Zena Posever, an artist and activist whose sculptures are on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Wolfsonian Museum at Florida International University and the Fillmore Miami Beach, died July 15 at age 101.
She spent more than half of those years in Miami, fighting for a variety of causes from civil rights to artist’s rights, and teaching art to students of all levels of talent.
Born Jan. 17, 1911 in the Ukraine, her family moved to the United States at the outbreak of World War I.
Although Posever received a scholarship to study design, she decided to put aside her studies and join the labor movement to help organize unions for steel workers. It was the beginning of a lifetime of helping out with causes she believed in.
“She was a very empathetic person,’’ said daughter Verna Posever Curtis. “She felt people should have justice, that it didn’t matter who you were or what your race was. She did what she thought was right.”
Married to Jack Rennert in 1936 but widowed a year later, Posever decided in 1938 to go back to school. She attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where she earned a scholarship enabling her to study art in Mexico.
In 1943, she married Felix Posever but the couple later divorced. When Posever’s father retired in 1944, she moved to Miami with the rest of her family.
Posever taught sculpture, drawing and ceramics to recuperating servicemen at the Miami oceanfront hotels under the sponsorship of the American Red Cross from 1944 to 1946. She also taught at Miami Dade College, the Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center and in her studio.
Posever loved to teach techniques from the book “The Natural Way to Draw: A Working Plan for Art Study” by Kimon Nicolaides.
“In order to draw, you have to get the essence of something, look at it from the inside and outside. She would sometimes look at cadavers to depict the human figure or even fruit and flowers to understand the 3-D effect,” said Curtis.
Posever often sculpted people she admired, including political science professor Scott Nearing, which can be found at the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., and Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling, which Curtis kept at her home in Maryland.
Her bust of Temple Emanu-El Rabbi Irving Lehrman is on display at the Lehrman Community Day School and one of S. Jay Levey is on display at the National Parkinson Foundation Headquarters.
At the Wolfsonian Museum, Posever has works dating from 1937-1944, including “The Builder,’’ a sculpture of an architect.
“Her style was impressionistic,’’ said Matthew Abess, assistant curator at the Wolfsonian. “It was clear that she wanted to get to the pit of an individual.’’
Posever also sculpted the Rev. Edward Graham, who led the African Methodist Episcopal Baptist church in Miami and the Rev. John Papandrew, a former Unitarian-Universalist minister at the First Unitarian Church in Miami.
During her years in Miami, Posever participated in the civil rights movement, organizing fundraisers in the 1960s and ’70s.
In the mid-1980’s, Posever advocated for the U.S. Postal stamp honoring the 100th anniversary of Civil Rights activist Paul Robeson’s birth.
“Zena was a person who was very politically aware and a champion for world causes. She was a fearless and tireless worker,” said her cousin, Bernie Agrons.
While Posever was part of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, she supported organizing unions for farm workers.
She also advocated against the Vietnam War and joined the Anti-Nuclear Movement. After seeing how World War II and the Vietnam War left people badly injured and maimed, she still believed in the goodness of people and wanted them to thrive, Curtis said.
In 2001, Posever went to live with her daughter in Maryland and continued painting and bringing home notebooks filled with sketches until she was 100-years-old.
“She had a love of life and enjoyment in the little things. Even through a couple chronic illnesses, that didn’t stop her, she never complained much,” Curtis said.
In addition to her daughter, Posever is survived by brother Robert W. Goldin. Services were held.
Donations are being accepted at the Wolfsonian-FIU Museum for the Zena Posever Memorial Fund.