Leslie Lovell, Savannah GA

Aaron Birnbaum (1895-1998) - Self-Taught/Folk Art

Aaron Birnbaum, a New York dress manufacturer took up painting age of 70, after the death of his wife, Sadie. To help ease his loneliness, his daughter, Lorraine Pearce, brought him paints, recalling that he had sketched the dresses he produced.

Fame came some 30 years later when the Museum of American Folk Art celebrated his art at a party at the museum for his 100th birthday. His paintings were reproduced in the museum's Folk Art magazine and were shown with great success six months later at the Outsider Art Fair in Manhattan by Kerry Schuss, a Manhattan dealer who had represented him since 1986.

Mr. Birnbaum was one of the last of the 20th-century ''memory painters'' who, like Grandma Moses and Morris Hirschfield, recorded romanticized scenes from their youth in bright colors reflecting an optimistic spirit. In his work, Mr. Birnbaum merged incidents of his childhood in Eastern Europe with the settings of houses, streets and bridges of Brooklyn, where he had lived since 1913. He worked in oil or acrylic on paper, wood, glass and tin.

''Aaron Birnbaum was not a one-note Charlie as an artist,'' said Gerard C. Wertkin, director of the Museum of American Folk Art. ''He was able to use painting to record memories and also the shapes of things. There is playfulness and an abstract quality that is most appealing and also an edgy seriousness to his work.''

Even at 100, Mr. Birnbaum was a powerful presence, all voice, lively eyes and a ready smile, as he welcomed visitors to his one-bedroom apartment. A small man, 4 foot 9, he painted daily in the living room, perched on a stool. When showing his work to a visitor, he moved easily about the room pulling out examples of his favorite paintings.