JANUARY 13, 1950
THE CANADIAN JEWISH REVIEW
The Bezalel Museum
By Jeannette Simcha Van Vriesland
(Editor's Note: Jeannette Van Vriesland wrote this piece shortly before she was killed on the last convoy to pass Latrun. Her husband, the Netherlands Consul General, wa* also at one time treasurer of the Jewish Agency and, before kit death, the -manager and the �pint behind the Tel Aviv Port.)
There is in Jerusalem a lively tradition for Shabbat mornings: people go to the Bezalel Museum, set in an old garden in the heart of the town. The Museum is now in its 40th year of existence. It was Prof. Boris Schatz who, in the early days of Zionism, decided that if ever there was to be a Jewish national home, it should have its centre of art. He founded the '!3ezalel" in Jerusalem, which was at the same time the nircleus of a Museum, containing what few pictures Schatz had collected from
his friends, and a School of Arts and Crafts, where young people were taught art and the woodcarv-er's and silversmith's crafts. The Yemenite silver filigree work and the objects of local olive wood furnished the examples which Schatz taught his pupils to adapt to modern Western use.
Schatz, a great pioneer, died after the, first World War. The Bezalel School which he had founded degenerated, the pupils all left it, and silver filigree work and olive wood were manufactured in mass production and exported to all countries, especially America where these objects � whick now have nothing to do with the Bezalel �are still known as "Bezalel work".
But in 1935 the Zionist Organization, which had acquired the ownership of the Bezalel, appointed a
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committee to reorganise this important national institution. A separation between the Bezalel Afu-seum and the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts was effected, both institutions took on Capable and energetic directors and have developed side by side.
The Bezalel Museum's director is Mr. Navkiss. He sees the task of the institution � as of any modern Museum � not only to offer proper space to collections but to be a vital factor in the cultural life of the people. The exhibitions in the Bazalel are always interesting and attract large crowds. At one time the exhibition may be of Old Dutch Art, another time of Jewish painters of the last two centuries � of Yemenite hand-weavings and embroideries, or of Jewish family portraits. Through such exhibitions, and through their manifold activities in the field of Art and Education, the Museum has developed into one of our important cultural institutions.
An interesting feature of the Museum's programme is its annual Exhibition of Arts and Crafts. In the tastefully decorated stands where all the foremost craftsmen of the country display their latest creations, one can make a survey of what the country produces and what progress was made in pottery, in handwoven materials, in leath-erwork and bookbinding, in jewellery and in silversmith's work.
The initiative in this annual Arts and Crafts Exhibition was taken some four years ago. It came at the ricrht moment: at a turning point in the development of crafts, which in a small country like Palestine is an important item of production and export.
Our modern crafts, for the greater part, are an inheritance of persecution: they have been introduced by the immigrants from Germany and Austria. When once the history of our homeland will be written, it will be said that agriculture was established mainly by the settlers from Russia and Eastern Europe. But the German "Aliya" brought to the country such highly skilled trades as production of ladies-clothing .and.leJttfegr^accessories. Almost all the branches displayed at the Exhibition: pottery, bookbinding, metalwork, even most of the weaving, have been brought to the country by the German immigrants of 1933 and afterwards.
This fact of course, makes itself felt. The traditions prevailing in a craft are not so easily stripped off, certainly not if they were such excellent traditions of thorough craftsmanship as Germany used to have. For we should not forget that Germany, from the time of the Middle Ages, has always been the country par excellence of fine craftsmanship.
Palestine craftsmen are of German tradition. But the impact of their new Oriental surroundings made them change their course, as is most clearly and instructively demonstrated by the annual Bezalel exhibitions. From year to year we follow the craftsmen's struggle to strip off their European traditions, to detach themselves from the German background, to assimil-
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ate the forms and traditions of their new Mediterranean surroundings.
For, to say that Palestine is an Oriental country is to misjudge its character. In its flora and fauna, in its art and cultural traditions, in fact in its geographical position Palestine is a Mediterranean country. From olden times on the peoples around the Mediterranean Sea have had common traditional shapes in the objects of daily use, such as the graceful oil jugs of blue Hebron glass which are found in exactly the same shape in the Provence in Southern France. Another example arc the ancient oil lamps of the same shape in Greece and in Judea.
It is the similarity of Nature and its products, of fruit and food and climate in the countries around the Mediterranean which leads to the unity in style and shape of things of daily use. And it is the things of daily use brought into beautiful shape by artists and craftsmen which are displayed in the Bezalel's yearly exhibition.
It is most interesting to observe how the different craftsmen, the potters, the weavers, the bookbinders and printers are passing through the process of "De-Westernisation". A leading potter, Hedwig Grossmann, shows in her vases and pots a strong tendency towards Greek models, in shape as well as in decoration. An ancient Judean oil lamp was used as a model for one recently shown; and a Greek vase inspired a charming modern Chanukkiah. Something quite new is shown by "Kad Vese-fel", a potter's workshop in Rishon le Zion, which also originated many good bowls and vases. Their novelty was a "mural tableau" representing the Jacob's leader, white angels hovering over the sleeping Jacob.
Such murals will be beautiful decorations for schools and public buildings. Another new and very modern feature shown was the first stained glass windows. This beautiful technique adorning famous European cathedrals like Chartres and Gouds, would find a fitting application in the sunny Palestine climate.
Jewellers, this year, did not put up a big show. But a newly introduced technique of French tradition was shown by A. Meitelmans in his jewellery box of precious wood with panels of exquisite ena-
To Aid Able Victims Of .Bias InllS.
John Hay Whitney, of New York, announced the establishment of the John Hay Whitney Foundation of Opportunity Fellowships with an appropriation of $100,000 for the first year. The fellowships will provide opportunity for scholastic or other training and will range in value from $1,000 to $3,000 a year, according to the nature of the project and the need of the applicant.
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Weaving is the most widespread of crafts in Palestine. There is scarcely a Kibbutz or a Bet Cha-lutzot which has not its weaving workshop. Ahouva Ycllin-Picard has been the pathfinder in this field. She has studied modern techniques of weaving in Europe and back in Palestine has adapted them more and more to Oriental patterns, and has trained many Yemenite Jews in this ancient Jewish trade. A spate of excellent weavers has followed in her footsteps. At the Exhibition we see how they strive to unite European technique with Oriental patterns, usually with happy results.
Bookbinding and bookprinting are crafts of old standing in the Galut. Jews have of old been amongst the foremost printers, especially in Italy and in Amsterdam. What is shown here of bookbinding is of high standing. And the book "Songs of Rachel", all written and bound in parchment by Miryam
Kluger-Caroli is a work of art of the best standard.
As soon as one Exhibition is over, another is on. The Bezalel Museum is a bulwark in the cultural life.
This article is from Horizon.
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