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Eli Bornstein was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1922. He studied for a period at the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago, but received his Bachelor of Science (1945) and Master of Science (1954) degrees from the University of Wisconsin. He also attended the Academie Montmarte of Fernand Leger (1951) and the Academie Julian (1952) in Paris. After teaching at the Milwaukee School of Arts (1943–47) and the University of Wisconsin in (1949), Bornstein became professor emeritus of fine arts at the University of Saskatchewan and lived in Saskatoon ever since. He served as Head of the University Department of Art from 1963–72. Upon his retirement in 1990, he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Letters.

Eli Bornstein is best known for abstract three-dimensional works, which he terms “structurist reliefs.” Structurist Art is a post-war trend towards geometric abstraction. Bornstein contributed to the recognition of the genre internationally, through articles published in The Structurist, an international art journal he founded in 1960 and edited until 2010.

Bornstein’s abstract reliefs explore the interaction of forms and colors in space and light. Like structures observed in nature, his structurist reliefs, under the changing effects of light and movement, offer the viewer a constantly renewed visual experience. The work was designed so its appearance would change in response to daily shifts in sunlight and shadow, as well as seasonal variations.

Bornstein’s work reflects his interests in both natural and built environments. He has been quoted as saying “Science deals with one aspect of reality, and art with another…I think they complement one another.” Among his awards is the 1968 Allied Arts Medal from the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada. A scale model of his Wascana Centre artwork has recently been acquired by the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal for its permanent collection.

Eli Bornstein is represented in the National Gallery of Canada, as well as numerous other public and private collections. His works have been shown internationally in both Canada and the United States. His large-scale commissions include an abstract construction for the Winnipeg airport (1962) and a four-part vertical construction for Regina’s Wascana Centre Authority (1984). Bornstein’s 15-foot aluminum construction, “The Tree of Knowledge,” was commissioned by the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) and installed in downtown Saskatoon in 1957. It has since become widely used as a symbol of the STF and is a feature of its new building on Arlington Avenue.

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