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Maxwell Street to Milwaukee Avenue

Maxwell Street to Milwaukee Avenue


For more information contact:

Joanna Rothenberg | 312.322.1724

Betsy Gomberg | 312.322.1756

A Chicago Family's Shoe Business Inspires 
Upcoming Exhibit

Spertus Institute to showcase works by
Chicago artist Howard Schwartz 
along with family heirlooms that inform his work
August 30, 2015 –January 17, 2016

(Chicago) Chicago artist and family historian Howard Schwartz combines the past and the present in mixed media portraits inspired by his family heritage. His family story, like that of many Chicago families, begins its American chapter with merchants on Maxwell Street.

A selection of his Howard Schwartz's work — along with objects he’s collected from his family’s four generations in the shoe-selling business — will be on display at Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership in an exhibit titled Maxwell Street to Milwaukee Avenue: Painted Portraits of a Chicago Family in the Shoe Business.

The exhibit will be on view in Spertus Institute’s street-level vestibule gallery from Sunday, August 30, 2015 through Sunday, January 17, 2016.

It is free and open to the public.

Since he was a teenager, Howard Schwartz has preserved artifacts, photographs, and memorabilia documenting his family’s story. As an artist, he draws upon this extensive archive to create richly layered portraits of the past, combining photography, paint, and found objects.

A motif throughout Schwartz’s work is footwear. In his own words, “shoes, in one form or another, may be found in many of my paintings. They represent a tie to the heritage of my family. In a more profound way, however, they are a metaphor for family of the past who walked in this world and are by and large forgotten souls.” Colorful vintage brogues and oxfords from different decades appear in some of his works alongside family members and symbols of their lives. At Spertus, 15 of Howard’s mixed-media pieces that will be on display.

Gallery Talks will take place on Tuesday, October 27 at noon and Sunday, January 17 at 1 pm. Participants will have a chance to meet Howard Schwartz and hear the stories behind his works. The talks are free and no reservations are required.

About the artist, Spertus Curator of Collections Ilana Segal says “Howard Schwartz is rare in his ability to combine the bold vision of a contemporary artist with the meticulousness of an archivist. His painterly canvases incorporate family photographs, snippets of Yiddish newspapers, typography from vintage signs, and swatches of mid-twentieth-century wallpaper — telling of a bygone era and of the pursuit of the American dream.”

Howard’s great grandfather was a cobbler in Poland in the nineteenth century. His son — Howard’s grandfather — learned the shoe business from him and brought his skills to Chicago, where he worked his way up on Maxwell Street from a dealer in used shoes to a retailer with a storefront shop.

At the time, the Maxwell Street Market was an open air bazaar spilling over to neighboring Roosevelt Road and Halsted Street, crowded with newly settled immigrants peddling their wares and shoppers seeking the best prices. Although the area had long been an immigrant gateway, European Jews were the largest and longest standing ethnic group occupying the neighborhood. The market was the birthplace of icons ranging from the “Maxwell Street Polish” (a classic Chicago sausage sandwich) to Chicago-Style Blues.

Construction of the Dan Ryan Expressway and expansion of the University of Illinois-Chicago campus heralded the end of the market’s heyday. Today, a smaller, relocated version of the market can be found on Sunday mornings at the intersection of Roosevelt Road and South Des Plaines Avenue, where new waves of immigrant entrepreneurs sell their goods and hunt for bargains.

Howard’s father and uncle eventually moved the family shoe store from Maxwell Street to Milwaukee Avenue. The fourth and last generation in the business was Howard himself, who ultimately left to pursue a career as an artist and teacher. The business closed in 1997, but Howard has kept its memory alive through his art.

Spertus Institute is located at 610 S. Michigan Avenue. The exhibit is open Sunday to Wednesday from 10 am to 5 pm, Thursday from 10 am to 6 pm, and Friday from 10 am to 3 pm. Spertus is closed on Saturday for the Jewish Sabbath and on Jewish and secular holidays. Discount Parking is available for $11 with Spertus validation at the Essex Inn, 8th Street and Michigan Avenue (two blocks south of Spertus).

More information can be found at

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Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership offers dynamic learning opportunities, rooted in Jewish wisdom and culture and open to all. Graduate programs and workshops train future leaders and engage individuals in exploration of Jewish life. Public programs — including films, speakers, seminars, and concerts — take place at the Institute's Michigan Avenue facility, in the Chicago suburbs, and online.

Spertus Institute is a partner with the
Jewish United Fund in serving our community.

Exhibits at Spertus Institute are supported in part
by the Harry and Sadie Lasky Foundation.


More information about Chicago’s Maxwell Street can be found at

Howard SchwartzHoward Schwartz
in his Studio

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Howard SchwartzParents

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Howard SchwartzHarry's Shoes

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Howard Schwartz speaks with his father Dave Schwartz about the family shoe business. Chicago, 1981. More>