Esphyr Slobodkina was born on September 22, 1908, in Chelyabinsk, Siberia. The youngest of five children, she moved to Ufa, Russia, in 1915 and later fled to Harbin, Manchuria, during the Bolshevik Revolution in 1919. In 1922, Slobodkina enrolled in junior high school with a focus on mathematics and art, hoping to become an architect. She took private lessons with Pavel Goost, an Impressionist painter, and later attended business school at the Kommercheskoye Uchilische. After graduating from First Harbin Public Commercial School in 1927, Slobodkina emigrated to New York City and enrolled at the National Academy of Design (1928-1933). She studied under Arthur Sinclair Covey, a muralist, and was mentored by her husband, Ilya Bolotowsky.
Slobodkina began her art career in earnest in the 1930s, exhibiting in various shows and joining the American Abstract Artists in 1937. She participated in the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration in 1936 and was a founding member of the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors. Some of her notable exhibitions before 1943 include American Abstract Artists Annual Exhibitions and her solo exhibition at the New School for Social Research, titled 15 Abstractions by Esphyr, in 1938.
In 1940, Slobodkina wrote and illustrated the renowned children's book Caps for Sale. She was a part of the social circle that included artists like Margaret Little Brown, Charles Shaw, and Alice T. Mason. At the onset of World War II, Slobodkina was living in New York City and working for the WPA.
Slobodkina’s marriage to Ilya Bolotowsky lasted from 1933 to 1937, and she later married William L. Urquhart in 1960. She had a diverse range of artistic interests, including costume and garment design, and worked in various fields such as textile design.
One of her key artworks is "Recollections" (1942), which was featured in the Exhibition by 31 Women. Unfortunately, the whereabouts of the work are unknown.
Esphyr Slobodkina passed away on July 21, 2001. Her archives and papers can be found at the Slobodkina Foundation in Glen Head, Long Island, and the Archives of American Art.
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