History always leaves a legacy behind for those who are willing to look for it. Elizabeth Rynecki is one such seeker. Recently I attended a talk Elizabeth gave about her “Chasing Portraits” film project, held in a beautiful women’s clubhouse nestled in the Sausalito hills overlooking San Francisco Bay. Elizabeth is the great-granddaughter of Moshe Rynecki, a prolific Warsaw-based artist who documented the Polish Jewish community in the interwar years (1918-39) in over 800 paintings and sculptures. Sadly, most of his body of work was lost in the Holocaust. Or so people thought.
Several years ago, Elizabeth set out on a search to look for any possible ‘survivors’. She had grown up in a home with a number of Moshe’s paintings hanging on the walls. They were as much a part of her childhood as family gatherings during the holidays. The story of her search and subsequent discoveries are told in the documentary film she is currently producing – Chasing Portraits: A Family’s Quest for their Lost Art Heritage. It is a testament of love to their patriarch and the lost life of the shtetl he so beautifully portrayed.
There are many intriguing twists and turns to Moshe’s story – like how he broke up his collection into bundles and hid them around the city as the Nazis descended on Warsaw. Or how Elizabeth has found several pieces through social media and Poland’s version of Ebay.