Olitski Studio, South Shaftsbury, Vermont, 1964. photo by Cora Ward
Jules Olitski was born Jevel Demikovsky, March 27th, 1922 in Snovsk, Russia, (now Ukraine), a few months after his father, a commissar, was executed by the Soviet government. He emigrated to the United States in 1923 with his mother and grandmother and settled in Brooklyn. In 1926 his mother married Hyman Olitsky, a widower with two sons. A daughter was born in 1930. (The “y” became an “i” in 1951 when it was misspelled on an exhibition announcement).
Olitski showed an early interest in drawing, copying a photograph of Jack Dempsey from the newspaper at age five. In high school he won a juried art prize to attend art classes in Manhattan. The judge was the artist, Samuel Rothbort, who became a mentor to the young Olitski. Attending an exhibit at the 1939 New York World's Fair Olitski saw his first works by Rembrandt and he describes the experience as transformative. After high school he won a scholarship to study art at Pratt Institute and was admitted to the National Academy of Design in New York. His education continued at Beaux Arts Institute in New York from 1940-42.