Artist quarter, Old City, Safed, Israel.
Merzer House was the studio and home of the renowned Jewish-Polish artist Arieh Merzer. Merzer was a member of a group of artists that sought to revive the ancient Jewish art form of copper repoussé, an artistic endeavor known in Poland as “metalloplastics”.
Merzer’s life took him from the Warsaw area, where he was born and raised to a family of Gerer Hassidim, to Paris, where he spent the entire 1930s taking part in the Montparnasse circle of Jewish artists. After barely escaping the Nazis, in 1942 he managed to flee to the free zone of southern France and smuggle his wife and two children across the border to Switzerland. There he worked in a forced labor camp, Camp de Sierre, after which he moved to Geneva. The series of drawings from his period in the camp are in the collection of the Yad Vashem Museum. Merzer’s Israeli period began when he came to live in the country in 1945 on board of the ship Lima; after the establishment of the state, together with other leading Israeli artists, he established the Safed artists’ colony which in their vision was the historic place for a Jewish artistic renaissance.
In the Jewish context, the ancient art of copper repoussé is associated with the biblical figures of Bezalel son of Uri and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, architects of the Tabernacle. This art form persisted throughout Jewish history, as attested by prayer and ritual items used in the synagogue and the Jewish home.
A significant Jewish center for artistic metal work developed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Eastern Europe, particularly in western Ukraine, Galicia, Volyn and Podolia. The presence of these items in museums and private collections reveals only a fraction of the wealth of these works.
Historic copper repoussé was advanced and rejuvenated by the work of Jewish artists in Poland in the period between the two world wars. Numerous metalloplastics exhibitions were held in Warsaw and Lodz during the 1920s and 1930s, engendering interest in artistic circles and among critics
World War II devastated metalloplastics. The Nazis collected the Jewish metal items and moved some of them to Germany for documentation. They melted down most of them, turning them into weapons or other items. This led to the extinction of a body of Jewish art that was familiar in Poland, where almost every home had metal items, and wealthy homes frequently had collections of utilitarian, ritual and artistic items, and later, often repoussé works. Metalloplastics also nearly vanished. The works of Merzer, who was able to leave Poland at an early stage, preserve a very significant corpus of metalloplastics. The recent Doctorate work on Merzer entitled “Memory Hand-Hammered in Copper” attempt to trace the various threads in the tapestry of Merzer’s life and work. These threads lead and are led to various times and places and echo in a modern Jewish euphony that is faithful to tradition and Jewish roots but open to the spirit of the times and peoples.
Merzer was the only Copper artist from the Polish group who survived the war and kept and brought the metalloplastic legacy to the city of Safed. He wrote in his album Safed and her people :
…” after the old Jewish homes in Europe together with their inhabitants were destroyed in the fire and in smoke fate led me to the Kaballah city of Safed: the city which crowns the thoughtful inspiring mountains of Galilee with their old synagogues, surrounded by caves and ancient tombs… Safed with her mystic stories and legends were Moshe Kordovero and the Ari Hakadosh studied Kaballah with their pupils, where the spirit of the Mishna came each night to Josef Karo to study the secret of the Torah with him, the city where Shlomo Alkabetz sang the great love song “Lecha Dodi”, to the queen Shabat. Safed the wonder-city where generation of Jews came from the wide world to seek meaning and salvation- Therefore, it is no wonder that this city, hundreds of years later, attracted painters and artists from the whole world.”
The Copper house will operate as an international Art and Community center which fosters Reconciliation, Peace and will promote “Keruv Levavot”- Joining hearts through the Arts.
The copper house will include:
1. The artist-in-residence program
A unique professional guest’s house for Artists, musicians, writers and scholars from around the world who will be invited to create in the city of Safed with its unique spiritual environment and rich historical traditions. Safed is situated on the pole axis of diverse subjects and aspects: religiosity and secularism, Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions, Kabbalah and globalism, East and West, geography and history of the struggled relations between Jews and Arabs and in a deep sense this complex texture can both nurture artistic creativity and foster social engagement.
While staying and creating at the Copper house, the artists will be encouraged to engage in community work and social activities contributing to cultural events that will take place during their stay. Those activities will be directed both towards professionals in the specific artistic crafts and disciplines and also towards needy populations and sectors that will enjoy enrichment through specific programs and workshops.
2. The Copper museum
The Polish Jewish Metaloplasic museum in the Copper House will hold a permanent exhibition dedicated to the Polish Jewish Metaloplastic group of artists who worked in copper. Merzer’s work and story will be told along with biographic and artistic portraits of all the artists belonging to that group who did not survive the Holocaust. A professional library of Yiddish and Polish rare books will be located in the space alongside a video spot that will screen documentaries, Art and Yiddish films. The museum will host groups of educational delegations before their trips to Poland and will be open to anyone who wants to obtain a cultural background on the prewar rich Jewish Polish cultural and artistic scene.
The museum will also host academics and will be engaged in the research of issues connected to Safed’s history and art, Jewish art and Polish Jewish heritage.
The museum will maintain academic connections with universities, research institutes and museums such as the new Jewish museum in Warsaw and other institutions that share mutual goals.
3. The contemporary gallery
The Golden Peacock contemporary gallery will be a vivid space for contemporary art and will also serve as a space for the Guest artists of the Copper House who will display their art created during their stay.
The Merzer house, gallery and museum space need renovation. The site for the copper house is located opposite the Merzer house and is connected by a Courtyard with a well and grapevines. There is an opportunity to expand the community space buy acquiring the neighboring property.
Technical information concerning the property and the matching support needed for establishment of the Copper house project will be delivered on request.
The idea is to combine the historical building with a modern structure that will reflect the qualities of copper in various ways in a unique architecture that will echo the vision of the project.
Copper, with its flexible and eternal qualities reflects the idea of freedom and peace- between people and communities, between the global and the local, between the historical layers, of past and present- a structure that will try to encapsulate memory in a living and most vivid environment for creation and sharing ideas and visions for the community and for world heritage.
City of Safed
The Cultural Administration and the Ministry of Education
Universities and Art and Cultural institutions