Jerusalem's Bezalel School
The Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, was founded in 1906 by Boris Schatz. In 1903, Schatz met Theodore Herzl and became an ardent Zionist. At the Zionist Congress of 1905, he proposed the idea of an art school in the Yishuv (early Jewish settlements), and in 1906 he moved to Israel and founded the Bezalel School of Art in Jerusalem. Bezalel, which was a school for crafts as well as for graphic art, became successful very rapidly. Schatz’s vision was to develop useful arts and crafts among Palestinian Jews, thereby decreasing the dependence on charity. At the same time, he sought to inspire his students to create a Jewish national style of the arts, in order to promote the Zionist endeavor. The inhabitants of 19th-century Palestine, both Jewish and non-Jewish, had produced mostly folk art, ritual objects and olive-wood and shell-work souvenirs, so the founding of Bezalel provided a professional and ideological framework for the arts and crafts in Jerusalem. The school employed workers and students, of whom there were 450 in 1913, in manufacturing, chiefly for export, decorative articles ranging from cane furniture, inlaid frames and ivory and wood carvings, to damascene and silver filigree and repousse work.
A major part of Schatz’s school was the workshops, which, starting with rug-making and silversmithing, eventually offered 30 different crafts. Workshops included the "Menorah" workshop where they designed relief and souvenirs made of terra-Cotta, and the Sharar, Stanetsky and Alfred Salzmann workshops where Menorah lamps, candlesticks, brass plates for Passover, and many other ceremonial and souvenir items were made.
Intended to create an original national style, Bezalel artifacts were a
mixture of oriental styles and techniques with Art Nouveau features, art deco styles and influences from the Arts and Crafts Movement.
The Academy reopened after Schatz's death in 1935 led by the new director, Joseph Budko, who took advantage of the many new European immigrants' talent and energy and succeeded in revitalizing the school. In the mid 1930's, Bezalel was reestablished by German and European refugee artists driven to Palestine by the Nazis, and underwent a final reorganization in 1965 that established Bezalel as a school for crafts. A small museum was added to the school which became the foundation for the Bezalel Museum later to become the world famous Israel Museum. Bezalel strove to foster in its students a national style of art, drawing both from European
techniques and Near Eastern art forms. While centers of Jewish art could be found elsewhere early in the 20th century (such as the school of Yehuda Pen in Vitebsk where Marc Chagall had studied) these were even more short lived. Bezalel subjects were a combination of traditional Jewish religious images, Zionist symbols, Biblical themes, views of the Holy Land and depictions of the flora and fauna of Palestine.
Artists at the Bezalel School used holy places, female figures and the beautiful landscapes of the holy land in their work.
Zev Raban, a major Bezalel artist, also designed products for various artistic cooperatives that were under the control of Bezalel: for Moshe Murro, Bezalel amulet artist, Raban designed many items, later executed in metal and ivory. For the famous Bezalel Yemenite jeweler- Yichieh Yemini, Raban designed many jewelries and Filigree works. Renowned Bezalel School artists include Meir Gur Arieh, Zev Raban, Jacob Eisenberg, Jacob Steinhardt, and Hermann Struck.