It is said that art reflects life, but I disagree. For some, art is life. It is as essential as air and as potent a medicine as any other. For Deltona artist Morris Wiener, art is light within darkness.
Wiener celebrated his 87th birthday this year, and in that time has found a way to dabble in just about every artistic medium you can imagine. From painting, to woodworking, to making sculptures, Wiener has been tinkering and expressing himself all his life. He’s taught art classes for more than 40 years, sold his work at art fairs and flea markets in DeLand and Daytona Beach for over 35 years; he even had an art show on Channel 15 a decade ago. And after a lifetime of creating, he has more than a few stories to share.
“I’ve always had an interest in art. Even at a very early age. Before I was going to school and before I was able to write, I was already drawing some of the cartoons that were in the newspapers at that time,” Wiener said.
When he was a child, his stepfather built him a desk. He sat with his dad in his grandfather’s shed and watched as he made something out of virtually nothing, and it absolutely enchanted him.
“That planted a seed in me. I said, ‘My God, if you can make stuff like that with barely any tools at all, and some rusty old nails, then that’s something.’ That hooked me for life,” Wiener said.
From there, his propensity for tinkering took off. He started dabbling with tools and scrap materials and made toys for his cousin and the neighborhood children to play with. He always had a flock of kids following him around, waiting to see what he might make next.
Wiener’s family came from humble beginnings, but they always found a way to get by, usually via their own inventiveness. But their story certainly wasn’t a happy-go-lucky fairy tale. They faced their fair share of hardships and then some.
Fleeing persecution, Weiner’s mother left Russia with her younger siblings on a ship to meet their father in Canada, and in the process she suffered a great deal of trauma.
“They killed Jews in Russia in those days,” Wiener said. “They didn’t have any love for them.”
His family came to Canada looking for a better life, but they soon learned that hatred wasn’t so easily escapable.
“Even when she got here she was always persecuted in those days,” Wiener said. “After they got on the ship, they were on their own, and that’s when the nightmare started … It reflected throughout her life.”
Wiener understood that she was haunted by the horrors of her past. He could relate; he had his own horrors to contend with.
“They threw stones at us. I got beat up on the way to school for many years in Canada,” Morris said while recounting the prejudice he faced growing up. “I know what persecution can do to a family. I’ve seen it.”
For years, he struggled to find work in early adulthood due to his religious affiliation.
“I couldn’t get jobs very often,” Wiener said. “Finally I started putting down ‘no religion.’”
But he always found a way to make ends meet. He’d build furniture like his stepfather taught him to. He’d paint and sell art after his mother bought him an art kit as a child, which likewise inspired him. He never stopped creating, until finally he was able to stop working full time and devote his life to making and selling and teaching art.
He met his wife, Rita, when she came to work for him in his studio, and they soon fell in love. Even now, they are every bit as in love as they were when they first got together over 50 years ago.
“I could tell you stories about her that would make you weep; you’d never stop crying from Page 1 of all the things that she’s done,” Morris Wiener said.
But discrimination followed him even in their relationship. His wife’s family is Catholic, and when they found out she was dating a Jew, it didn’t go well.
She finally told her father after we’d been together for 15 years in hiding,” Wiener said. “He wanted to kill me.” Little by little, though, her family came around. Together, they went through great lengths to confront their families and help them unlearn the racist and antisemitic attitudes that had been taught to them. Morris formed a relationship with Rita’s family, and ultimately they grew to love him.
Though Morris has seen his share of hardship, he never let it consume him. All his life, he has used his art to find his way out of the darkness and into a community of like-minded people. Through it, he met the love of his life, and established his prolific career.
These days, his house is absolutely wall-to-wall with his creations, from model boats and airplanes to furniture, to art, stained glass windows, children’s toys, you name it. Everything he makes is approached with painstaking attention to detail, and it’s all personally handcrafted. And, many of his pieces are named after his wife.
Morris’ outlook on life is so deeply connected to his approach to art. Though he’d have every right, he never let the pain of his past make him bitter. Rather, he fervently turned all that turmoil into something beautiful that others can enjoy. One look at any of the model ships he made, undoubtedly the pride and joy of his vast collection of work, and you can begin to understand how much care and passion this artist approaches love and life with.
Catch Morris Wiener at one of his classes or see his exhibit at The Hub on Canal in New Smyrna Beach to see his amazing work for yourself.