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JEWISH FOLK ART ON PARCHMENT AND PAPER
A new exhibition entitled Those who See this Picture Won’t Sin was on view at the Robert Gutmann Gallery from 21 July until 28 August as part of the series, Presentation of the Collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague. This was the first ever presentation of the Museum’s collection of religious pictures from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Mostly wall plaques, less frequently small sheets for prayer books, these items served to uplift the piety and religious fervour of worshippers, while some also had a magical function. The Hebrew script is used as their means of expression. Most of the plaques in the collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague were donated to the synagogue as votive gifts, although some were made for personal use. Stemming from Jewish households and synagogues, these items were made as an expression of folk piety. With words and pictorial symbols, they refer to religious obligations and to the basic principles of Judaism; sometimes they served as amulets for protection against disaster.
Usually, these items were made by learned men – trained scribes of Torah scrolls, phylacteries and mezuzot, rabbis and students at religious schools – who employed Hebrew calligraphy and the technique of micrography (the creation of ornaments, figurative motifs and symbols out of texts written in miniature Hebrew script).
The parchment or paper cut-out became a popular art technique in the Jewish milieu from the end of the seventeenth century onwards. Pictures painted on glass or with embroideries appear less frequently. These items were also in demand from printers: among those shown at this exhibition were the oldest folk woodcuts, as well as engravings and lithographs from the nineteenth century. Shivitis plaques – calligraphic works decorated with ornamental pen-and-ink drawings – were also well represented.
This exhibition provided an intimate look at a world of traditional Judaism with its symbolism drawing on literary texts and folklore. It was curated by Olga Sixtová, the curator of manuscripts at the Jewish Museum in Prague.
GEORG JILOVSKY: PRAGUE PAINTER AND GRAPHIC ARTIST
From 8 September until 6 November 2005, the Robert Gutmann Gallery hosted another exhibition as part of the series, Presentation of the Collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague. This was the first presentation since 1927 of selected work by the almost forgotten artist Georg Jilovsky, who is now known by only a few collectors of ex-libris and graphic art. Jilovsky only ever had two one-man shows in Prague: at the Rubeš Salon in 1917 and at the Rudolfinum Gallery in 1927. Nevertheless, his work appears in a number of public and private collections. The exhibition curator Arno Pařík put together a representative selection of artworks by this almost unknown Prague Jewish artist – including drawings, graphic art and paintings, not only from the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague, but also from the Terezín Memorial, the National Gallery in Prague, the National Museum in Prague, the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague and the City of Prague Museum.
Georg Jilovsky (1884-1958) is known as an artist of the ‘high’ Art Nouveau and as a painstak- ing creator of graphic art who employed various kinds of forms, techniques, styles and motifs. While at Prague’s School of Applied Arts he began to design invitations to balls, dance programmes, wedding announcements, postcards, exhibition posters, books and industrial advertisements. Jilovsky made a name for himself with a series of atmospheric graphic sheets, mostly from 1906-14, with motifs of the nooks and crannies of the Old, Jewish and Lesser towns and Prague Castle. He focused on ex-libris from 1904 through to 1951, making about 120 such works with various graphic techniques. These, his smallest artworks, were his most popular. His clients were mostly from Prague’s Jewish intelligentsia, especially doctors, lawyers and tech-nicians, as well as business people, most of whom vanished almost without trace during the Holocaust.
After the Nazi occupation, Jilovsky and his entire family were deported to the Terezín ghetto, and from there to Auschwitz, where his two sons Hanuš and Arnošt and many of his relatives perished in the gas chambers. Jilovsky ended up in the Ebensee Concentration Camp, where he was liberated by the U.S. army.
A catalogue with a text by Arno Pařík (in Czech and English) was published for the exhibition. This catalogue, a small monograph on Jilovsky, contains a detailed biography of the artist and features over 100 full-colour reproductions of his drawings, graphic art and paintings. It is available at any of the Museum’s shops or via the website www.jewishmuseum.cz/shop
VAVRO ORAVEC: EXHIBITION TO MARK THE 90TH BIRTHDAY OF THE ARTIST
In association with the Jewish Museum in Prague, the Millennium Gallery in Prague hosted an exhibition to mark the 90th birthday of the artist Vavro Oravce, who attended the preview in person. Oravec grew up in Slovakia where, after the establishment of the State of Slovakia in September 1938, he worked briefly in a hospital, was an assistant at the Jewish Council’s office in Bratislava and taught Jewish children who had been expelled from school. Entirely self-taught, the only art education he received was a three-month retraining course in ceramics run by Júlie Horová in Bratislava in 1940. He was arrested in the autumn of 1944 and deported to Auschwitz, from where he was sent to a section of the Gross Rosen Camp in Blechhammer. After the occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968 he emigrated to Bern, Switzerland.
According to Oravec, the most important period of his life, however, is connected with Prague, where he found his style, first made his name as an artist and, in the 1960s, made his most successful artworks. Five years ago, Oravec donated a group of 34 paintings, dating from 1969-99, to the Jewish Museum in Prague, which displayed them in a large, much visited exhibition at the Spanish Synagogue. These paintings then underwent conservation treatment and, in 2003, were relocated to the Museum’s new depository of paintings. This year’s exhibition, marking the artist’s 90th birthday, celebrates the work of Oravec in a venue that is famous for the quality of its contemporary Czech art exhibitions. The exhibition at the Millennium Gallery was held from 8 September until 2 October 2005 and was curated by Arno Pařík.
On the occasion of his 90th birthday, we would like to wish Vavro Oravec good health, inner peace and contentment: Ad mea v’ esrim shana!
COMPLETION OF ALTERATIONS IN THE KLAUSEN SYNAGOGUE
September saw the completion of building and interior alterations to Klausen Synagogue, the main aim of which was to enhance visitor comfort. At the same time, certain historical elements of the building have been repaired. A restoration survey was undertaken before work began.
Two new means of access have been created by restoring and renovating several of the original doors. Curators have added two display cases to the permanent exhibition. New wooden cladding with concealed measuring equipment has been installed above the benches alongside the perimeter walls. The wooden Ark in the gallery has been repaired. Air quality in the synagogue has considerably improved with the new installation of underpressure back-ventilation equipment in the chimney vent and repairs to the painted window panes.
Among the newly refurbished exterior features that can be admired are the wooden door leaves, including the hand-wrought ironwork, and the facade. Restoration of the main Ark in Klausen Synagogue is being planned for next year.
HOMAGE TO THE CHILD VICTIMS OF THE HOLOCAUST
Since 1999, the Jewish Museum in Prague has been developing the Neighbours who Disappeared project, as part of which students search for unknown documents and bring together the testimonies of former Jewish residents of the neighbourhoods in which the students now live (for more on the project, see previous Newsletters). In June of this year, the second phase of this project, entitled Homage to the Child Victims of the Holocaust, was officially announced under the auspices of the Czech Senate and Prague City Hall.
Its aim is to commemorate the Jewish children who were murdered in the Holocaust at about the same age as the students who are now participating in this project. Jewish children vanished from the classroom in the first years of the war. Many questions are raised when further researching their fate: Why were they singled out? Why couldn’t they attend schools? Why didn’t they escape while they had the chance? Could they resist the orders and prohibitions? If they did, what happened to them? What would I do in such a situation?
Students from Pilsen, Litomyšl, Chotěboř, Varnsdorf, České Budějovice and Telč were the first in the Czech Republic to seek answers to these and similar questions. The work undertaken by students – originally intended for schools as material for creating a memorial plaque – was put together to form a national travelling exhibition, which was first shown at the summer presentation of the project at the Czech Parliament.
The Homage to the Child Victims of the Holocaust project is unique, as is the entire Neighbours who Disappeared project. Together, they show that it is possible to learn about the past in a way that is interesting and is based on one’s own experience. Those who put together the project have also prepared special seminars for teachers in order to show how to plan and develop the project with children and to produce results for the broadest possible public. This approach has also gained recognition abroad, particularly in the Netherlands.
Anyone interested in this project may contact the Jewish Museum in Prague’s Education and Culture Centre (tel. 222 325 172, 222 322 935, educationjewishmuseum.cz), which is co-ordinating the project in association with the civic association Zapomenutí/The Forgotten Ones. The Centre is also currently hosting two travelling panel-based exhibitions that feature the research undertaken by individual schools into the fate of Jewish neighbours and children who vanished.
EXHIBITION OF ARTWORKS BY
On 20 September, a preview of an exhibition of drawings and paintings by Sonja Fischerová, entitled Sonja’s Legacy, was held at the Jewish Museum in Prague’s Education and Culture Centre. Born in Prague in 1931, Sonja Fischerová was deported to Terezín in 1942, where she made a number of artworks. She perished in Auschwitz in 1944. This much-visited exhibition was launched by the Centre’s Director, Dr. Miloš Pojar. A cousin of Sonja’s, Dr. Robert Fischl, who was born in Klíčany and now lives in the U.S., spoke about Sonja’s life and work at the preview. Live music was provided by Alexander Shonert (violin) and Natalia Shonert (piano).
TRAVELLING EXHIBITIONS OF THE JEWISH MUSEUM IN PRAGUE
“History of the Jews in Bohemia and Moravia” and “Jewish Customs and Traditions”. Venue: Synagogue in Divišov, 20 June – 31 August 2005.
“History of the Jews in Bohemia and Mora-via” and “Jewish Customs and Traditions”. Venue: Muzeum Brněnska – Alfons Mucha Monument, Ivančice 29 June – 2 October 2005.
“Jewish Customs and Traditions.” Venue: Gustav Mahler House, Jihlava, 9 – 29 September 2005.
“Long-lost Faces.” Recollections of Holo-caust victims in documents and photographs. Venue: Liberec Synagogue, 1 – 30 September 2005. Held in association with the Jewish Community in Liberec.
“Since then I believe in Fate …” Transports of Protectorate Jews to the Baltic States in 1942. Venue: Terezín Memorial – Ghetto Museum, 20 July – 30 October 2005.
- Ambassador of the Slovak Republic Ladislav Ballek and Deputy Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic Pál Csáky.
- Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, accompanied by actor Robert Redford.
- Tony Gelbart, a major U.S. patron of Jewish projects, especially of the Nefesh B’Nefesh Immigration to Israel Program.
- A Canadian Parliamentary delegation, led by the Speaker of the House of Commons of Canada Peter Milliken.