Morris Ben Newman
Morris Ben Newman
A resident of Cleveland, Ohio, Newman listed Ethiopia as his place of birth, claiming royal ancestry linked to the Falasha Jews (black descendants of one of the Lost Tribes of Israel). He counted among his ancestors King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. His paintings reflect that Ethiopian ancestry in that they often include what he referred to as “New Flowers” which in the Ethiopian language translates as Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
Newman often told stories of his travels in Europe and the U.S., and described numerous trips to Haiti where he said he taught in a school for zombies. He believed he possessed psychic powers, and that he could astral project. Some parts of his life story are true and others clearly fantasy... a mix that is reminiscent of Joseph Yoakum.
Newman was a large stately man of imposing proportions, whose extraordinary and exaggerated claims defined his persona. Those who knew him say that he had such a powerful presence that you wanted to believe his stories… including his assertion that he had been reincarnated 33,906 times.
Lee Garrett, who is remembered for drawing awareness to the work William L. Hawkins, first saw Newman’s paintings in the 1977 Governor’s Senior Citizen’s Art Exhibition at the State House in Columbus. The two became good friends, and in the following short time left to him, Newman assumed the role of a kind of spiritual advisor and mentor to his young acquaintance. Information concerning Newman's life is scant, available only from a few audio tapes of casual conversations and from Lee Garrett’s personal recollections, beginning with their first meeting in 1977 to Newman’s death three years later, at the age of ninety-nine. However brief, there is still enough in this “archive” to amply demonstrate that Morris Newman was, by any standards, a remarkable man, whose story would hardly be credible even in the most imaginative novel.
After Garrett's death in 2019, the Lindsay Gallery acquired the estate of Morris Ben Newman, where it was first shown at the Outsider Art Fair 2019, forty years after the artist's death.