Israel Museum’s ‘Forging Ahead’ Considers Modern Age Of Judaica

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL — The Israel Museum presents the first exhibition to consider two of the most influential designers of Modern Judaica — David Heinz Gumbel (1906–1992) and Ludwig Yehuda Wolpert (1900–1981) — in relationship to one another.

On view through April 6, “Forging Ahead: Wolpert and Gumbel, Israeli Silversmiths for the Modern Age” traces how the evolution of the designers’ style led to a complete reenvisioning of the aesthetics and creation of Jewish ceremonial objects both at home and abroad. This is also the first exhibition to focus on the work of David Gumbel, presenting 40 of his works alongside 26 works by Wolpert, in addition to preparatory sketches and works by select students of the master craftsmen.

Wolpert and Gumbel shared a vision to renew the design of Jewish ceremonial objects by fusing function, style, beauty and Jewish-Israeli artistic expression. Emigrating from Germany to Israel in the mid-1930s, they brought with them the unadorned, smooth and functional forms of Bauhaus and Modern design, which they adapted for Jewish ritual objects.

While Wolpert focused on industrial design and Gumbel on handicraft, they both shared guiding principles that included: a profound understanding of material and its qualities, a sense that there should be a harmonious relationship between matter and form, and the importance of incorporating quotations from the Bible and other Jewish texts in newly created, modern Hebrew fonts.

Wolpert’s work became well known in the United Stated following his appointment in 1956 as the head of the Tobe Pascher Workshop for Modern Judaica at the Jewish Museum in New York, a position he held until his death. Many synagogues and private collectors acquired his Torah arks, Hanukkah lamps and other ritual objects, which they valued not only as useful Judaica objects, but also as examples of Modern design.

American collectors also appreciated his work because of his trademark integration of Hebrew letters and texts, a practice he began early in his career in Germany. Ritual objects such as candlesticks and Kiddush cups inscribed with biblical texts became increasingly popular as symbols of a renewed Jewish spirituality, aesthetic values and pride in Jewish heritage.

Gumbel remained in Jerusalem, training silversmiths in his techniques. His works were regularly commissioned by Israel’s official institutions and presented as gifts to world leaders and dignitaries. Perhaps the most famous of his commissioned works on display in this exhibition is the case created to house Israel’s Declaration of Independence, 1949, a smooth silver cylinder adorned with the symbol of the new State of Israel, inscribed “Signed by members of the People’s Council in the city of Tel Aviv on Sabbath eve, 5 Iyyar, 5708.”

Among the founders of the New Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts, and heads of the Metalwork Department from 1936 to 1956, Wolpert and Gumbel mentored generations of students who adopted their design approach and working methods. Their vision continues today in the works of their students, who are leading silversmiths in the field.

“Forging Ahead” is curated by Sharon Weiser-Ferguson, associate curator of the Jack, Joseph,and Morton Mandel Wing for Jewish Art and Life.

The Israel Museum is on Ruppin Boulevard, near the Knesset (Israeli Parliament). For additional information, www.english.imjnet.org.il or 972-2-670-8811.

Photo: Elie Posner
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