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Powerful stories and symbols are on display in an exhibit of some 170 works of contemporary Israeli jewelry, at the Newark Museum through June 25. Pearly seashell brooches shaped like fighter planes commemorate a jeweler’s husband killed in a 1956 war; a gold necklace’s links are wrapped around multicolored Jerusalem stones, to express its jeweler’s unshakable love for the arid local landscape; camouflage-painted leaves dangling from yet another artisan’s silk choker resemble both grave wreaths and the floral crowns that kindergarteners wear in Shavuot parades.
The show, “Women’s Tales: Four Leading Israeli Jewelers,” organized in 2006 by the Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, is the first major traveling show of Israeli jewelry. Its contents, handmade between 1966 and 2005, have been circulating for a year, and next year will be displayed at the Israel Museum. Davira S. Taragin, the director of exhibitions and programs at the Racine Art Museum, curated the exhibit with Alex Ward, the Israel Museum’s curator of design and architecture. Taragin dreamed up the idea in 2002, she explains, “because jewelers in Israel—in fact all kinds of decorative artists there—aren’t well known at all, unlike the fine artists there. The jewelers are producing incredibly varied and important work, often drawing on their life experiences. The pieces are as vital and evocative as anything being made now in Europe or the U.S.”
Bianca Eshel-Gershuni was born in 1932. A Bulgarian native who emigrated in 1939, she was widowed young; her husband, a combat pilot, died in the 1956 Sinai campaign. In her rough-textured jewelry, mostly rendered in gold and often shaped like flowers or animals, she juxtaposes pearls and jades with improbable found objects, including feathers, mirrors, burlap, tinfoil, perfume sample vials, a camera lens, and a camel’s tooth. She lives in Ra’anana.
Deganit Stern Schocken, born in 1947, is a kibbutz native who now lives in Herzliya. Her work has evolved dramatically over her two-decade career. Austere necklaces of cylinders and triangles have segued to spiral brooches nestled in silk, origami-like paper pendants, and flakes of tinted wax on silver rings.
Jerusalem artist Esther Knobel was born in 1949 and emigrated to Israel as a toddler with her Polish parents. Her jewelry is playfully homespun: She twists and pounds gold wires and titanium sheets into simulated safety pins and darning needles, recycles tin cans into snail-shaped brooches, and laminates flower petals as trim for pendants.
Vered Kaminski, born in 1953, is the daughter of Polish Holocaust survivors turned kibbutzniks. Her work ranges from Bauhaus-inspired grids and honeycombs to filigrees of steel triangles, Calder-esque mobiles and cartoony portraits in scribbled silver wire, to baskets made of brass mesh snarled around pebbles. She lives in Jerusalem.