Visu­al Arts

Arti­sans of Israel: Tran­scend­ing Tradition

  • Review
By – April 7, 2018

The crafts of Israel are as var­ied as its faces; they draw on the skills and tra­di­tions of Jews who have come to Israel from all over the world, as well as the Pales­tini­ans, Druze, and Bedouins who have lived on the land for gen­er­a­tions. Accord­ing to author Lynn Hol­stein, what the crafts­peo­ple have in com­mon is a desire for inno­va­tion.” To illus­trate this, in Arti­sans of Israel: Tran­scend­ing Tra­di­tion, she high­lights forty arti­sans from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Israel’s Dec­o­ra­tive Arts. The book fea­tures a brief biog­ra­phy of each artist as well as pho­tographs of their work, and at the end includes the book’s text in Hebrew and Arabic.

Israel is notable for its tech­no­log­i­cal break­throughs, and Hol­stein draws a par­al­lel between the country’s tech­no­log­i­cal and artis­tic inno­va­tions. The grow­ing craft move­ment is dis­tin­guished by unlike­ly mate­ri­als, like con­crete in jew­el­ry-mak­ing, and new appli­ca­tions of tra­di­tion­al skills​.In a short essay, Pro­fes­sor Ezri Tarazi of the Beza­lel Acad­e­my of Arts and Sci­ences dis­cuss­es how artists he calls Craft­sign­ers” use dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy not only to mar­ket their work, but also to design and fab­ri­cate it.

Inter­est­ing as these obser­va­tions are, the heart of this hand­some large-for­mat book lies in the pho­tographs and sto­ries of the arti­sans and their cre­ations. Divid­ed into Jew­el­ry and Met­al­work, Ceram­ics and Glass, Fiber and Leather, Paper, and Wood and Soap, some crafts are strik­ing­ly orig­i­nal while oth­ers are more informed by tra­di­tion. Each of the forty fea­tured artists comes alive in the pages devot­ed to him or her. Tenat Auka, a ceram­i­cist from Ethiopia, makes both sec­u­lar and rit­u­al objects. Her chanukiyah can­dles sit in sculp­tures of Ethiopi­an men and women cel­e­brat­ing the hol­i­day. The Bedouin women of the Lakiya Negev Weav­ing Project weave wool from local sheep on home­made looms to make rugs (the prof­its from which have spon­sored lit­er­a­cy, high­er edu­ca­tion, and lead­er­ship projects in this poor com­mu­ni­ty). Hertz Auster, a mas­ter bas­ket weaver, uses only mate­r­i­al from date palms and olive trees to shape his unusu­al curved bas­kets. Unusu­al” also describes Rami Tareef’s met­al fur­ni­ture, which includes an embroi­dery-inspired table top and met­al-framed chairs.

In addi­tion to depict­ing sam­ples of the artists’ cre­ations, the pho­tographs cap­ture the crafts­peo­ple at work, con­vey­ing the inten­si­ty of their ded­i­ca­tion and the demands of their craft. For many of them, art has opened doors to cre­ative and per­son­al oppor­tu­ni­ty. It has also giv­en the greater com­mu­ni­ty a rich array of sophis­ti­cat­ed craft. Above all, Arti­sans of Israel under­lines how arti­sans have con­tributed to the vital­i­ty and cul­tur­al life of Israel.

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

Discussion Questions