Emotional Art

Lidiya Kanovich’s Sculptures and Paintings Share Her 90-Year Life Story

Zinaida Rozenberg, Lidiya Kanovich and Evgenia Kanovich
From left: Zinaida Rozenberg, Lidiya Kanovich and Evgenia Kanovich (Heather M. Ross)

When the door swings open to Lidiya Kanovich’s cozy Baltimore apartment, canvases come into view.

Paintings are layered and stacked along the walls, and more than 100 sculptures adorn every flat surface.

Kanovich, a Russian-Jewish immigrant in her 90s, is the creator of these pieces of art.

She moved to Baltimore from Moscow just over 20 years ago with her husband, Emanuil. The pair moved to the United States and joined Kanovich’s sister. Kanovich struggled to find equivalent work to what she had been doing in Moscow, according to her daughter, Evgenia Kanovich. In Moscow, Kanovich had worked as an illustrator for a Russian building and architecture journal.

She was 70 years old when she moved to the United States, but that didn’t hold her back from enrolling at the Community College of Baltimore County. There, Kanovich studied English, Spanish, painting and ceramics.

While Kanovich did not speak English, she didn’t let that stop her from learning and applying her creativity in class. She would start the process for making her ceramics with sketching her vision for the piece in a thin, 70-page red notebook. Then she would change it or color it as she planned how to shape the piece.

A variety of ceramic pieces made by Lidiya Kanovich
Lidiya Kanovich’s art has never been confined to one medium. She has enjoyed working with ceramics, canvas and paper. (Heather M. Ross)

Now, 20 years later, the sketches from the notebook are eye-catching emotional pieces, full of movement and color, all over the apartment. They’re on top of the kitchen cupboards, tucked into the TV stand, on the table. Some are even on the floor along the wall.

“She drew what she felt, made special objects, and the teacher would show everybody her work as an example,” says Zinaida Rozenberg, Kanovich’s friend. Kanovich doesn’t speak English, so Rozenberg helped translate for her conversation with Baltimore Style.

Some of Kanovich’s paintings are in a Russian impressionist style, some are surrealist and others span the spectrum of styles. One piece is a painting of a round vase filled with flowers. Kanovich created this piece for her daughter’s birthday.

When Kanovich is painting, she “feels special, like she’s lost in her own world,” Kanovich explains through Rozenberg.

At first, Kanovich didn’t realize the beauty or power of what she had created, according to Rozenberg. But, when Kanovich would entertain friends and family, her numerous works quickly garnered attention.

“She ‘woke up’ when people started coming over to see her paintings,” Rozenberg says. “They are very emotional pieces.”

This past spring, Kanovich’s work debuted at the Towson Arts Collective in Kenilworth. She exhibited three pieces: a portrait of her and her husband and two ceramics.

“The show was very well attended, and everyone was interested and impressed by her work,” says Valerie Dubin, Kanovich’s friend. “She didn’t want to sell her work. She only wanted people to see it.”

Every piece Kanovich has made tells a part of her life story. When she faced challenges like moving to a new country, finding work or taking classes in a language she didn’t speak, Kanovich never backed down.

Kanovich learned to drive at 80 years old, when her husband’s vision began to fail. Emanuil Kanovich died in 2017. Two large, framed portraits of him, as well as numerous smaller pictures and paintings of him, adorn Kanovich’s home. He also lives on through a ceramic pipe he made, which Kanovich keeps in her living room.

In addition to painting and ceramics, Kanovich enjoys entertaining and hosting her friends and family. Her favorite part of hosting is preparing traditional Jewish and Russian dishes, preferably with herring or eggplant.

“I like to make everything,” Kanovich says through Rozenberg. “Everything I do is art.”

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