Want to meet the artists who made the traveler’s prayer taken into outer space by an astronaut, the Hanukkah menorah purchased by former US President Bill Clinton, or the official medal and stamp commemorating Israel’s 70th anniversary?
You’ll find them all in the Jerusalem Artists’ Colony (Hutzot Hayotzer).
Located since 1969 on a pair of cobblestoned lanes adjacent to Teddy Park across from the Old City walls below street level, the 39-studio complex is easy to miss. Yet this is where curators and global seekers of avant-garde Judaica, paintings and jewelry come to purchase and commission exceptional pieces.
Next time you’re in the area – perhaps before dining at The Eucalyptus, a renowned chef restaurant at the top of the stairs – stop in to admire the work and hear the stories of the painters, sculptors, jewelers, photographers, silversmiths, leather artisans, calligraphers and fiber artists.
The artisans enjoy describing their passion for crafting contemporary links in the chain connecting artistic tradition with modern expression.
“For example, David Harel is the shaper of modern Israel in so many ways. You can see his huge mosaic in the Cardo [in the Old City of Jerusalem], his mural lining the exit corridor of Ben-Gurion Airport, his logos on the Jerusalem Convention Center and the Israel Museum, and his latest work, the medal and stamp for the 70th year of Israel,” says Gura Berger, a spokeswoman for the colony.
The day ISRAEL21c visited Harel’s two-story atelier, his pop-art portraits of movie stars such as Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe were ready to go on display at the Jerusalem Cinematheque.
Harel has exhibited paintings from Japan to New York and produced a monumental Rebirth of Israel Passover Haggadah with his wife, Chaya.
US astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman blasted off into space with a Hanukkah dreidel (spinning top) by Jerusalem Artists’ Colony silversmith Gideon Hay, whose unique goblets were once purchased as gifts for the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Hoffman also chose two works by Itzhak Luvaton — a miniature silver menorah and a framed traveler’s prayer – to take into orbit.
In Luvaton’s studio we see silver trains, tanks, bikes and boats that are actually clever “kits” containing Jewish ritual objects for the Sabbath and holidays – everything from candlesticks to charity box.
Integrated kits are popular with patrons of the colony. The Tree of Life Shtender (lectern) fashioned in wood by David Moss and Noah Greenberg, contains a treasure chest of 14 carved Judaica objects such as a challah board and knife.
An aluminum hanukkiya (menorah) and several other items by Emil Shenfeld went home with Bill Clinton after the former president watched the Brazilian-born artist assemble and dismantle his carefully engineered creations.
Shenfeld showed ISRAEL21c his favorite current work: A triple mirrored sculpture in which each freestanding part is engraved with five words of the 15-word priestly blessing from the book of Numbers. He conceptualized and built the original piece for a New York client and (with permission) now offers the item in various sizes to all his customers.
For a Mexican client, Shenfeld recently finished a Sephardic-style Torah case topped with a silver dome evoking the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book housing the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Domes are common on such cases, but “the problem is when you open the case you have half a dome on each side. So all my creative gymnastics was about solving that problem by using a concave dome,” Shenfeld tells ISRAEL21c. “Now I’m building another for the Israel Museum collection.”
The clatter of a loom can be heard outside the two-floor studio of Carine Kleiman, weaver of prayer shawls in a variety of colors and stripe patterns from wool spun on premises.
Kleiman and her father, Georges Goldstein, 86 – one of the first artisans in the Jerusalem Artists’ Colony – also create textiles such as ark curtains, Torah covers and wedding canopies for synagogues around the world. Her husband, Robert, and their son, Eran, are involved in the multi-generational business too.
Synergy happens frequently among the artists here. For example, Goldstein has also coordinated projects with award-winning designer Sari Srulovitch, who works mainly in metals.
Srulovitch exhibits regularly at the Israel Museum and has pieces in the permanent collections of museums such as the North Carolina Museum of Art and Royal College of Art in London.
Her works currently are displayed at San Diego’s Mingei International Museum (through September 3, 2018) and Jerusalem’s Museum for Islamic Art. The latter show (through November 24, 2018) features 555 hamsas — a popular Middle East and North African art form symbolizing the hand of God — designed by Israeli Jews and Muslims.
Srulovitch points out that in Middle Ages Europe, Jews were not accepted to the guilds so Jewish ritual objects were made by gentile craftsmen. That’s why classic spice boxes for the post-Sabbath Havdalah ceremony are shaped like German castles or cathedrals.
Contemporary Jewish artisans are reclaiming and reimagining heritage art, and the authenticity of their pieces resonates with customers of all faiths, says Srulovitch.
“Even if you don’t know what the object is for, I think you can always tell when a religious object was made by a believer of that religion,” says Berger.
Also popular with people of all faiths are necklaces incorporating the microchip Nano Bible – originally designed at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology – crafted by Jerusalem Artists’ Colony silversmith Yossi Sagi.
Yaakov Greenvurcel is another award-winning silversmith and jeweler breathing new life into ancient forms. His modular menorahs and other sacred objects are exhibited in museums in New York, Amsterdam, Berlin, Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago, Vienna, Minneapolis, Cincinnati and other cities.
Like many of the artists in the colony, Greenvurcel doesn’t do only Judaica. He showed ISRAEL21c his smart cutlery fashioned with raised “legs” so as not to soil the tablecloth when put down.
The colony’s calligraphers and illustrators include Oshrit Raffeld, whose colorful handmade works incorporate materials such as glass, silver, fabric and aluminum.
The Jerusalem Artists’ Colony’s exhibition, performance and workshop space, Kol HaOt, is directed by David Moss’s daughter, Elyssa Moss Rabinowitz. Among its offerings are interactive Jewish art programs for visiting groups from across the world, lasting from 90 minutes to a full day.
The workshops of Hutzot Hayotzer-Jerusalem Artists’ Colony are open to the public Sunday through Thursday 10am to 5pm; Fridays until 2pm.
For more information, click here