked pretty good! I think that I may have just let it get tossed after Mom passed. Kind of wish I'd kept it now. jan

Janice said...

Thanks for sharing you childhood memories. What a lovely sketch you have and so much better for knowing about the artist.

Thanks also for your wishes for my birthday, we all had a lovely time. I will be blogging 'part 2' sometime today, this one includes lots of food pictures!

Hannah E. said...

That's a beautiful picture.

Joy said...

That is a wonderful story and what a memento you have to treasure!! Very interesting--people have interesting lives.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Thank you for directing me to this post! I remember when there were many sketch artists working along the Atlantic City and Coney Island boardwalk. There doesn't seem to be very many these days. The drawing is wonderful and I enjoyed learning more about the artist!

Adam Friedman said...

Louis was a great man and my Uncle. I spent many summers working for him at his "Louis Artist's Village" at St. James and the Boardwalk. We lost him to Cancer many years ago and I'm so pleased people still enjoy his beautiful art. Feel free to contact me at Adam@adamfriedmanla.com


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