Malcah Zeldis, a Detroit native, spent her early adult years in Israel, moved to New York in 1958, began working as a teacher's aide, and took up painting around 1960. Zeldis has acknowledged influences ranging from the Flemish masters to Haitian folk art.
Tom Patterson Contemporary Folk Art: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum (New York and Washington, D.C.: Watson-Guptill Publications, in cooperation with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2001)
Malcah Zeldis felt that she just “wasn’t talented enough” to paint as a young girl (Julia Weissman, “Malcah Zeldis: A Jewish Folk Artist in the American Tradition,” The National Jewish Monthly, September 1975). When she was eighteen, she moved to Israel to live on a kibbutz and painted a few small images during her free time. A well-known Israeli artist, Aaron Giladi, praised her work and encouraged her to paint larger canvases. She was so overwhelmed by this, however, that she stopped painting altogether. (Willa S. Rosenberg, “Malcah, Her Life,” The Clarion, Summer 1988) In 1958, Zeldis returned to the United States and settled in Brooklyn. Her confidence in her art grew and she began to create bigger, bolder paintings based on childhood memories, historical figures, and family events.