Lilyan Maitin and her daughter Ani Maitin Nu’96 GNu’99 are sitting at the kitchen table in the Maitins’ Pine Street house, talking quietly about the husband and father, artist and mensch who once warmed it with his presence. If that table could talk, it would have a lot of stories to tell, of the many artists and poets and friends who came for advice and help and stories and jokes and laughter …
“This was how we grew up, doing the most interesting things at the kitchen table,” says Ani. “I was thinking about what a public person my dad was, and how a lot of people whose parents are public people don’t see them much. He brought peoplethe publicinto the house. The most interesting people! It was like an underground society. If an artist came to Philadelphia, my dad would help him.
“I never resented having to share my dad with so many other people,” she said a couple of weeks later at the Annenberg Center’s Zellerbach Theatre, which was filled with hundreds of old friends and admirers. “He was more present in the lives of many of my friends than their own fathers were.”
“He shared everything,” Lilyan adds. “So many times people came in and picked his brain. He was always helpful; he had so many ideas.”
Now it’s quiet, and through the window, whirling snow is dusting the branches of a tree in the garden. A question stirs a memory of some bus-shelter posters that Sam made for the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance in the early 1980s.
“They were huge, huge, illuminated posters on vellum,” Lilyan says. “People were calling Sam and saying, ‘My God! I was on a dark road in the far Northeast and I saw your artwork illuminated at night!’” A word-image worthy of William Carlos Williams M’06 Hon’52.
Here’s another: a SEPTA bus drove past Lilyan near their house not long after Sam died. Some familiar colors, in the form of a poster he had designed for the Jefferson Hospital Philadelphia Distance Run, flamed tropically across the bus’s rump. She snapped a photograph; the bus drove on. The tropical flames remain.
Posters for bus-shelters, murals for CHOP and public pools, the streaking eagle (with “We the people” emblazoned in Maitin’s familiar handwriting) created for the bicentennial of the signing of the Constitution in 1987all were part of a worldview in which art was very much of and by and for the people. “Humanism,” he told the Gazette that year, “shouldn’t be distasteful in art.”
“What I hate is this whole elitist concept of art, that it’s something precious and ethereal, when art is actually part of life,” he added.
“He really believed that art should be all around,” says Lilyan firmly. “It should be available to everybody. Anti-elitist is definitely the right term.” So is anti-drab.
“You could see the evolution of shapes and prints,” notes Lilyan. “They were always sort of rounded, and he always had a great sense of color, and the posters that he did, and the artwork that he did in the sixties-I mean, Philadelphia was so staid, and all of a sudden there were these bursts of color!”
She laughs, quietly. “I always said that if I hadn’t married him, I would have been one of his biggest collectors.”
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©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette
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Holiday (far left); Prince, 1950 (left);