Arieh Merzer was a prominent Israeli artist and metal worker.
Arie Merzer, an artist who worked in hand-hammered copper, was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1905, the scion of a large Hassidic family. He graduated from the Academy of Arts in Warsaw, and became the pupil of Professor Adam Richtarsky. He later worked with a group of Jewish artists who wanted to resuscitate the ancient oriental-Jewish craft of hand-hammering metal (metaloplastics), which was passed on to us as a legacy by far-off generations from the time of the Bible.
In 1928 Arieh Merzer exhibited his works in Warsaw for the first time. From 1930 he lived and worked in Paris. He was one of the Jewish artists who gathered there and were known as the Jewish 'Ecole de Paris.' Merzer regularly exhibited in the well-known 'Salon d'Automne' and 'Salon des Tuileries,' as well as in solo exhibitions in Paris and throughout France.
Arieh Merzer's work was highly acclaimed well before the Holocaust, before it became a memorial to a world destroyed. He portrayed the story of the Jewish spirit on copper, on silver, and on gold: stories from the Bible, the life-styles of the Jews in their shtetls and ghettos, of Chassidim and Kabbalists of renown, of wars of liberation and revival.
A special stress was placed on the link between the new Jewish experience and its historical nucleus. His major innovation was the moulding of mystic and traditional Jewish motifs, that surrounded the Holy Ark in Europe's burning synagogues, and presenting the results before the world of modern art. As a result he became generally recognized as an international Jewish artist.
In 1943, when France was conquered by the Nazis, Arieh Merzer escaped from a concentration camp, and after a stint in the maquis, he crossed the border into Switzerland and was sent to a labor camp. Later, he arrived in Geneva, where an album of sketches of his works was put out. In 1945 he made aliyah to Israel with his family, settled in Safed, and helped to found the Artists' Quarter there.
Arieh Merzer lived and worked in Israel for twenty-one years. His exhibitions in the country include: 1946 in the Tel Aviv Museum; 1947 in the Pevsner Artists' Pavilion in Haifa; 1951 in the Artists' Pavilion in Tel Aviv; 1955 in the Museum for Modern Art in Haifa; 1955 in the Artists' Pavilion in Jerusalem; and 1957 in the Tel Aviv Museum. His works were also on permanent show in his atelier in Safed. He was awarded prizes, including: the Herman Struck prize in 1946; the Dizengoff prize in 1951 and then again in 1965; and the Mayor of Haifa's prize in 1954. His works appear in numerous museums and collections throughout the country and abroad. His heart stopped beating on the eve of Holocaust Day, 1966.
Arieh Merzer, who was brought up in a Hassidic family, was drawn to the world of art from an early age; he was influenced by the moods and new ideals of the socialist circles and prepared himself to study art in the academy. On Passover eve , after clearing out the bread, while the rest of the household was busy preparing for the Holiday, a book fell from the bookcase and from out its pages flew dozens of sketches and drawings of nudes that the young Arieh had prepared for his folio for the entrance examinations to the academy. His sisters tore up the drawings with cries of treyfe treyfe (ritually non-kosher) and many months' hard work went down the drain. As a result of this, he left his home at the age of fifteen, and later joined a group of young artists who wanted to revive the ancient art of hand-hammered copper - metaloplastics - bequeathed to them by past generations who lived in Bible times.
Thus did he part from his family - mother, father, thirteen brothers and sisters - who all perished in the Holocaust. He alone survived, and made an oath that he would commemorate in copper all who had died.
The pictures do not do justice to this magnificent item.