“The father of Israeli art”
Boris Schatz 1866 – 1932
Visionary and man of action, the Russian-born Jewish sculptor Boris Schatz was responsible for the realization of the early Zionist movement’s most ambitious cultural project: in 1906 he founded the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts in Jerusalem, today the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, and laid the basis for the Bezalel National Museum, the forerunner of the Israel Museum. Schatz began promoting the school throughout the world in 1909 and was generally received warmly. Schatz’s active love affair with pre-Mandate Jerusalem was not to last, however. The ruling Turks closed down the Bezalel School during World War I, Schatz himself arrested and deported to Syria. He would later return to live on the Sea of Galilee, where he wrote a long-form utopian essay called The Rebuilt Jerusalem (subtitled A Daydream), imagining himself transported to the Holy City in 2018 and being shown around town by the Bezalel School’s namesake. After the war, Schatz returned to Jerusalem and the school re-opened, but to a great extent, he was forced to rebuild the institution from scratch. Indeed, he passed away in 1932 in Colorado while on a fundraising trip, with Bezalel having been closed due to financial difficulties for three years (it would reopen three years folowing his death). Schatz’s own work was heavily influenced by his traditional training in Europe, although following his involvement with Zionism, his subjects were primarily Jewish. As a school, Bezalel strove to foster in its students a national style of art, drawing both from European techniques and Near Eastern art forms. At the same time, its philosophy was traditional, and Schatz encountered much resistance from students who were drawn to modernist styles. In the end, they were the ones who forged the way for an indigenous Israeli art.T oday, Schatz’s grave sits atop the Mt. of Olives, and the school he founded remains one of Jerusalem’s most vibrant cultural institutions, its city center campus at the corner of a street bearing his name.