In early December 2018, the Association for Israeli Decorative Arts (AIDA) sent four representatives from three US crafts schools to explore the contemporary craft scene in Israel. The tour included Mia Hall, Executive Director of Penland School of Craft (Penland, NC), Paul Sacaridiz, Executive Director of Haystack Mountain School of Crafts (Deer Island, ME), and two representatives from Pilchuck Glass School (Stanwood, WA), Artistic Director, Tina Aufiero and Executive Director, Christopher Taylor.

Letter from Chris Taylor
Executive Director, Pilchuck Glass School

AIDA is clearly serious about cultural diplomacy. For ten tightly packed days, the AIDA Director, Aviva Ben-Sira, made sure that we were exposed to the best of Israel’s craft, design, and fine art community. We toured individual artist studios, met with university professionals, went behind the scenes with museums, spent a day on a kibbutz, and visited historic sites around the country. Visiting Israel during Chanukah, I was particularly honored that AIDA included a special Shabbat dinner in the home of Marcelle Klein, the founding director of the Benyamini Contemporary Ceramics Center in Tel Aviv.

As you know, Israel is a small country. This manageable size not only made navigation easy, it meant that connections within the craft and design communities were close. I quickly discovered that all roads led back to two universities, Bezalel in Jerusalem, and Shenkar in Tel Aviv. Our visit included tours of both schools, an opportunity to present histories of our institutions, and engage in lively discussions about potential partnerships.

Both schools made strong impressions on the group. Bezalel highlighted its extensive library collection for art and design, its broad array of equipment for industrial design, and showed us a beautiful design for an expanded campus in downtown Jerusalem. Shenkar highlighted its fabric technology department, and jewelry design program, headed by an extremely talented professor Deganit Schocken. The quality of work from his students was nothing short of world-class. Learning that both universities have ambitious expansion plans can only mean great things for the future of craft and design in Israel.

Notable among our visits was Esther Knobel, retired instructor of the Jewelry department at Bezalel. We first looked at some cast iron forms she had made during her residency at the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, WI. Then the jewelry came out. She kept unpacking silver brooches, each one more beautiful than the last! Knobel showed a series of pieces where she used the silver as a ground for embroidered line drawings that were often squeezed in a press. We peppered her with detailed questions about her technique of combining fiber, printmaking, and jewelry. At one point Esther paused the discussion and said “I love talking with people who know about making”. If it weren’t for the tight schedule, I think we might still be sitting at Esther’s place thinking about how we can bring her to the United States. Mia and I talked about a tour and hope to reconnect soon about this idea.

Another visit included the studio of four young women who shared different approaches to working with fabric and design. Dikla Laveski was running her own high-end scarf design and retail business, Ayelet Yontef was teaching indigo dying to kids all over the country, and the other two Shira Shoval and Ariel Blonder were investigating high tech designs in clothing including laser cutting techniques. This small collective showed innovation and collaboration – and of course they trace their education back to Bezalel or Shenkar and the Center for Innovation and Research in Textiles (CIRTex).

There really were too many visits to recount, but a few of my personal highlights included a visit with Gil Yefman, who makes large scale knitting and videos from a bunker-like studio at the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station; SAGA Gallery, a beautifully curated shop that features Israeli designers; a visit to Um el Fahem Gallery, the first gallery in Israel to represent Palestinian artists; a stop at Israel’s first museum Mishkan Museum of Art on a kibbutz in Ein Harod; and a walking tour of Jerusalem’s Old City by David Zacharie. Our Shabbat hosts also gave us a tour of the Benyamini educational facilities and the exhibition Terracotta Rave . Curator Shlomit Bauman brought together a wide array of Israeli artists to explore an ancient material through a distinctly contemporary lens that mixed performance, sound, video, and industry. Recently coming from The Clay Studio in Philadelphia, I was really impressed with the vision at Benyamini and the show that we saw!

The visit also allowed us to bond as colleagues. As three new directors of three legacy institutions, we had an opportunity to share our collective challenges, discuss best practices, and bounce ideas off of each other. Sacaridiz, the senior of the three directors, recently celebrated his third year at Haystack. Hall has just passed her first year anniversary with Penland, and I am the newest at eight-months as head of Pilchuck. Aufiero had announced her departure from Pilchuck earlier in 2018 after seven successful years and will continue working with us on international partnerships. AIDA had organized a similar trip with our predecessors and this repeat was timed perfectly for the next generation of leaders.

While visiting the Israeli Museum in Jerusalem, I was excited to find a large room dedicated to ancient glass artifacts from the Holy Land. What seemed to be missing on the trip, however, was a strong contemporary glass community. This certainly begs for a strengthened partnership with Pilchuck and more work to be done to help support the few glass artists that we had encountered. I look forward to hosting future artists from Bezalel and Israel – I’m sure we can have a positive impact on the growth of this glass community.

On this trip, I learned that Penland, Haystack, and Pilchuck share a unique lineage. Penland, the older of the three institutions was founded by Lucy Morgan in 1929 to bring craft education and economic opportunity to the people of North Carolina. After studying at Penland, Mary Beasom Bishop would be inspired by the educational model and environment and go on to found Haystack in 1950. Dale Chihuly would spend several summers teaching at Haystack where he had the inspiration to form Pilchuck Glass School in 1971. All three schools, set in breathtaking rural environments, continue to serve members of the craft, design, and art community of the United States and around the world.

This experience helped me to see Israel up close and personal. Aviva will tell you that I tried to pick up a few Hebrew phrases – some with more success than others! All of us were able to spread the mission of our schools to new partners, and to reestablish bonds between the schools and the new directors. This bonding often occurred over a “light lunch”, on long bus rides, and regular discussions of the nature of contemporary craft, art, design, educational models, and industry.

On behalf of Pilchuck, I want thank Aviva for putting together such an ambitious and thoughtful tour and thank AIDA for making it all possible.

Toda Raba, Aviva!

Toda Raba, AIDA!

Christopher R. Taylor
Executive Director
Pilchuck Glass School