Miriam Ickowitz Laufer was born in 1918 in Poland and grew up in Berlin (Germany). Her father abandoned the family when she was very young. Her mother placed her and her brother, Leo, at Ahava, a progressive Jewish orphanage in Berlin. At Ahava, she designed stage sets for their theater productions and worked in the art studio. In 1934, when Laufer was 16, the Jewish children's home had to leave Germany. The group emigrated to Palestine, settling outside Haifa. From 1936-37, Laufer studied graphics with Hermann Struck and painting with Zvi Mairovich.
In 1938, Laufer entered Bezalel Art School in Jerusalem on a scholarship. She studied graphics with Joseph Budko and painting with Mordechai Ardon, who had studied at the Bauhaus. She began to receive recognition for her work. In 1941, she graduated from Bezalel and married Sigmund Laufer, a fellow artist and designer. She worked as a designer in Tel Aviv from 1942-47. Laufer became the only woman working for the British Army in Palestine, lettering signs in Greek, Urdu, Polish, Hebrew, Arabic, English, and French.
Miriam and Sigmund Laufer emigrated to America in 1947, settling in New York City, where they continued to pursue their art. She had two daughters, Susan and Abigail. Laufer worked as a calligrapher, illustrator, and graphic designer, also teaching these skills.
Laufer had seven solo shows of her paintings, prints, and drawings; most were at the Phoenix Gallery in New York. Her first solo show there was in 1962 on Tenth Street. She exhibited with them over a period of twenty years, and was also included in many group shows starting in 1951. She also exhibited in Provincetown, Mass, where she spent summers with her family. Her artwork received critical recognition during her lifetime (see bibliography). During the early 1960s, she taught painting and drawing at New York University. In the late 1960s, she became involved with the women's movement and was an early supporter of the feminist art movement. At age 52, she returned to school at Brooklyn College and received a B.A., magna cum laude, in 1973. She died in 1980.
In 2006, there was a solo show of her paintings along with the paintings of her daughter Susan Bee, Seeing Double, at A.I.R. Gallery in NYC. A catalog with an essay by Johanna Drucker was published for that show. Seeing Double was reviewed in The Brooklyn Rail, Art in America, and The Forward. A retrospective exhibition was held at the Phoenix Gallery in 1981 in NYC. A comprehensive catalog was published at the time of that exhibition with an essay by Diana Manister.
A solo retrospective exhibition of her artwork, Views and Vignettes, the Works of Miriam Laufer, is at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum in August 2016. The show runs from August 12-October 16, 2016 and is accompanied by a full color catalog with an essay by the art historian Maika Pollack and an introduction by the curator Johanna Drucker, as well as essays by Susan Bee, Abigail Laufer, and Robert D. Speiser.