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Family History

In 1913, Harold Lehman was born to Rochal (“Rae”) and Abraham (“Abe”) Lehman. Both Rae and Abe were immigrants from Russia who had arrived in New York City just after the turn of the century. By the time his parents were in their early twenties they were parents to five children. Lehman was one of two boys born to them in the second set of twins. 

In the early years, Abe did everything from working as a milkman to dancing in vaudeville and the early films that were shot in Fort Lee, New Jersey. 

The turning point came when Abe learned how to sell insurance. Soon he and Rae went their separate ways, with Abe leaving the family to start a new life for himself in Los Angeles, California.

Rae was left to raise five young children on her own with the meager earnings she made as a seamstress.

From a young age, Lehman developed his artistic abilities. As Rae could not afford to raise the children on her own, Harold and his brothers were sent to live in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in the Bronx. He credited the orphanage with providing him the opportunity to widen his horizons by giving him a good education, and exposure to culture and art classes.


Lehman's interest in sculpture began during summer camp, where he took an art class.  The counselor, Max Maikowski, exposed him to materials tools and techniques.  Returning to New York, he stayed in touch and Maikowski brought him to the studio of his own teacher, Jean de Laffiere on 23rd Street. The studio specialized in enlarging monumental sculpture, from small models to full sized monuments that were distributed throughout the country by very well know sculptors.  Lehman credits de Laffiere as "the one who really gave me a great grounding in plaster casting and handling the clay and plaster, not carving... And also enlarging."

While working at the studio, he also met Onorio Ruotolo, an Italian-American sculptor and poet, once known as the "Rodin of Little Italy" who had Lehman draw a portrait of him right there on the spot. Lehman recounted this and other experiences with Stephen Polcari from Archives of American Art in interviews conducted in 1997. 

These old experiences had value. As you say, he introduced me to elements of the art world and they talk about a bonding process with artists and procedures, the whole atmosphere of art-and art production. So, it was a good beginning.

In February 1929, Abe, who had abandoned the family to start a new life in Los Angeles, sent tickets to Rae for her to send any two of their children to join him. Lehman and his older brother Charles took the opportunity to join their father on the west coast.

Harold Lehman and his twin brother age 3. 1916 New York City./

Harold Lehman with twin brother Albert. Est. 1916

Using calipers and pointing machines, these methods went right back to the Renaissance in Italy. 

Harold Lehman, age 15, workin in the studio of Jean de Laffiere creating a sculpture of himself. 1928. New York City.

Harold Lehman, age 15  working in the studio of Jean de Laffiere on 23rd Street, New York. 

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