Riva Wolf was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1933 as Riva Cukier. As an infant, her family moved to Paris, France. She had many brothers and sisters and her father was a Rabbi and her mother a Rebbetzen and head of the household. When the specter of the Nazis began to engulf Europe, the Cukier family decided to send Riva, who was the youngest, out of the city for safekeeping. First they sent her to “France Libre” and eventually to a safe haven for Jewish children in Switzerland with a Christian organization that was saving them from annihilation. She never saw most of her family again. The only survivors in her immediate family were she and her three older sisters – Betty, Rose, and Helene -- who all survived the war, emigrated to America, got married and had children, and two of them had grandchildren. The documentary “A Knock at the Door: A True Story of the Holocaust in France” by Greg McPherson is about the Cukier family during the war (see EVENTS tab on this website).
Eventually Riva and her three sisters emigrated as refugees to New York and the tri-state area. Riva became a fashion artist for bread and butter and continued her life as an artist. She met Don Wolf and was engaged three weeks later, got married, and honeymooned in Niagara Falls. She had two children in 1959 and 1963, Gary (Gidon) and Glen (Gershon), and settled first in Roslyn on Long Island and then Northport. Riva held down the fort and painted in her studio at home while the kids attended public school and Don taught middle school in Syosset. The Wolf family regularly took excursions to visit the extended family on both sides in Long Beach, Island Park, and Connecticut.
In 1969, they rented out the house that they bought and moved to London, England for two years with Dad teaching 6th grade Social Studies and Mom teaching Art with the kids attending school there at The American School in St. John's Wood, London. The family rented a flat first in Hempstead and then in Belzize Park and during the summer went off on excursions to other European countries and Israel. They visited France, Holland, Spain, Portugal, Majorca, Ibiza, Greece, Corfu, Crete, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and the former Yugoslavia where she painted an early masterpiece, The Lady of Debrovnik. One summer the family had a car called the Morris Minor and they took that car on a ferry boat and drove all over Spain and Portugal, schlepping Glen along while Gary attended summer camp in Switzerland. After the second school year concluded, it was time to go back to Long Island so Dad would not lose his tenure.
When the Wolf family arrived at the airport in London, they and the other passengers realized that the tickets they had bought were fake (!) so they camped out in the airport in protest. At one point, some of the protesters decided to visit the American Embassy and Glen – merely ten years old at the time – volunteered to go with them to represent the children. Don decided that he would go as well to keep an eye on Glen. When the American Embassy declared that they could not assist us in any way except to allow Don to call his own mother, Don got pissed off and became the de facto leader of the protest. One notable event during this protest was that Glen held a sign that said: “Repatriate the Passengers and Bring the Boys Back From Vietnam.” This image and the whole ordeal was front page international news for the duration, and on TV as well. (Back then that actually meant something.) The good people of London adopted all the passengers and periodically invited them into their homes for food, showers, and laundry. The Airport Administration did nothing except donate some sandwiches on a cart at one point. (Wankers!)
In the end, South African mega-corporation Wimpy flew the passengers home by chartering a British Caledonian 747 for them. Glen had a much better time living in the airport than his parents did, but looking back, Glen notes that it's quite a story to tell at parties. In the following year, life went back to normal in Northport. The boys came home from Vietnam and Nixon resigned in shame. Being both Jews and liberals in 1973 put them in a minority in Northport, but at least they got to say, “Oy, I told you so.”
In the summer of 1978, the Wolfs took another vacation in Europe, revisiting the UK and also going to Cornwall where Riva made pen-and-ink etchings of the sights and people there. They headed back at the end of August, this time carefully confirming the validity of their airline tickets. In the ensuing years, Riva attended the Art Student's League to study pastel and painting, studying with Robert Brackman in Connecticut, while also running an art studio in downtown Northport with three other local artist ladies. They taught art and painted at the studio on Scudder Avenue and lived the typical life of a middle class white American secular Jewish family in New York suburbia.
With Gary graduating from high school a year early and shuffling off to (University of) Buffalo, New York to study Urban Planning and International Relations (and then off to Northwestern and then off to Hebrew University in Israel) and Glen hitchhiking around the country for several years in order to party, chase girls and play guitar, Riva and Don sold the house and moved to Huntington to a small apartment. Their subsequent travels took them to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, Mexico City, Israel again, and France again. Riva literally followed in the footsteps of The Great Impressionists, sketching along the way. Eventually she settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Albuquerque, and finally in Salem, Oregon where she resides today. Her art style during that period changed from generally Chiaroscuro to Fauvist, the latter meaning “wild animal” in French which is a brightly-colored impressionist style. In Glen's words, this blending of brilliant color with expressive movement that is the hallmark of the Fauvist style “is where Van Gogh meets Dr. Suess.” Also during this period, Don became a professional photographer and the two of them started doing shows mostly in Santa Fe and other places in New Mexico like Albuquerque and Taos and exhibited in Heckshire Park, Long Island, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and even in France and Israel.
Riva is heralded critically in the art world. Art critic John Villani summarized Riva's career in an article in Focus Santa Fe (April/May 1992). Villani wrote: “This artist's vision transports viewers to a special place, one where the size and shapes of buildings and the color and texture of roadbeds are vaguely familiar, yet recognizably the product of a skilled expressionist's imagination.” Another notable art critic assessed her work as thus: “Wolf's unbridled interpretations of the architecture and countryside of the Southwest, and her brilliant colors are a powerful vehicle for communicating her reactions and allowing others to share in exactly the same experience.” Riva's piece “A Knock At the Door” is hanging in the Yad VaShem Museum in Jerusalem. Riva also created a Holocaust-themed series for the debut of the movie “Shoah”, the pieces of which reproductions thereof will be shown at current and subsequent events and online (see EVENTS and GALLERY tabs on this website). The Wolf's art and photography endeavors, “ACoupleOfWolfs” and “WolfStudios2002”, continued into their retirement in Albuquerque until Don passed into the next world in 2015 and Riva moved to Oregon in order to enjoy new environment and also to live near Glen. She is an active member of Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Salem and Temple Beth Shalom.
Donald F. Wolf 1934 – 2015
Don was born to Maxine and Sol Wolf in 1934 in New York. His father was a comedian and businessman, and his mother was a housewife and dancer/vaudeville showgirl. He was Bar Mitzvahed in Long Beach, Long Island, New York at age 13. His Grandmother, Kate Sheckwitz, was the one who brought him to Temple and helped get him prepared for his Bar Mitzvah. He had two older sisters, Carol and Iris, who presently reside in Florida and California. Don joined the army when he was 17 years old and was deployed to Korea. He was honorably discharged and returned home unharmed. Sometime later he met his fiancee, Riva Cukier, and they married right away. He went to university in Albany NY on the G.I. Bill and eventually became a middle school teacher in Syossett, Long Island. He was many many students' favorite teacher, the first teacher there to wear blue jeans to school, and was known for using very creative methods for teaching social studies and English. He also taught two years at The American School in London.
He and Riva raised two children, Gary and Glen (Gidon and Gershon). Gary presently resides in New Mexico and Glen in Oregon. Dons adventures took him to Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, North Carolina, California, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, Mexico, Canada, Guatemala, Israel, Egypt, Great Britain, France, Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Spain, and Portugal, among other places. What began as holiday photography soon became an art form, as his shots were oogled world wide. In those days Don did much of his own dark room work, personally developing and printing the shots, but never ever cropping them.
Don spent a considerable amount of time in New York, London, Israel, France, San Miguel de Allende before he settled in New Mexico - first Santa Fe then Rio Rancho and finally Albuquerque.
Don was extremely supportive of his wife Riva's art career, often matting and framing and helping with shows. Often they did shows together, exhibiting both of their portfolios.
His engaging photographs have been exhibited in New York Santa Fe, Taos, Albuquerque, San Miguel de Allende, and Jerusalem. His photographs will also be displayed posthumously in Salem, Oregon. He has appeared seven times in the Photographers Forum Best of Photography Annual. He has won numerous awards, including at the Salmagundi National Photography Exhibition in New York. The Santa Fe Reporter, in recommending a local show, wrote that Wolf is “primarily a street photographer. He has a keen eye for the incongruous and presents his subjects in a subtle, intelligent, and surreal light.” John Villani wrote in the Santa Fe New Mexican, “Wolf's ease with his art form and subject matter are clearly evident throughout his work. And his sense of composition, like that of a trained artist, speaks volumes for the interesting aspects of everyday life.”
Donald Wolf was a husband, father, brother, uncle, cousin, teacher, auctioneer, antique collector, numismatist, world traveler, photographic artist, friend, and veteran. Raised in a show business family, he developed a tremendous sense of humor, which remained with him until the very end. In his entire life he never made an enemy, never had a fight, and never paid a penny of interest on his credit card. The life of every party and very get-together, he always left in his wake a trail of smiles and laughter, enriching the lives of everyone he ever encountered. He is sorely missed by all.
Please enjoy this collection of photographs and please sign up for our mailing list for updates because we will always be adding more. Don's Yartzeit (the day he moved on to the Next World) was the 15th of Tevet. (December 27th, 2015, in the morning.)
If you are in the Oregon area, please check out his upcoming yartzeit minyan (memorial service) and Photo Show. Details are under UPCOMING EVENTS, or just sign up for the mailing list.
Remembering Donald J. Wolf
Because of the large age difference between us (12 years), it wasn’t really possible for Don and me to be close when I was young. I was probably only seven when he moved out of the house. This did enable me, though, to worship my big brother from afar. He was like a god to me. As far as I could tell he was perfect: tall, handsome, smart, funny, talented and charismatic. I had little-girl crushes on most of his friends, who were also a pretty good looking group. One of my sisterly privileges was being allowed to scratch Don’s back, which wasn’t easy because of all the hair.
I was 12 when he met and married Riva, and when he brought her home I was totally enchanted. I thought she was so lovely, and loved her beautiful voice and charming French accent. I remember going with her and my mother to the dressmaker’s house to fit her wedding dress. I felt he’d found the perfect mate. I was thrilled to become an aunt, and always thought Don must be an amazing father.
When I went away to college and was going through some self-awareness/growing pains I turned to my brother for advice. He wrote me two letters, the first making light of my problems in a funny, semi-mocking way, and the second completely serious, helpful and kind, letting me know he’d always be there for me. The envelopes were numbered so I would read them in the correct order. With their wit and wisdom, these letters were a perfect example of two sides of his nature.
Distance kept us mostly apart in adulthood, although we always kept in touch. We did live close to each other in my last years of college at Stony Brook and I have fond memories of going to the Northport house. Later, Robert, Sabrina, Heather, Dino and I visited Don and Riva in Santa Fe, and were privileged to meet some of their friends there and others when we made a trip to San Miguel de Allende. Always, Don was admired for his photography skills and loved by his friends for being the life of the party.
Two years ago Robert and I made a visit to Albuquerque. Don already had dementia, and though it hadn’t fully progressed I was fairly certain that he didn’t know who I was. He seemed so sweet and childlike. As we were leaving I leaned into Gary’s car, kissed my big brother goodbye, and said, “I love you.” He replied, “The feeling is mutual.” I’ll never know if he recognized me, but I love and find comfort in that those were the last words we ever exchanged.
Unless I'm mistaken, I only met Don a handful of times, all many years ago. But his photographs have been a familiar presence in your home since my earliest memories of you: indeed, along with Riva's paintings they signify, for me, the visual space of my second home even as that home moved from Bobelaine Dr. to Princeton Dr. to Yulupa Circle. And that visual presence holds a warm space in my heart, as the photos depict a warmth of color, an eye for beauty, and a zest for life that I associate with my second mother and her family.
Please include this in Don's memorial. Gaby happens to be one of the funniest people I know (next to my father and brother, of course!)
From Carol’s dearest friend, Gaby Laub Spiegal
For me, meeting my friend Carol's brother Donny ... it was “CRUSH AT FIRST SIGHT." I was 13 years old and I am sitting in the Wolf’s living room and in walks Donny ... tall, dark and handsome with a charming killer smile ... and then he started to talk and was so funny! I had recently come to the United States from Europe and hardly spoke English, but if he had proposed, I would have been able to say “YES!”
Donny made everyone laugh, and his warm personality drew people in. I did not get to see him much in later years, but knew that he was happily married and had many interests. I admired his writing and photography.
My heart goes out to Riva, Gary, Glen, Carol and Iris. He will live on in their memories, and he shall remain in mine also.