Irving Fierstein

January 11, 1915 - May 25, 2009

Artist and Activist

To memorialize Irving's long and full life
A Memorial Gathering
was held on
Sunday, July 19 3:00 pm
at the
Solidarity Center
West 17th Street
New York City

Public Guest Book

Guestbook Entries
Posted by Fredric Fierstein on 2009-06-13 11:17:49.
I , Joanne Fierstein and Fridelyn Fierstein
Shall be attending
Posted by Carla Anders on 2009-06-14 14:39:12.
Irving was a cousin, friend, fellow family history researcher, and role model to me over the years. I wish I could be at the celebration of his life, and send my love to the family.
Posted by Hillel Cohen on 2009-06-15 19:12:09.
Irving--what a wonderful human being. Although he was exceptionally talented in art and other areas, he was so modest, down-to-earth and sincere. Of course he was my role model for productive longevity that I hope to emulate. But more than that, his whole-hearted embrace of humanist and socialist solidarity with the working class and oppressed was so strong and consistent that it shined through the problems of aging in America. I got to know him well after he "retired" from the commercial world and was "reborn" (in a secular sense) with renewed energies into the world of struggle for social justice. I will miss him greatly and remember him always.
Posted by William L. Katz on 2009-06-17 18:55:16.
I first met Irving when I was about six and he had become one of my father's best friends after they had met as commercial artists. They immediately found areas of intense interest -- politics and blues and jazz music. I remember my father telling me that irving and he scoured Salvation Army warehouses in Brooklyn for rare 78" jazz recoreds, and Irving owned a copy of Bessie Smith's "Empty Bed Blues" before he even had a victorola. In a typically generous act, Irving constructed a board of bulbs and buzzers operated by batteries to help me understand the electric power I was learning about in my public elementary school. He was always that way, warm, soft-spoken, clear-minded, a giving human being, likeable, opinionated and forever helpful.
Irving and my father palled around a lot, and I suspect this took them to both cultural and political events. I believe at one point my father veered more to participation in the African Amerian struggle and Irving to the varied battles against fascism and imperialism.
They remained life-long friends. When I wrote my first book in 1967, a big event for my father also, Irving came over to paint a large picture of my father reading a copy, and it remained in our parlor room when Dad died in 1970. I remember walking down Jane street talking with Irving after Dad's death and how he told me what an upstanding person and friend he was. So was Irving.
Laurie and I began to see Irving again starting around ten years ago and I was able to learn about his many contributions to the continuing fight against fascism. We were invited to his apartment where we saw his wonderful art work, had invigorating political discussions with him, and he regularly visited our home when he came downtown. We talked by phone over the last few years.
Irving was a marvelous human being who will be deeply missed by all who knew him. I am pleased we have one of his paintings in our home to remember him.

Posted by Shirley (Wasser) Green on 2009-06-21 20:38:50.
Dear Laurie and Family - I am sorry but I wont be able to attend the memorial service for your Dad.
I remember going to his art show in NYC and visiting at your home in Hastings-on-the-Hudson. The last time I spoke with him was to Thank him for his hard work and devotion to making the Family Tree a successful project
Posted by Kapila & Aaron on 2009-06-22 11:53:21.
We lived in the same building as Mr. Fierstein; he was our upstairs neighbour. We saw him on the elevator and walking down the street sometimes. We always wanted to talk to him and get to know him, because from a pin that he sometimes wore on his cap we knew he was an activist of some kind, but for one reason or another, we never did talk to him. The last time we saw him, he had just picked up his Netflix from his mailbox and we took the elevator up together. He told us then how old he was (I don't remember how we got to talking about his age!), and the funny thing is, this past January 11th, I remembered him on his birthday. But not knowing him, I didn't know what to get him, or whether he would appreciate an unannounced visit from a relative stranger. We wish we had asked him for his stories. He had so many. Rest your gentle soul, Mr. Fierstein! I hope we'll meet again someday. Love, Kapila & Aaron.
Posted by Dina Paisner on 2009-07-19 18:15:07.
High school friend of Hannah Fierstein. Thrilled to reconnect with dear people. All the best to all and much love, Dina
Posted by Colleene Pavey Wincele on 2009-08-19 17:46:09.
I recently received word that Irving had passed. Irving and I were pen pals off and on for the last 7 or 8 years. My husband and he were distant cousins and Irving and I began corresponding regarding family history. But then, we just continued to stay in touch and although we never met in person, I am saddened to hear that he is gone. It was an interesting friendship: I'm a 50 year old woman from the Mid-West, Republican, and mother of 2 teen-age sons (Irving admonished me not to let the government get its hands on them). We had practically nothing in common, yet we maintained a connection and I so enjoyed receiving his letters several times a year. I've come to know him a little better now by reading other postings at this site, left by people who knew and loved him well. Thank you. Good-bye Irving.
Posted by Molly Charboneau on 2009-07-19 15:52:48.
Several of us went to the World Festival of Youth and Students in Cuba in 1978 and Irving made our trip possible through his generous donation for travel. In return we presented him with a framed color photograph of Fidel that we took when he met with the U.S. delegation. Irving's banners and the many artistic symbols he created for so many struggles have been an inspiration for my entire political life. His contribution will be missed. Irving presente!
Posted by Brenda Sandburg on 2009-07-19 15:59:23.
Irving and his work are indelibly linked to my poltical awakening. When I joined Workers World in 1986 his banners were at every major demonstration and passionately conveyed the fight against imperialism. When I look at them now -- from the iconic Free South Africa to the banners depicting the struggles in Latin America and for the Palestinian people -- I feel the intensity of fighting for justice and the honor of having known him and sharing the party with him.
Posted by John Catalinotto/Ellen Catalinotto on 2009-07-19 15:48:52.
Letter from Ellen Catalinotto:

With the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock concert coming up, we are hearing a lot about the less political
events of that year of revolutionary struggles. I was 26 that summer and remember that "Never trust anyone over 30" was a slogan of the Yippies
of those days. Irving Fierstein spent more than 60 years of his life over the age of 30 but he never lost what some might call his youthful idealism -- but what we would call his life-long dedication to the struggle of the oppressed and workers.

In 1938, long before he began painting the unique banners that were carried on many anti-war marches and in other street struggles, Irving Fierstein joined painter Rockwell Kent in creating a Times Square billboard supporting the volunteers of the Spanish Civil War in the battle against
fascism. While Kent went on to commercial fame painting a prettified, virtually all-white version of the U.S., Fierstein used his
wonderful talent to tell the truth about a society in which racism, poverty, class conflict and imperialist war are outstanding

In the mid-90's I went to a show of his paintings that were exhibited in a public library in Washington Heights near where I worked. It was a perfect
setting for his art: in a community of workers and immigrants where the viewers could see themselves reflected in his paintings.

How rare and precious that is.

Irving Fierstein, presente.

Ellen Catalinotto

From John: Irving is a role model for me as my wish is to stay active until I'm completely inactive. He led the way.
Posted by Johnnie Stevens on 2009-07-19 14:36:03.
Comrade and friend, Irving medium of the art and revolution help me in my video and science. Irving work was scientific

Posted by Jon Qalam on 2009-07-19 14:48:38.
Relevant Art well done is in short demand these days. Your Father will definetly be missed. Jon
Posted by Bill Doares on 2009-07-19 15:16:25.
What a wonderful person, a great comrade, a man who truly lived. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to know him.
Posted by Anne Pruden on 2009-07-19 15:26:24.
we're forever grateful for all of his contributions and inspiration. long live Irving!
Posted by Ed watkins on 2009-07-19 15:30:50.
Thank you for inviting me to this memorable event to celebrate Irv's life. He inspired me in many ways.
Posted by Sara Cat on 2009-07-19 15:44:28.
I remember attending a workshop on techniques of banner making, at a national political conference, led by Irving. He was happy to share these ideas--including technical tricks for measurement and spacing, and political priorities for the composition of scenes. So while his contribution was unique, he did not hoard from us younger activists the knowledge he had developed over years of practice.
Posted by Monya Berg Brown on 2009-07-08 02:41:00.
After my mother died my husband Ray and I frequently came up to Croton from our apartment in the Bronx to take possessions home from the house and visited Irving, Hannah, who lived across the street..They were a joy to spend time with, made us feel like part of the Fierstein clan, easing my sorrow at my Mom's death greatly. The house was always a ferment of creative and political activity with Irving disappearing into his studio even on weekends fulfilling commercial assignments...His artistic energy was amazing, talent impressive and earnestness constant..Hannah designed fittings for their VW bus and Irving artfully crafted upholstered and plain boxes so that passengers could make full use of the space inside the vehicle during family trips, a concept ahead of its time.I remember Hannah rolling an enormous wooden spool from an auto repair shop up our street to their home. She painted, fired and glued tiles to cover the top with,meals were eaten on it under a grape arbor. She introduced me to the art of tilepainting which I did for many years afterwards..Wonderful memories.The last time I saw Irving was a few years ago when we saw much of his great fine and political art at Laurie's 50th birthday celebration. I cannot come to the memorial because I wiill be at my dear husband Ray's, he died in May at age 80.We have lived a few blocks away from the old Fierstein home since to you all.... Bill-did we go to NYU together? Monya Berg Brown
Posted by Monica Moorehead on 2009-07-12 21:29:28.
Irving was such an inspiration for so many movements. The combination of his extraordinary talent, dedication and revolutionary politics helped to create banners and paintings that truly express in such a moving way the aspiration of oppressed peoples for liberation. This is especially true for the struggle against apartheid in South Africa during the 1980s. As activists, we must do everything possible to keep his legacy alive for future generations of activists to come. Irving Fierstein presente!
Posted by Cecelia Casey, friend of Irving's daughter, L on 2009-07-13 22:28:12.
I have only met Irving a handful of times in my life and every occasion was connected to his daughter, Laurie, my dear friend. I did not know him very well, but knew he was a gentle and quiet man whose art spoke much louder and displayed a keen intelligence and discerning eye. I remember once going to an exhibit of his artwork at the International Action Center several years ago. My daughter, Bridget, and a few other friends accompanied me. We were so impressed with Irving's work his sometimes-subtle political messages and sometimes not so subtle messages made one pause and take mental notes on ones own life and actions. But not all of his work was political. His paintings of children playing on the monkey bars in a New York playground and his painting of several New Yorker's travelling the subway system together all holding on to the same pole for support are my two very favorites. I have postcards of these two paintings hanging in my bedroom. My daughter was so moved by Irving and his work that she purchased a print of a painting for my birthday shortly after the exhibit. The print also hangs in my bedroom next to the framed postcards. It is painting of a small hungry black child crouched down on the ground holding his head in his hand while looking toward the background of the painting which displays pastel cutouts of kings, queens, dignitaries and friends eating and drinking at some state affair. It is riveting and it is difficult to pull your gaze away. I wait for it to change someday, but the child is always waiting. The painting reminds me not to be extravagant, to value what I have, to be generous, to give back, to be fair, to be thoughtful, to see beyond what we think is right and make it better, and to speak out and speak for people who have no voice. I did not get all these ideas and thoughts from his paintings--I got some from one of Irving's most unique and wonderful creations, his daughter, Laurie. I don't know so much about Laurie's brothers and sister, but I know she treasures and loves them dearly and if they are anything like Laurie than Irving's legacy lives on his children. Just knowing Laurie has made me a more seeing and better person. Thank you Irving for being so amazing and helping others see past their sometimes silly little lives to see the truth. And thank you for Laurie. Since your painting will always hang in my bedroom, you will inspire me until the day I die. Thank you.