Maria ‘Marika’ Frank Abrams, an artist whose inspiration for her abstract, hauntingly beautiful images was often debated, died peacefully on March 29, at her Mercer Island home. She was 88.
Abrams, an accomplished painter, was spoken of in the same category as artists such as Mark Tobey and Walter F. Isaacs, of the renowned Northwest School. She interpreted nature using abstract forms; the shapes manifest by the shrewd use of color and an innate sense of light.
Abrams’ art has been shown and admired at the Seattle Art Museum, Otto Seligman Gallery, A Vizualart Galeria in Budapest, Israel, ’Yad Vashem Museum and the Woodside/Braseth Gallery, among others. She held some 150 shows of her work. Her art can be found on permanent display at the Mercer Island Library, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Henry Gallery at UW. There is a piece in the King County Courthouse, at city offices in Seattle, Harborview Medical Center, the Kline Galland Home, the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle, and the Jundt Art Museum at Gonzaga University in Spokane.
She won one of the first four King County Arts Commission awards in 1976. Her art is also displayed in many homes throughout the Northwest.
In 2010, a book by Seattle art critic Matthew Kangas entitled, “Burning Forest, the Art of Maria Frank Abrams,” cataloged her work.
Born in 1924, Abrams grew up in Debrecen, Hungary, in a well-to-do family. A Jew, she was just 20 and already an artist when she and her family and more than two million others were taken to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland in 1944. She was later taken to Bergen-Belsen, a death camp in Germany, and later another internment camp in the country. Her parents and all of her extended family were killed. Only she and one cousin survived. When the death camp at Magdeburg was liberated by the Allies, Marika weighed only 68 pounds.
Three years after her release from the camps, she found her way to Seattle on a Hillel scholarship to study art at the University of Washington. At the UW, she studied under renowned artists such as Walter Isaacs and Tobey and those associated with the growing modernist art movement. It set her on the path to her own unique style. Her work later expanded to mosaics and public art pieces. She also designed costumes and sets for the Seattle Opera.
While many argued that her time in the concentration camps was the impetus for her often dark work, it was Abrams herself who said it was the subtle, ever-changing hues of the light over Lake Washington that inspired her. She said many times over the years that she did not paint about the Holocaust.
Abrams lived on Mercer Island since the mid-1950s at a home with a large, light-filled studio facing Lake Washington near West Mercer Elementary School.
She leaves behind her husband of 64 years, Sydney; their son, Edward, and his wife Tali; two grandchildren, Omri and Noga Vilma; and her cousin, Vera Federman, of Mercer Island, Agnes Jacobson of Santa Barbara, and Lewis Rose of Sydney, Australia.