Slobodkina began her art education while living in Harbin, Manchuria, where she received private lessons from the Impressionist painter Pavel Goost. Park Bench in Harbin (1927) was painted under his tutelage.
After immigrating to the United States in 1928, Slobodkina enrolled at the National Academy of Design. She felt stymied by its conservative methodology, which stressed classical forms and ideas. Never one to mince words, Slobodkina wrote of the Academy: “[I] hated every minute of its stupefying, senseless, destrucive method of ‘teaching’ art.” The only class that Slobodkina found tolerable was Arthur Sinclair Covey’s composition class.
In Autumnal Procession in Ancient Russia (1929-31) – created to fulfill a composition class assignment – one can already detect Slobodkina’s penchant for flat, abstract forms.