Chester Martin Remembers Lillian Feinstein

Thursday, March 24, 2016
Lillian Feinstein
Lillian Feinstein

Far too many years ago I participated in a group show with several other seniors in our university's Fine Arts department. One of the pieces I included in that exhibition was a small wood carving of a living person - a head - about 6 or 7 inches high. It was the only carving I had, as all my other work was of either painting or commercial design. But that small head attracted a lot of attention, and I still have letters which people wrote me about it.

Mrs. Lillian Feinstein did not write me, but made herself known to me, as she had similar interests in carving both marble and wood. She then invited me to visit her, and husband, Rabbi Abraham Feinstein, in their private apartments at Mizpah Congregation on McCallie Avenue.

There, Mrs. Feinstein introduced me to the popular Rabbi, and both graciously welcomed me in. We had a nice, long discussion about all her interests (and mine) - how she became interested in Art, and what she was planning for the future. She showed me a very nice collection of exotic wood that people brought to her studio from widely varying locations on the globe. That collection alone would have made any professional wood sculptor's eyes light up. There was certainly plenty to pick and choose from...

Mrs. Feinstein related how her new interest in Art came about - following the marriage of her daughter, and with lessened obligations to family matters, she would now have time to devote to some new undertaking. She therefore signed up for a course at the university - something totally unrelated to Art. Class day came, and she went off to the nearby university, inadvertently walking past an Art studio! The infectious odor of oil paint and turpentine stopped her in her tracks; peeping into the studio she immediately became "hooked on Art". This was actually a renewal of a much earlier interest, but she made it permanent this time, immediately transferring her allegiances.

Time passed, and Lillian's reputation as a gifted sculptor became established. She was soon teaching at Cadek Conservatory (of Music and the Arts) which was then in its heyday. It was about this time that I got back to Chattanooga from my stint in the USAF and was trying to pick up the pieces of my life. She had seen my work in the senior show and wanted to take me on as a kind of assistant in her classes. Tuition would be free. I would be learning from her and have social contact with several parties of similar interest. Her main concern was with the sharpening of wood-carving tools for both her students, and for her...

THAT was the crucial thing for me as well! To sharpen a wood-carver's gouge properly is like trying to thread a dozen needles at a time - it is VERY difficult slow work, and I was somewhere on the lower end of the learning curve myself! You can watch a skilled craftsman do it and it all looks very simple, but when you try it yourself all manner of things can go wrong! One tiny nick in the steel's cutting edge sends you instantly back to square one!

So I declined Mrs. Feinstein's good offer!

I have kicked myself in the pants a thousand times since that happened; have often wondered what good, useful social contact might have been made which could be still paying off today. Alas, I will never know, but have always regretted my choice.

But it has always been a pleasure to remember those days when I was newly married and trying to get established on several fronts. The contact I had with the Feinsteins has lasted as a pleasant memory. Just seeing her sculptures - of both wood and bronze - was a real experience (She had a natural gift for sculpting the human hand!). At least one of her paintings - framed and on her wall - had won a nice award, and she talked about such people as Bob Caldwell who was so active in the local Arts community. Indeed, both Bob and Sherry Caldwell touched my art career at just the right moment as well. Mrs. Feinstein related how Bob had virtually designed her studio, actually shown her how to position the wood for maximum results, and how to hold the tools while working.

Lillian Feinstein's Art all had a "timeless" feel to it. Her sculpting brought out all the unique qualities of each piece of wood or stone, and I would love to see another showing of her beautiful work!

(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at )

Chester Martin
Chester Martin

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