Beyond Bespoke - Jewellery in Israel; 
Multicultural Diversity, 1948 to the Present
Dr. Iris Fishof
Review by Mary Sue Packer


Don't be misled by the intriguing cover design, certainly one of the most provocative ever produced by the Arnoldsche, belying its content (no eroticized robotics here) and perhaps unexpectedly appealing to an audience with interests other than decorative ornamentation in the Levant.  Lest that public be disappointed, other titillating objects shouldn't dash anyone's anticipation; here are designs born of myriad passions open to multiple interpretations; insights into survival and new beginnings expressed in handiwork we tend to take for granted in forms often startling in their frankness . 

As author Dr. Iris Fishof notes in her introduction, the entire history of the State of Israel is reflected in the jewelry created during its 65-year existence, certainly warranting this comprehensive overview.

In a region beset by turmoil for the past several millennia, periodic immigration adding to the population of Palestine included artisans and silversmiths with traditional designs from their Muslim countries of origin, who produced souvenirs for travellers to the Holy Land in the later years of the Ottoman Empire.  Because of religious constraints stated in the Koran, jewelry-making  was primarily a Jewish profession; and jewelry being easily portable property, a vast assortment of ethnic accessories accompanied them in their resettlement - a prolific assertion of their artistry.  The human desire for self-adornment further inspired the newly-arrived - as did a superstitious urge to protect oneself from misfortune (enter - and exit - the amuletic female demon Lilith), - to re-establish themselves in their professions.

Instrumental in coalescing jewelry traditions and production was the founding in 1906 of the Bezalel School of Arts & Crafts in Jerusalem, with its innovative styles combining influences from the Orient and western cultures, as well as different techniques, "to create a new 'Hebrew' style" as part of the Zionist movement which had evolved in the late 19th century.  Many of the immigrants from Germany in the 1930s settling in Jerusalem were from the Bauhaus School, and infused the Bezalel concept with a modernism in conflict with the nationalist Zionism movement but which also linked Eastern European romanticism and western modernism.
The novelty and allure of a new national identity represented through jewelry should be viewed within the context of the historic disruptions and upheavals in the State of Israel since its inception.  The spontaneous imagery of many designs often reflected the anxiety and tension permeating multicultural Israeli society since 1948, inspiring jewelry created for itself without regard for the wearer's social status or identity.  

The quiet elegance of Finy Leitersdorf's creations incorporating ancient Roman sea glass, however, belies any unease in inspiration (pp.44-46), having derived from the "archaeology craze" in Israel in the 1960s for the ancient glass fragments washed up on the beach at Caesarea.

In contrast, and in further praise of found objects, are the Gershuni pieces made during the Gulf War and incorporating shells, beads, and miniature perfume phials - innocuous fish brooches which ultimately resolved as bombers (p. 113).  Dr. Fishof's work is replete with such fanciful designs, some giving the impression the materials seized the initiative and created the pieces, manipulating the hand of the artist rather than offering up their malleability to the whim of the artisan (check out Schocken's 'City', with its mesmerizing kinetic energy (p. 155).  And one's own conclusions can be drawn from Gregory Larin's "Fragmentation" series, which originated with an amputated porcelain doll, each limb metamorphosing into a piece of jewelry, - notably the 'Penetration' piece on the book cover. 

Attai Chen's 'Predictions of a Well-Wisher' is a smartly elegant finale - a flurry of golden fish - gilded anchovies, no longer banal, pinned shimmering into other-worldliness in their exquisitely ordered universe, static but kinetic, however extenuating the circumstances....

Cover of Book - Jewellery in Israel by Dr. Iris Fishof

The success of these and the other internationally acclaimed artists presented here was largely due to the influence of noted European and American lecturers at the Bezalel Academy in the 1970s, encouraging the trend to art jewelry and promoting awareness of Israeli craftsmanship in light of its unique history.  How gratifying to be introduced to such an in-depth study by Dr. Fishof's enthusiasm for her subject, and especially her affection for the artists!  Richly illustrated throughout and warmly presented, considering the dynamic of the country, this is indeed timely, a salute to the many artisans who engendered and maintained the concept of jewelry in Israel, thus ensuring its status in the registers of contemporary design.

JEWELLERY IN ISRAEL:  Multicultural Diversity, 1948 to the Present.  Dr. Iris Fishof.  Arnoldsche Art Publishers, Stuttgart, Germany, 2013.  224 pages, 340 illustrations in color and b/w.  In English.  ISBN 978-3-89790-396-8.  

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Review reprinted with permission

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