In Memory of Sam Fink

Sam Fink, a great American calligrapher and illustrator, died November 1st in Israel at the age of 95 surrounded by his family. Born on May 27, 1916, he was a national treasure. A multi-talented artist of inimitable range, he first learned to hand-letter from his father, sitting hour after hour practicing the craft before becoming a master calligrapher and illlustrator. After marrying his beloved wife Adelle in 1940, they raised two sons, David and Mace, while he studied at the National Academy and the Art Students’ League in New York. He served in Italy during the Second World War with the 88th Infantry and came home a master sergeant. For two decades he worked as an art director at the world-renowned advertising agency Young & Rubicam, working in their London and Chicago offices although based primarily in New York. For the forty years after his retirement, he threw himself into publishing one book after the other. The subject was always freedom. For him, the greatest words on the subject lay in The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution of the United States, The Book of Exodus and finally in Annie Dillard’s Give It All, Give It Now.

His first edition of The Constitution was published in pen & ink by Random House in 1987 where he was edited by the legendary editor Bob Loomis. Almost twenty years later, it was published in full lush color by Welcome Books with whom he worked continually thereafter. Encouraging teachers and parents to introduce Sam’s book to their children, Ian Crouch, reviewing for the New Yorker, said, “the book contains every word of the Constitution, written in Fink’s distinctive hand, along with boldly colored illustrations. Fink is at once reverent and mischievous. Throughout, we see his gentle but strongly-felt patriotism, along with flashes of humor.” Selected by American Compass, Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Guild, History Book Club, Military Book Club, heralded by Ray Bradbury who said it should be “in every home in America,” featured on NBC’S Sunday Weekend and CNN, The Constitution went on to be published in several formats. Folios from the Constitution Limited Edition went on permanent display at The Supreme Court in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 2006.

The Book of Exodus followed swiftly as the watercolors were retrieved from Jerusalem. Originally conceived as a gift to his family, now living in Israel, a vast ocean away from his home in New York City, it, too, became available as both a book and a limited edition box of folios.

“The power of God is in the sky,” he told Brad Minor, editor of American Compass, about The Book of Exodus. “I made a vow to myself, ‘Sam, you will paint forty skies, one for each chapter of Exodus, and in the sky you will embroider the delicacy of the words in both English and Hebrew. The wisdom of the words and the beauty of the skies occupied me for some four years. Exodus is a cry for freedom, and that’s what it is all about. As Abraham Lincoln said, ‘this nation shall have a new birth of freedom,’ which to me means freedom needs to be born anew in each generation, and I guess each generation has to earn it. For me, the freedom is in the work, to love the work. To this day, I love work, I enjoy it, and I’m free.”

In 2010 he was himself profiled in Thomas Sanders’ The Last Good War: The Faces and Voices of World War II. Sam’s last exhibition opened on May 15, 2011  at Temple Beth-El in Great Neck where he lived most of his life.

The words he most quoted in the last months of his life were Annie Dillard’s: “Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. “

He leaves behind his son David, daughter-in-law Miriam, seven grandchildren and numerous great grandchildren and countless friends all of whom have and treasure his famous lavishly illustrated letters.

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3 comments

  1. Thanks Lena. Beautifully stated. I spoke to Sam a couple of weeks ago in Jerusalem…and we both knew his end was near. These last few years he became my mentor, as I ventured into the graphics arena. He pushed and encouraged me with every show I worked on. He inspired me. I grew to love him….and will miss him terribly. I was happy that his plan to sell his house and get back to his family all worked out so well. And yes, I’m one of the fortunate ones who will “treasure” his letters..with his commentary on baseball…art…and life. And every time I visited him in Great Neck he insisted that I take “stuff” from his file drawers….which also will be cherished. Sam made a difference!

    (PS: We met at his book-signing in E Hampton.)

  2. A great loss, a great friend to many and I feel blessed to have known him. In 1969, when I was 16, Sam drove me to my new school away from home. Just back from years in Israel, Sam gladly offered to lend a hand to our family. His car broke down en route. Sitting on the side of the crazed Conn. highway a stranger stopped and rescued us and fixed the car and would not take a dime, just a thank you. Sam couldn’t stop oozing with the wonderment of how nice and special people could be in this world. 2 hours later he still reveled. I never forgot his exuberance. He was a gentle wise soul whose spirit and art influenced and touched me and my family. May his name be a blessing to many.

  3. John Reeves
    I first met Sam whilst he was working at Y&R in London in 1966. I was pretty much a junior production man back then and had the pleasure of showing him around town. I gave him a book containing Cockney rhyming slang – something that fascinated him. In return he gave me one of his paintings and it has been on my wall ever since. We corresponded for a while and then lost touch. Just a few years ago my son-in-law contacted his agent and we were back in corresponding. The beautifully illustrated letters started to arrive and the memories of the time we had spent together over 40 years ago. He was a wonderful man – he valued friendship and family and the World is a sadder place without him.


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