Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
"I hate injustice," said Ben Shahn (1898-1969). Also he opposed Goldwater and Ike, and in his drawings made them look like mindless babies. Though you would not know it from the little exhibition which opened here Tuesday night, passionate Ben Shahn, of Roosevelt, N.J., was an artist with a cause.
In 1959 he was threatened with contempt by one committee of the House (that on un-American activities), which deemed his work "redtainted." Yesterday, however, he was honored by another (that on House administration), which has hung a little Shahn show in the Capitol itself.
"Homage to Ben Shahn" is sort of open to the public, but before you can get into the committee's offices you have to call them up and ask.
It was arranged by Rep. Frank Thompson Jr. (D - of course - N.J.), who had much help from his wife. It was seen by Speaker Tip O'Neill (D - of course - Mass.), who thought it looked just fine.
The only thing about the show that is apolitical is the work upon the wall.
Ben Shahn often showed us famous martyrs - Sacco and Vanzetti, Goodman, Schwerner, Gandhi, Martin Luther King - and infamous bosses, who wear tall silk hats. None of them is here. Instead, these works promote the humanities, the Book of Jon, and the landscape of America. Bernarda Bryson Shahn, the widow of the artist who picked the work on view, knows that it is politic to be, well, polite.
She is a handsome, witty woman, who, while busy shaking hands, was asked why her selections tip-toed around politics. "Why, just look over there," she said, pointing to a silk screen of empty chairs and music stands. "'But what about the class struggle?' complained a friend of Ben's when he saw that picture, 'Can't you see,' said Ben, 'Local 802 has just gone out on strike.'"
"We both grew up believing that politics should be one's first concern," she said.
Jonathan, the artist's son, himself a first-rate sculptor who now lives in Rome, once gave his mandolin to country star Doc Watson on a long-term loan, said the Smithsonian's Ralp Rinzler, himself a picker, who had come to see the show.
Hew Weldon of the British Broadcasting Corporation, who has spent much time with Britain's royal family, and with their collections, looked briefly at the Shahns, and then stepped to the window, where he thoughfully admired the splended prospect of the Mall stretching toward the sunset. Weldon is in town to do a TV program on the Library of Congress. "Admirablr," he said.
"Years ago," said Shahn, "Hew Welson came to Roosevelt to film a program on my husband. We had a week of unbelievable laughter. When he speaks about the Crown, and about things adjacent to it, he can be a very, very funny man."
Joe Rauh, the Washington attorney, and Fred Friendly, once of CBS, spoke about the old days. "Ben Shahn was blacklisted, you know.Then they dragged him up here to complain about his art. When I see that title on the wall - 'Homage to Ben Shahn' here - well, it's more than one can take."