Judaica Today Exhibition


Artisans in Silver: Judaica Today

© Menorah: Michael Banner

Artisans in Silver: Judaica Today is the most recent and certainly one of the more unique events in the long history of Jewish ritual art—a history whose beginning was described in the Old Testament (Ex. 31:1-6). It was then that Bezalel, Oholiab, and their fellow craftsmen created the first Sanctuary, its ritual implements, and the priestly vestments.

The religious ceremonies practiced in antiquity have changed and many new ones were introduced over the centuries, for one of the defining features of Judaism has been the tradition of sanctifying events in the overlapping cycles of days, weeks, months, seasons, and individual lives. In the home and the house of worship, Jewish life is interwoven with ceremonies.

Many of these observances involve the use of ritual objects, and the scriptural encouragement to "worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness" (Ps. 29:2) has strengthened the tradition of acquiring and using beautiful ceremonial objects made of precious materials.

In many lands, through hundreds of years, silver was the preferred material for making the Kiddush cups, Hanukkah lamps, Torah decorations and the dozens of other objects used in observing the "Mitzvot."

Although silver has been important in the fashioning of secular and religious objects for millennia, very little that was made specifically for Jewish ritual use before the 16th century has survived. Most of the objects we know of in museum and private collections of Judaica date from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Therefore, until recent years, the highly ornamental surfaces and motifs typical of the decorative styles of those periods became the popular image of what Jewish ritual silver was "supposed" to look like. Thus, in spite of the shift to machine production brought about by the Industrial Revolution, and the development of the modernist aesthetic in the decorative and fine arts in secular life, mass-produced and even handmade ritual silver continued to depend on the forms appropriate to a much earlier period.

A change in attitude about the design of Judaica was needed. The artist deserving the most credit for bringing this about was the late Ludwig Wolpert (1900-1981). Wolpert, trained in sculpture and metalsmithing in Germany during the Bauhaus period, understood that in order to be authentic the arts needed to grow out of and reflect the unique character of the time and place in which they are produced. He believed this axiom applies to the ritual arts also.

His earliest known example was a Hanukkah lamp made in 1924. He achieved recognition in 1931 when he submitted a silver, glass, and ebony Seder plate in a craft exhibition in Berlin. Soon after, he emigrated to Palestine, where his reputation as an artist and teacher continued to grow. In the late '50s, now known internationally for his work, Wolpert came to New York to be director of the newly-established Tobe Pascher Workshop at the Jewish Museum. He was the prime mover in introducing the contemporary style in Judaica metalsmithing to the American public through his teaching, designing of ceremonial objects for production, and executing major synagogue commissions.

Wolpert arrived at a time when America was experiencing a vigorous rebirth of interest in making, exhibiting, learning about, and collecting contemporary craftwork. He contributed a Jewish art component to the growing movement. Today, secular as well as Jewish museums are collecting and showing modern ritual art. Craft fairs and exhibitions often include some Judaica. Every year more craft fairs focused specifically on Judiaca are being organized. Galleries and individual dealers are entering the field. Books on Jewish art and catalogues of important public and private collections are being published. Organizations of Judaica artists are being formed. Works by Wolpert and his contemporaries are appearing in Judaica auctions and commanding ever-higher prices.

Collectors, having become aware that "antique" objects can sometimes prove to be forgeries, know that signed, modern, handcrafted work is authentic, in terms of authorship and design, is often one-of-a-kind, and usually more skillfully made with better materials. These are indeed the valuable heirlooms and antiques of future generations.

Yes, Artisans in Silver: Judaica Today is a unique event, historically and aesthetically. It is the first exhibition by the members of the Society of American Silversmiths devoted exclusively to the presentation of contemporary handmade Jewish ritual silver. It is an opportunity to see how a select group of America's finest metalsmiths, from diverse religious backgrounds, express themselves in the design of ritual objects.

The exhibition will showcase objects in almost every style and silversmithing technique, many in combination with other materials. The majority of objects will be for sale by their makers and a price list will available at each venue and from SAS.

Featured Artisans

Sue L. Amendolara
"Palmetto" Spice Box, 1996
sterling, 5"h x 7"l x 3"w x 7"dia.
Michael Banner
Kiddush Cup, 1996
sterling, 7¼"h x 3¼"w
Bernard Bernstein
Kiddush Cup, 1993
sterling, 4"h x 3"dia.
Torah Shield, 1992
sterling, parcel gilt & rosewood, 8"h x 6½"w
Joseph Brandom
Kiddush Cup, 1993
sterling, 6¼"h x 3¼"dia
Robert A. Butler
Sabbath Candlesticks (pr.), 1997
sterling, 2¾"h x 5¼"dia.
John Cogswell
Hanukkah Lamp, 1995
sterling, 6½"h x 11½"l x 3¾"w
Jack da Silva
"Foundation Series: Seder Plate," 1996
sterling & sierra white granite, 7"h x 6"l x 6"w
Cynthia Eid
Dreidel "Variations" (3-piece set), 1995
sterling, 1¼"-1¾"h
Hanukkah Lamp, 1994
sterling, 3"h x 10.5"l x 2"w
Robert Farrell
Torah Pointer, 1997
sterling, copper, nickel, shakudo & shibuichi, 10¼'l x 1"dia.
Fred Fenster
Kiddush Cup, 1996
sterling, 6.5"h x 3"dia.
Sabbath Candlesticks (pr.), 1996
sterling, 6½"h x 3"w
Torah Pointer, 1996
sterling & turquoise, 10"l x 1¼"dia.
John T. Fix
Spice Box, 1996
sterling, niobium & 14k gold, 9¼"h x 2½"dia.
William N. Frederick
Hanukkah Lamp, 1997
sterling, 7.5"h x 12"l x 1.5"w
Jeffrey Herman
Torah Pointer, 1997
sterling & micarta, 11"l x ¾"dia.
Michael Jerry
Kiddush Cup, 1996
sterling, 6¾"h x 3½"l x 3½"w
Thomas R. Markusen
Hanukkah Lamp, 1997
sterling & brass, 4"h x 12"l x 4"w
Hanukkah Lamp, 1997
sterling & brass, 12"h x 12"l x 5"w
Roberta Masur-Maxfield
Havdalah Set, 1996, (Wine Cup, Spice Box, Candle Holder & Tray), sterling & walnut, 6½"h x 3¾"w (Wine Cup)
Kurt J. Matzdorf
Hanukkah Lamp, 1996
sterling, 5½"h x 11½"l x 3"w
Kiddush Cup, 1983
sterling, parcel gilt, 6½" x 3"dia.
Robyn Nichols
"Fish" Mezuzah, 1996, sterling, 4"h x 2"l x 1¼"w
"Four Species" Mezuzah, 1996, sterling, 4"h x 2"l x 1¼"w
Hanukkah Lamp, 1996, sterling, 5½"h x 16"l x 9"w
Elizabeth H. Nutt
Passover Napkin Clips (6-piece set), 1996
sterling with green, red, yellow, white, black, & purple jade, 2¼"l x 2¼"w
Harold Rabinowitz
Torah Crown, 1996
sterling, 12"h x 10"dia.
Cynthia Schlemlein
Hanukkah Lamp "Zoe: Deuteronomy 30:1-20; 32:7-12," 1997
sterling, 13¾"h x 7"w
Lin Stanionis
Torah Pointer, 1997
sterling, micarta, & lacquers, 9½"l x 1"dia.
Munya Avigail Upin
Kiddush Cup, 1987
sterling & fine silver, 8"h x 3"dia.
Mezuzah, 1994
sterling & fine silver, 4"h x 1¼"w
Torah Crown, 1996
 sterling & fine silver, 14½"h x 8"dia.
Torah Pointer, 1994
sterling & fine silver, 8"l x 1"dia.
Torah Pointer, 1988
sterling, fine silver, silverplate, brass, moonstone, bone, 14½"l x 8"dia.
Ronald J. Wyancko
Candle Holder, 1996, sterling & mokume-gane, 4½"h x 5"w
Candle Holder, 1996, sterling, mokume-gane & moonstone, 4"h x 3"w
Candle Holder, 1996, sterling & mokume-gane, 5¼"h x 4"w
Wendy Yothers
Elija Cup, 1996
sterling, 6"h x 4"dia.
National Ornamental Metal Museum
 February 9, 1997 - April 20, 1997
 374 Metal Museum Dr., Memphis, TN 38106
Hebrew Union College Skirball Museum
 May 1, 1997 - August 20, 1997
 Mayerson Hall, 3101 Clifton Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45220
Yeshiva University Museum
 September 20, 1997 - December 31, 1997
 2520 Amsterdam Ave., New York, NY 10033
Carnegie Museum of Art
 January 24, 1998 - April 5, 1998
 4400 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
 May 16, 1998 - August 9, 1998
 2400 3rd Ave., South, Minneapolis, MN 55404
Mitchell Museum
 September 24, 1997 - November 1, 1998
 Richview Rd., Mt. Vernon, IL 62864

A price list is available by contacting SAS.
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