Designer Spotlight On: Malcah Zeldis

Malcah Zeldis (born Mildren Brightman) on September 22, 1931 is a Jewish American folk painter known for her work which features a mix of historical, biblical, and autobiographical themes. Zeldis was born in the Bronx, New York, and was raised in Detroit, Michigan in a Jewish ghetto. Her family was poor and often faced religious discrimination, which made it difficult for her father to find work. Eventually her family became financially stable and they moved to a middle-class neighborhood. Zeldis remembers her childhood as being filled with nature and she most fondly remembers her trips to the Detroit Institute of Arts where she would spend time lingering in front of the Flemish paintings of small figures. These works would inspire her art years later.

In 1949, at the age of 18 Zeldis, feeling disconnected from her heritage, decided to move to Israel. She became a Zionist and lived and worked on a Kibbutz. Zeldis met her husband, Hiram Zeldis, on the Kibbutz and the two went back to the US to marry before returning to the Kibbutz.

While on the Kibbutz, Zeldis began painting. She had very little confidence in her work until Aaron Giladi, a well-known Israeli artist saw Zeldis’s paintings during a tour of the Kibbutz. He commissioned two paintings and told Zeldis that she should consider painting larger scale pieces. Zeldis tried to paint larger pieces but was frustrated by the results. She gave up painting and moved to New York where she began raising her children.

Twenty-three years later Zeldis returned to painting. She enrolled in Brooklyn College and submitted her paintings as part of the “life experience” requirement. Her paintings were well received and her teacher introduced her art to an art critic who in turn took her art to New York galleries. Zeldis had no formal training and did not consider herself an artist until she saw an exhibition of Haitian art and realized that her style was very similar to those of the Haitian artists. Finally Zeldis realized that she was indeed an artist.

Today her art is highly collectible. Her art features flat, proportion less subjects engaging in everyday activities. Her colors are vibrant and explosive and her paintings contain a number of story-telling devices. Each painting has its own narrative and tells a beautiful, exciting story.


“HOMAGE TO SOLTZENTITSYN” is one of Malcah’s peaceable kingdoms depicting Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Freud, Solzentitsyn, a bust of Shakespeare, statue of Aphrodite, the Lion & the Lamb and 2 women who are Malcah herself. Circa 1973.


“The Casino” is an example of Malcah’s work which encompasses her view of life. Malcah Zeldis is in more museums in the world than any other contemporary folk artist. Circa 1978.


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