Graphic designer Pat Hamou first spotted a mug shot of Murder Inc. hit man Abe “Kid Twist” Reles in the New York Daily News about four-and-a-half years ago. Struck by the mobster’s face, he drew a portrait of the Jewish gangster using a rapidograph pen and watercolors just for the heck of it.
But “one project turned into another,” Hamou says, and since then, he’s sketched nearly 50 gangsters from early-20th-century New York’s Jewish organized-crime community, now on display at the DCJCC.
Hamou’s portraits of the Machers (Yiddish for someone who has connections) are adapted from a blend of images of the gangsters that includes profile shots, close-ups and mug shots.
Each of Hamou’s cross-hatched drawings in his “Real Machers” exhibit is accompanied by a detailed description of the gangster’s activities ripe for the Hollywood treatment.
Among the notables is Bald Jack Rose, the Polish-born completely hairless master poker player who later converted to Christianity and became a highly in-demand evangelist on the criminology circuit.
Not much is known about another Macher, Seymour “Blue Jaw” Magoon (his nickname was a result of his perpetual 5 o’clock shadow) whose skeleton was uncovered in the Nevada desert in 2003.
Arnold “The Brain” Rothstein, who bankrolled prohibition speakeasies, was the prototype for the Godfather persona and the basis of a character in the Great Gatsby.
This part of Jewish American history is often overlooked, says Wendy Fergusson, director of the gallery.
Real Machers, she says “exhibits a period in modern history where Jews defied stereotypes and sometimes had more power than police.”
“It’s always in the back of my mind as well that as their activity came to an end, the Holocaust was about to begin,” said Hamou.
Hamou originally intended his artwork for a book project. He created some of the artwork especially for the gallery at the DCJCC.
THE EXHIBITION IS ON VIEW SUNDAY TO THURSDAY, 10 A.M.–10 P.M. and FRIDAYS 10 A.M.-4 P.M., to MAY 17 IN THE ANN LOEB BROFAN GALLERY AT THE D.C. JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER, 16TH & Q STREETS NW. FREE. (202) 518-9400.