Archives for July 2014

Bezalel Ben Uri

Blog post by Claire Jackson Ben Uri Archivist / Posted 28th July 2014

Centenary Stories from the Archives

In this week’s blog we examine the origins of Ben Uri and the parallel story of the Bezalel School of Art and Crafts founded in 1906. Both took inspiration from the biblical craftsman Bezalel Ben Uri.

Where does the name Ben Uri came from?

Then the Lord said to Moses, See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all manner of workmanship – to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. (Exodus 31, 1-5).

Bezalel Ben Uri is the name of the master craftsman mentioned in the bible as creating the tabernacle where the spirit of God was to dwell. The word Bezalel can be translated as ‘in the shadow of’ or protection ‘of God’. He was the son (Ben) of Uri of the tribe of Judah.

Bezalel School of Art 1906

The 1915 founders of Ben Uri were not the first to use the name of this ancient figure to call for a renaissance in Jewish Art. Ten years earlier at a Zionist congress held in Basel in Switzerland a resolution was passed to create a ‘Bezalel’ school of Art. Boris Schatz, who was running an art school in Bulgaria, opened the Bezalel School (later Academy) in Jerusalem in 1906.

Boris Schatz
Boris Schatz

To help him start the school Schatz took with the artist, Ephraim Lilien who taught there during the opening year. In some versions of the logo design for Bezalel by Lilien there is a representation of Bezalel Ben Uri building the tabernacle but who also looked suspiciously like Schatz himself! In most versions of the logo the figure does not appear.


Bezalel Logo for Schatz’s own use

bezalel logo
Bezalel Logo

The Jewish National Art Association London Ben Ouri 1915

It is not clear whether the London founders of Ben Uri, as it quickly became known, chose the second part of the biblical name in order to differentiate themselves from Bezalel in Jerusalem or in homage to its ideals. Certainly Lazar Berson, the creator of Ben Uri, was a great admirer of Lilien, writing a 1915 article about him for his regular column in the Yiddish paper Die Tsayt.

Lilien-EphraimMoses The Palms of Sakkarah
The Palms of Sakkarah (Lilien)

The first secretary of Ben Uri, Solly Abrahams even used the pseudonym Bezalel on official Ben Uri communications.

bezalel heading 1915
Ben Uri Headed Paper. Abraham Bezalel (Solly Abrahams)

Like Bezalel in Jerusalem, Berson set about giving art classes creating items inspired by Biblical themes.

Experiencing The British Summer

Blog post by Claire Jackson Ben Uri Archivist / Posted 21st July 2014

Centenary Stories from the Archives

More stories from the early days of Ben Uri. The founders try to find inspiration on Hampstead Heath. In this post we also meet a fortune teller and the creator of the ‘Melting Pot’ while eating ice cream as served to Buckingham Palace!

The weather changed and disrupted the noble ideas

In this posting I continue with highlights from the early days of the Ben Uri. In another extract from the recently translated original minute book, the secretary Judah Beach waxes lyrical whilst describing a meeting held al fresco … that is, until the rain comes down.

Minutes Sunday, 4 June 1916

The Ben Uri Committee members meet at Hampstead Station with a plan to continue their discussions about opening a gallery and publishing an album of Jewish art. They walk to the heath and stop in a field:

an abundance of greenery … the trees are dipping in the glitter from the sun and spread enchanting reflections of all sorts of shapes by their sheer movement and the birds burst into song for nature, our business is discussed.

But as if for spite, the weather changed and disrupted the noble ideas of how to immortalise Jewish life through art. But the determination of the supporters of Jewish art overcame the negative spirits and after a lengthy march through various paths we finally found a place for our meeting.

Richmond to Chertsey

feigl frederick near richmond

Near Richmond (Fredrick Feigl)

After the Committee’s experience with inclement weather in 1916 there are no recorded further attempts to meet in plein air although outdoor social outings are organised.

Here is an invitation for a Ben Uri boat trip between Richmond and Chertsey from 1920. The ticket promises, a ‘carnival, concert and dancing’ all for the price of 10 shillings and 6 pence (children half price). This route was particularly popular as five other groups are recorded in the Jewish Chronicle during June and July of that year as having undertaken similar excursions.


Boat Trip Invitation 1920

From Thought to Thought and Dream to Dream Man’s Life Must, Richer Truer Grow.


Ben Uri Garden Fete 1922 Cover

This quote is found on the cover of the programme from 1922 for another outdoors event, a garden fete to meet the newly appointed Ben Uri President, Israel Zangwill. Zangwill was, at that time, arguably the best known Jew in the English speaking world. He chronicled the Jewish refugee experience in Children of the Ghetto and popularised the term ‘Melting Pot’ in his play of that name, which was seen by US President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909 when it premiered in America

wolmark alfred fourteen illustrations to the works of israel zangwill

Wolmark Illustration of Zangwill’s Melting Pot

As well as this example of an illustration of text of the Melting Pot by Alfred Wolmark from 1925, Ben Uri has a number of portraits of Zangwill. One of them, also by Wolmark, was donated to the National Portrait Gallery in 1935.

In the Picture Gallery: Can money buy such joy!


Ben Uri Garden Fete 1922 Inside

We learn from the 1922 garden fete invitation that the event not only had catering by J Lyons (from whom celebrity cook Nigella Lawson is descended from!) and ices from a royal supplier but also music, dancing, speeches and games, not forgetting my favourite feature, the fortune teller ‘Baha-I-Ima’ which comes with a testimonial: ‘I am rich and happy, my big family blesses you’.

There was also a chance to view the growing Ben Uri art collection.