About Mort Epstein
Mort Epstein has had a lifetime of involvement in social and political causes and in artistic pursuits as a designer, woodworker and teacher. From his start as the son of New York City immigrants, to his 95th year in 2012, Mort has covered a lot of territory, producing creative work along the way.
Mort attended WPA art and cartooning classes in Manhattan. At the WPA school he was exposed to radical political conversations typical of the Depression years of the 1930s. Mort became committed to equal rights and opportunity for all. These concepts have been the guiding principles of his life. In 1937 Mort attended The Cooper Union School of Art. At Cooper, Mort developed his life-long commitment to the design principles of directness, simplicity and the Bauhaus idea that “form follows function.”
Mort entered the U.S. Army in 1942, where he spent three years as a designer and model maker. While on leave in the nation’s capital he passed a storefront with a sign “National Committee to Abolish the Poll Tax” in its window. Curious, he went inside and learned that poor people were disenfranchised by a tax that, as a Northerner, he had never heard of. Immediately he volunteered to help in the cause, and thus began a lifetime of action for equal rights and civil liberties.
Strong advocates for civil rights in the 1950s, Mort and his wife Marion were active locally in the movement for racial equality. They provided graphic design and artwork, participating in marches and other public demonstrations. In the 1960s and 70s Mort’s political involvement was three-fold. He was active in the fair housing movement which assisted African American families who wanted to find homes in segregated white areas of greater Cleveland. He participated in the anti-Vietnam War/pro-peace movement. Mort was also a member of the Cleveland Committee on Soviet Anti-Semitism, helping reduce restrictions on Jews in the Soviet Union and, ultimately, led to the possibility of their emigration. Community involvement in the 1980s included serving as president of the board of The Art Studio at MetroHealth Medical Center. Mort remains actively involved in the ACLU.
Mort started an independent graphic design company based in the Old Arcade, called Community Graphic. He had many commercial accounts, and provided below cost or free graphic services for social service agencies on tight budgets. Mort joined forces with John Szilagyi and formed Epstein & Szilagyi, Designers, Inc., which thrived for 21 years. When Epstein & Szilagyi disbanded in the 1980s, Mort formed another partnership, a firm known today as Epstein Design Partners Inc. Celebrating its 50 th anniversary in 2012, Epstein Design continues to be an influential and well-respected firm in the city of Cleveland.
Beginning in the late 1960s, Mort also taught in the Graphic Design Department at the Cleveland Institute of Art, helping develop a program where advanced student designed communications for area non-profit organizations.
Mort retired from graphic design gradually, and spent more time and energy doing woodworking, creating unique tables, cabinets, sculptures, and the occasional political sign in his midtown Cleveland workshop. He became involved with Habitat for Humanity, not only as a graphic designer and photographer helping the local group with their printed materials but as a carpenter volunteer helping build houses in Cleveland’s Central neighborhood and in rural Mississippi.
Mort continues to be active in various political and social causes. Mort was honored in 2009 with the Cleveland Arts Prize, Lifetime Achievement Award.