January 30, 2012, Updated May 30, 2015

Dan Ben-Arye leading a tour of Ein Hod.

Where can you find the finest collection of antique music boxes, gramophones, hand-operated automatic pianos and similar antique treasures in the Middle East? At the Nisco Museum of Mechanical Music in Israel’s Ein Hod Artists Village.

A sort of creative kibbutz for artists who must prove their mettle before moving in, Ein Hod is a great place to explore eclectic galleries and hands-on workshops representing the works of sculptors, painters, photographers, textile artists, potters, goldsmiths and silversmiths, lighting designers and silk-screeners.

The 150-family village also houses composers, writers, a “spiritual architect” and a comedian/mime.

Nestled on the western slopes of Mount Carmel amid old vineyards and trees bearing olives, pomegranates, figs, almonds and carobs, Ein Hod suffered damage in the forest fire of December 2010, with many homes destroyed, but its tourist areas – museums, eight private galleries, 14 bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants and coffee shops — were back in business just two days later.

Good thing, too, because Ein Hod typically attracts hundreds of visitors on weekdays and up to 3,000 on a typical Saturday, says painter-sculptor Dan Ben-Arye, a 26-year resident of Israel’s only cooperative artists’ village.

He and his wife, Lea, a fabric painter, display their creations in the Art & Wear Gallery, which doubles as Ein Hod’s tourist information center.

“We give guided tours of our fascinating past and present, where you can meet the artists and learn about their techniques and how their art affects the viewer,” Ben-Arye tells ISRAEL21c.

A Birthright participant tries her hand at the potter’s wheel at Ein Hod.

“We’re proud that everything here is handmade by ourselves.”

Creative environment for art and art education

Dada artist Marcel Janco established Ein Hod in 1953 on the picturesque ruins of an ancient Crusader town. He and a group of progressive artists painstakingly built a living and working village within a creative environment for art and art education.

The setting is so majestic and serene, says Ben-Arye, that “you feel like you’re sitting next to God.”

Before being accepted as members by a democratically elected General Council, applicants must live and create at Ein Hod for a year and then go before a panel of judges, says Ben-Arye.

“Our job is to enrich culture, so in order to get in, you have to prove you can do that. We have them rent for a year here and do an exhibition in their field, so we can see how professional they are and whether creativity is boiling in their blood.”

He says Ein Hod’s cooperative artistic spirit excludes religious and political strife despite the residents’ differing views and practices. (Local eateries aren’t kosher, but some of the Sabbath-observant members host Friday night dinners, and there’s a kosher resort hotel in neighboring Nir Etzion.)

“We are free from all these tensions,” says Ben-Arye.

Photo by Flash90
Firefighters tackle blazing homes in Ein Hod, in last year’s Carmel fire.

Many of the artists’ children choose to apply for their own membership when they reach adulthood. “We have four generations of artists living here and creating,” says Ben-Arye.

Showcase of Israel Prize winners

Ein Hod has the highest number of Israel Prize winners of any Israeli town. Zahara Shatz won in 1955 for painting and sculpture; Janco for painting in 1967; Gertrude Kraus for dance in 1968; Shimon Halkin for literature in 1975; Haim Hefer for Hebrew songwriting in 1983; Natan Zach for poetry in 1995; Aryeh Navon for theater scenery and art in 1996; in 2000, Michael Gross for painting and sculpture and Gavri Banai for his work with the Hagashash comedy trio; and Gila Almagor for her life’s work as one of Israeli’s leading actresses, in 2004.

Lea Ben-Arye’s creations at Art & Wear Gallery.

The Janco-Dada Museum celebrates the village’s founder and the pivotal movement in modern art that he practiced. It contains wings including a youth section and a “Dadalab” art laboratory offering group activities every Saturday.

The Gertrude Kraus House is devoted to the life and times of expressionistic dancer Gertrude Kraus, founder of the Israel Ballet Theatre, and hosts chamber music concerts and guest lectures.

Special events throughout the year include jazz concerts and an annual event with Maestro, a classical music program for children from Israel’s poorer periphery communities. In the summer, performances take place in a Roman-style outdoor amphitheater.

To arrange for tours or demonstrations or workshops in disciplines ranging from etching and pottery to stained glass and photography, all ahead — in Israel, 04-984-1126, out of Israel +972-4 984-1126 or art@ein-hod.israel.net. “Unfortunately, it happens often that individuals or tours come after four in the afternoon and everything is closed,” cautions Ben-Arye. “So it’s important to let us know you’re coming.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director