What Lee Casper started, JEVS Human Services stepped in and finished.
The “Art for JEVS” showcase at the Old City Jewish Arts Center on Oct. 6 was dedicated to Casper, a JEVS director since 1985 who passed away in July.
The showcase featured Casper’s own watercolor pieces and works by acclaimed artists Wilmot Heitland (a prolific illustrator for top magazines in the ’30s and ’40s) and Mac Fisher, as well as work from friends of JEVS Mina Smith, Ellen Wasserson and Ben Zuckerman.
The event aimed to sell the art and donate the money to JEVS as well as benefit the new fund set up in Casper’s name, the Lee Casper Youth Innovation Fund at JEVS Human Services, which will continue his legacy into the next generation.
In the early ’60s, Casper was a student and friend of Fisher, who taught Casper how to paint at the Fleisher Art Memorial.
Casper took a 20-year hiatus before coming back to the paintbrush, growing his family and career in between.
When Fisher was nearing the end of his life in 1999 due to a major stroke, Casper helped him arrange the sale of his house and property.
“In the process, I discovered all of the Heitland works, hidden away under piles of furniture, in the attic,” read a sign at the event written by Casper explaining the backstory. “When I told Mac of the find, he said he’d forgotten that Heitland had left them to Mac at the conclusion of Heitland’s last visit to Mac’s home.”
All of the found Heitland work has been unpublicized until now.
Casper put together this show as a fundraising opportunity for JEVS, but he passed away in July at 91.
“He was , but to tell you, we were all shocked,” JEVS Chief Development Officer Nancy Astor Fox said.
JEVS asked the family what they wanted to do about the show, and they decided to continue what he started, but in his memory to celebrate his legacy.
“He was passionate about many things in his life, including JEVS and art,” Fox said. “He came up with the idea last spring that he was going to combine his loves.”
The pieces will be at the arts center throughout October and are available for purchase.
Within the first 30 minutes of the event, they’d already made a sale.
“We know he’d be really excited to have this event and to have the whole month of the holidays here,” she added. “When you have someone that makes such an impact, you want to remember them.”
Fox called Casper “a renaissance man.”
“It’s all about leaving a legacy and making the world a better place, so whatever’s raised will go to help us in our work,” she said.
asper’s son Alan recalled his father’s relationship with Fisher.
“Mac had been his teacher at Fleisher and did two other very important things for Lee and for our family: First, he introduced him to Dante and Luigi’s, which has been our family’s preferred Italian venue in South Philadelphia ever since,” Alan Casper laughed. “And he also got my father back into sailing.”
Lee Casper had a passion for building — he built four sailboats, a cruiser and a canoe. This summer before he died, he finished an environmentally green sailboat.
Ben Zuckerman, a JEVS officer who helped plan the event with Casper, offered some of his own photographs for sale as well.
“I was never and have never been a professional photographer. I was a lawyer for 40-some years — I’m retired now — but I was always doing photography,” he said. “I was always experimenting and playing with photography.”
His love for photography grew out of his love for travel. He and his wife have traveled to more than 50 countries, always with a camera in hand.
“Starting to take photographs around the world got me really more interested in taking photographs in Philadelphia,” he noted.
Casper suggested Zuckerman put his art on sale for the event.
“This is really humbling in a way because I know the artists whose work is being exhibited here were really skilled, talented, highly respected artists. So to have my photographs up in the same room as their artwork is humbling and it also is a thrill,” he said.
Zuckerman has been with JEVS for 25 years, holding several different positions on the board, as a board chair, the head of fundraising and, more recently, the head of planned gifts.
He worked on many JEVS projects with Casper, too.
“[Casper] was multitalented. He could do anything. But you’d never know it talking with him. He was very quiet and self-effacing. He never tooted his own horn,” Zuckerman said.
“He was such a unique man. I’m really glad that I knew him.”