Early Years

If Xenia Deitchman had not given Lily Ente her lump of clay, I am sure she would have found her way to art, as the talent and need for expression was there, but Xenia hastened the way.” —Paulette Esrig

Clamp, Brian Paul, “Lily Ente . . . Listening to the Stone,” Woodstock Artists Association, 2001

Paris to Cuba     New York At Last     Sea Gate

Russia to Paris

Born Lena Deitchman on or about  May 5, 1905 (the exact date is unknown), Lily, as she came to be known, was the third child, first daughter, of Sholom and Anna Deitchman of Dunaevtsy, a small town in the Ukraine, a part of the Russian Empire. Just prior to the start of the First World War, Sholom Deitchman left for the United States to build a better future for his family.

Ill-fated events prevented Sholom from carrying out his plan to bring his entire family to the United States. Soon after his departure, the First World War commenced with Russia and Germany as enemies. The Russian Revolution in 1917, causing Russia to cease hostilities with Germany, resulted in civil unrest. This, as well as the War, forced many of the residents of Dunaevtsy to flee or go into hiding. In addition, Anti-Semitic pogroms perpetrated by White Russians shattered the daily life of Jewish families. Often separated, the Deitchman family hid in gardens, cellars and chicken coops to improve the chances that at least some of them would survive. The memories of these dislocations and the atrocities she witnessed would haunt Lily the rest of her life.

Immediately after the War, Anna Deitchman and her children were able to illegally enter Romania. From there they were successful in obtaining transit papers to emigrate to France, living in Paris for a year and a half.

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Paris to Cuba

Young Lily Ente in Cuba

Young Lily Ente in Cuba

In Paris, Lily grew into womanhood, became an avid reader and developed a passion for the arts. She explored museums and became fascinated with the cultural life of the City. There is a story of how  Ente was brought to tears by a sculpture of Michelangelo’s and she vividly recalled multiple visits to a folk art museum that featured works constructed of wood. It is reasonable to conclude that her experiences in Paris later influenced her life as an artist.

After many years of displacement, Anna Deitchman, Lily (Figure 1) and her three brothers and sister embarked on another journey. In 1923, Sholom Deitchman managed to get transit papers to bring his family to Cuba. They were unable to enter the United States at that time, probably due to newly enacted restrictive U.S. immigration quotas. However, in a few years, it was likely they would be able to immigrate to the United States.

In Cuba, there were fellow immigrants from Russia and Poland. One such immigrant was a young,  handsome man from Poland named Lazar Ente. Lazar was a man of strong convictions. Lily was drawn to him. When her father was finally able to clear the way for the Deitchman family to immigrate to the United States, Lily had to leave Lazar in Cuba, at least temporarily.

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New York at Last

Bronx

Lily Ente c. 1926

Lily Ente c. 1926

Reunited in 1923, the family moved into an apartment provided them as recompense for Sholom Deitchman’s years of menial toil. Lazar and Lily communicated with each other through a constant stream of letters written in Yiddish.

Lily (Figure 2) returned to Cuba in 1926 to become Lazar’s wife. She had to leave him yet again, returning to the U.S. as a married woman. Finally, she was able to get documentation for him to join her legally in the U.S. She traveled to Cuba a second time and both returned to the U.S. a married couple.

In the United States, Lazar worked in ladies fashion, which was a change from his career in Cuba where he was a custom tailor of men’s clothing for the rich and powerful. Lily decorated women’s hats. At one point, she was asked to design the hats themselves. It was this latter experience that gave Lily Ente her first opportunity to explore space and form. 

In 1932, a daughter, Paulette, was born to Lily and Lazar in the midst of the Depression. Six weeks after her birth, the Deitchman family asked the Ente’s to move in one of the four apartments in a Bronx building to avoid having the building go into foreclosure. They remained in this building for nine years.

At one point, the Ente’s rented an apartment for the summer in Sea Gate, a gated community in Coney Island, Brooklyn. They found the location agreeable and decided to make Sea Gate their permanent residence.

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Sea Gate

One summer, during World War II, Lily’s sister-in-law, Xenia Deitchman, came to visit Lily and Lazar. Xenia was living in the Bronx with the Deitchman family while her husband, Joe, was serving in the U.S. Army. She was a highly educated kindergarten teacher and  bohemian, who enjoyed the arts. Xenia is responsible for that magical piece of clay arriving at the Ente home.

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Brian Paul Clamp’s essay, Lily Ente . . . Listening to the Stone, Woodstock Artists Association, 2001, was an invaluable resource for the creation of Lily Ente’s biographical section on this site.

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To purchase a detailed account of Lily Ente’s history and works,
please contact Paulette Esrig in Woodstock at bernpaulet@aol.com
for a copy of Lily Ente . . . Listening to the Stone.

  • Mixed Gallery

    Lily Ente with Laughing Form 5 Young Lily Ente in Cuba Head, Lily Ente, Black Belgian marble Noon 3, Lily Ente, White Italian marble Abstraction 4, Lily Ente, Black Belgian marble Night 11, Lily Ente, Black Belgian marble
  • Maintaining a legacy…

    Recently published Woodstock Times article by Paul Smart illuminates Lily Ente's complex history and includes new quotes by her daughter Paulette Esrig. “Art truly saved her life. She had had a horrific childhood. She had enormous drive.” To read full article click here