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Zena Axselrod Kaplan

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Zena Axselrod Kaplan 1920 2009 PHILADELPHIA, PA Zena Axselrod Kaplan died on March 31, at home from complications of Alzheimer's surrounded by members of her loving family. Zena Axselrod was born Nov. 25, 1920, in New York City to Fanny ne Pollack and Meyer Axselrod. She grew up in Glen Cove, L.I. in a family that revered music, literature and the arts. Rigorous intellectual study and freedom in thought were encouraged. The family was secular in nature but spiritually and culturally aligned with Jewish life and political affinities. Life was dramatically altered for Zena during the Gr eat Depression. Her father's business was failing and the family's circumstances were greatly reduced. Zena as a young adolescent, was startled to find that her ballet classes and her piano lessons ended. The legacy of the Depression never left Zena throughout her long life. Zena was a life long learner. She thrived in academia and graduated salutatorian from high school as well as Adelphi University in 1942. She had wanted to attend newly formed Bennington College, but the scholarship offered covered tuition only. She met Ted Kaplan at a dance on L.I. He pursued her ardently and she finally relented to go on a date with him as he promised that he would take her to The NYC Ballet at the old Metropolitan in NYC. He picked her up in a truck and they drove into the city. He had been so nervous that he had forgotten the tickets at home. Luckily his father located the tickets and read the seat numbers over the phone to the box office. Zena eloped with Theodore Kaplan in 1942. During World War II she worked in the Signal Corps. Her husband Ted, enlisted as a Private and left as a Captain serving in the Army Airways Communications Service (AACS) in the South Pacific theatre. They settled in Smithtown, Long Island, and began a family. Zena pursued and received her M.A. in Political Sciences from Hofstra University in 1960. Her thesis concentrated on Nigeria's post- colonial transition. She posited that internecine tribal wars would delay nation building and democracy. (it was astutely prescient) During this period a very strange event happened. Zena and Ted attended a studio art class (as Ted had an interest in architectural drafting). The teacher came up to Zena and told her encouragingly that she had something "there". Zena's lifelong passion was spawned in that one comment. She received a scholarship to the Arts Student's League in NYC and thus her formal education began. The art scene in N.Y., was electrifying. The repository of learning about art and life in museums, galleries and happenings, was limitless. Throughout Zena's life she worked in her studio. She mined her life in color, texture and composition. She considered herself an abstract painter but she also worked in sculpture, ceramics and fabric. She regularly exhibited. Ted had promised Zena when they married that they would travel the world; and travel they did. Ted's adventurous spirit would plan the twice yearly extended trips; curiosity is something they both shared. They traveled to places before they were discovered and exploited by the western or modern world. Some of the memorable highlights were Ecuador+ the Galapagos in 1968 where ,they visited indigenous peoples never exposed to outsiders before, traveling by car throughout Mexico in 1946, playing Scrabble with Fijians during a typhoon and losing (a few years after cannibalism had been outlawed) and going to eastern Europe a long time before the wall fell. They especially loved Italy, Spain and Morocco. Zena was an inveterate story teller. Joy in language and detail pervaded her endless tales, jokes and mimicry . Ted and Zena lived a good life socializing with friends (her parties and dinners were legendary) always inviting others who might not have family or a place to go for Thanksgiving and Passover, her cooking just as eclectic and filled with passion as her painting or the music she was listening to at the time. They traveled on their boat "L'autre Femme" for over twenty years, up and down the eastern seaboard. She gave her time to organizations such as Hadassah, Planned Parenthood, San Diego Art Institute and organizations that were meaningful to her. In the eighties she created lines of handpainted napkins, pillows and tableware. They were sold in exclusive stores such as Bendels in NYC, Neiman- Marcus and others throughout the country. In 1989 Zena and Ted moved to Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., Although away from her beloved NYC, she easily adopted to the sunny climate of southern California. She treasured the warm new friendships that she made in the community and nascent art world. In 2006 her daughter Deborah and husband Mostafa lovingly welcomed Zena into their home in Philadelphia as the diagnosis of Alzheimers was given. Zena leaves behind her husband of 67 years, Ted, their daughter Phyllis Kaplan and granddaughter Diandra Kalish of Sandgate, VT, daughter and son in-law Deborah Kaplan and Mostafa Mouhib of Philadelphia, daughter Barbara Kaplan and grandchildren Reuven and Dora of Denver and sister Jean Bernstein of New York City. She was predeceased by her parents Fanny and Meyer Axselrod, her brother Dr. Edward Axselrod and her sister Doris Bell. She was an extraordinary mother, loving and emotionally present, eternally patient and a hell of a lot of Fun. Life without Zena will not be as rich. FUNERAL NOTICE: Family will gather to remember Zena and will welcome friends at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center in La Jolla, Calif., and at Congregation Beth El in Bennington, Vt., at a later date. In lieu of flowers, a contribution may be made to The Art Student's League of New York, 215 West 57 Street, NY, NY 10019 (re: Zena Kaplan Scholarship Fund for Women)
Published in Bennington Banner on Apr. 2, 2009
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