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PRINT September 1995

ARSHILE GORKY: HOW MY MOTHER’S EMBROIDERED APRON UNFOLDS IN MY LIFE, 1944

ARSHILE GORKY’S MOTHER, Lady Shushanik der Marderosian, belonged to a distinguished Armenian family that could trace its origins back to the fifth century A.D. She was born in 1880 in Vosdan, a town just to the south of Lake Van in what is now eastern Turkey, in a valley of rushing streams and poplar groves. Just to the east of Vosdan stood the ancestral monastery (or vank) of the der Marderosians. At the time of Gorky’s birth, in 1904, nearly 40 of his maternal ancestors lay buried at the vank, under elaborately carved tombstones. In later life he referred to his mother as “the last breath of Van nobility.” She was his first teacher, and she seems to have been determined that her son should become an artist.

It is important to remember that when Gorky arrived in America, in 1920, he was already heir to an ancient artistic tradition, one richly represented in the immediate vicinity of his

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