Courtesy Donald Rosenfeld
Walter Korder and Sanford Low, ‘View of Haifa, Upon the Founding of Israel,’ 1948, oil on canvas, mural separated into three panels, 69.5 x 222 inches, signed and dated lower leftCourtesy Donald Rosenfeld
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The Haifa Mural

The history of a remarkable artwork celebrating the creation of the State of Israel, born in Hawaii and Berlin, and recovered from the basement of a youth services center in Connecticut

Henry Adams
April 26, 2023
Courtesy Donald Rosenfeld
Walter Korder and Sanford Low, ‘View of Haifa, Upon the Founding of Israel,’ 1948, oil on canvas, mural separated into three panels, 69.5 x 222 inches, signed and dated lower leftCourtesy Donald Rosenfeld

Sandy Low and Walter Korder’s remarkable Haifa mural for the Jewish temple in Manchester, Connecticut, created in 1948, is one of the most noteworthy artistic statements produced to celebrate Israel at the time of its creation. Why Haifa? We have no written records outlining the reasons for this choice, but to some extent they can be deduced by considering the circumstances of the time. Jerusalem was contested and politically divided between Arabs and Jews, and was sacred to three different religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It would also have transformed the message of the painting from a celebration of the recent creation of the State of Israel, and its promising future, to a meditation on the past. In a painting devoted to the glorious future of Israel, Haifa was the natural choice.

Why not Tel Aviv? Today Tel Aviv is a good deal larger than Haifa, but in 1948 they were about the same size. Interestingly, Tel Aviv did not yet have a port, since the port of Ashdod, which serves Tel Aviv today, was only established in 1956. In the years leading up to the creation of the State of Israel, Haifa was the major port of entry into the country, as well as the site of one of the most widely publicized incidents associated with immigration to Palestine.

In 1947 a rusty old freighter/passenger ship named the Exodus, constructed nearly 30 years before, illegally set sail from France for Israel, crowded with about 4,500 Jewish men, women, and children, all displaced persons or survivors of the Holocaust. While it was en route, British destroyers surrounded the vessel, captured it with a boarding party that killed several of the passengers on board, towed it to Haifa, and then loaded the refugees on Navy transports that carried them back to France. This action quickly exploded into an international incident.The French refused to unload the boat. The refugees on it declared a hunger strike, and were joined by other refugees in camps across Europe. While the British eventually resettled the passengers in a refugee camp in the British zone in Germany, in Hamburg, the incident led to international outrage and stirred up sympathy for the Jewish cause and for unrestricted immigration to Palestine. The emphasis on the Low/Korder mural on the sea and on the curve of Haifa Bay surely celebrates Haifa’s role as the major receiving point for Jewish immigrants to Israel, as well as Haifa’s role as a gateway to the outside world.

The Haifa mural is surely the single most notable artistic statement by Sandy Low, who today is less well known as a painter than as the person who transformed the New Britain Museum of American Art from a modest local art center into one of the country’s greatest repositories of American painting. Known to all his friends as “Sandy,” Sanford Low was born in North Kohala, Hawaii, in the northern sector of the Big Island, on Sept. 21, 1905, and was of mixed New England and Polynesian ancestry. His grandfather John Somes Low, came to the islands from Gloucester, Massachusetts, and married into the Hawaiian royal family. Thus, through his grandmother, Sandy was directly descended from King Kamehameha the First, who united all the tribes on the islands. Sandy was even born very near to where Kamehameha was born, not far from the volcano of Kohala, the oldest of Hawaii’s seven volcanos. Sandy’s mother was a full-blooded Tahitian.

Sandy’s father, Eben Park Low, known to his friends as Rawhide Ben Low, was one of Hawaii’s best-known ranchers and cowboys. While ranching is usually associated with the Great Plains, Hawaii has some of the largest ranches in the United States, and Ben was born on one of these, the Parker Ranch, and went on to ranching as a career. By the time Sandy was a boy, his father had sold his ranch, but Sandy grew up rowing, sailing, swimming, and surfing. In tribute to the New England side of his heritage, Sandy was named for the famous judge and pineapple grower, Sanford Dole, who served successively as president of the Republic of Hawaii and as territorial governor, and who had adopted Sandy’s father after his own father died.

While he spent most of his adult life in New England, Sandy’s native Hawaiian and Polynesian ancestry always formed a large part of his identity, and perhaps in part explains his extraordinary gift for always surrounding himself with a circle of friends. His son Sam Low remarks:

There are a number of Hawaiian concepts that I think are important to understand my father’s life. One of them is Ohana, your extended family, which includes your core family but is extended way beyond. It includes all of your friends and meaningful acquaintances. They become part of your family as well.
My father also had a sense of Aloha—of affection—for just about everybody he met. That innate affection for people allowed him to accept so many into his Ohana, his extended family.

In 1921, at the age of 16, Low was sent to the Loomis School in Windsor, Connecticut, for indoctrination into the rites, rituals, and cultural mores of New England. He stuck it out for only three months, just long enough to earn a place on the varsity football team, where he played halfback in his bare feet. When snow started falling he couldn’t stand it any longer and ran away, jumping a freight train that carried him to Long Island, where he was taken in by some relatives. By this time, he had apparently already formed the ambition of becoming a cartoonist. In 1923, he enrolled at the Museum School in Boston, one of the finest art schools in the United States. In a letter to his sister, Clorinda Lucas, when he was 19, he wrote, “Now here’s the point. Without a doubt of any kind, the only thing I’ll ever succeed in will be the art line.”

After graduating in 1927, Sandy moved to New York, where he rented a loft at 21 West 35th St., and supported himself as a commercial artist while also taking classes at the Grand Central Art School and the Art Students League. He seems also to have spent a good deal of time at parties in Long Island, and it was there that he caught the eye of a beautiful young women, Virginia Hart, who was a graduate of Smith College and an artist in her own right. Drawing on family legend, Sam Low had left an account of what first drew her attention:

In those days, you may remember, Gar Wood speedboats were the sleekest and fastest of all—beautiful, slim, powerful boats with a sloped-back windshield. The swains of the day would aquaplane behind such boats to show their prowess. An aquaplane was a board, about six feet long and three wide, which was towed behind the boat at high speed. Just being able to stand up on one of these careening boards was considered the height of masculine showmanship. But dad had been a surfer, a canoe paddler, and a beach boy. He had spent most of his life in the water. So he took aquaplaning one step farther. He stood on his head.

Virginia Hart had grown up in a fashionable neighborhood in New Britain, Connecticut, in a large mansion at 388 Hart St. While her parents would eventually come to adore Sandy Low, on first acquaintance they were a bit appalled that she had resolved to marry a handsome, athletic, and very friendly but penniless Hawaiian. To give her time to think things over they sent her on a trip to Europe, during which she and Sandy corresponded. The trip only strengthened Virginia’s conviction that Sandy was the man for her. After their marriage in 1930, the couple moved to New Britain, then known as the hardware capital of the world, and promptly faced the question of what Sandy was going to do there to support himself. What he decided was that New Britain needed an art school. As an article in the Sunday edition of the Hartford Courant put it: “Grandson of late Hawaiian ruler to be first director of institution which will teach students to paint along original lines.”

The institution was known as The Art League of New Britain, or, more simply, The Studio, or more simply still, as The Red Barn. The Red Barn quickly became the center of the social life of New Britain. It brought together, in a spirit of camaraderie, artists and people from all walks of life—businessmen, store owners, lawyers, doctors—all kinds of folks who would normally not have anything to do with artists.

Starting in 1937, Sandy Low and his friend Walter Korder began producing murals together for restaurants, hotels, office buildings, civic buildings and synagogues in the vicinity of New Britain, for the grand fee of $5 a square foot. One of the most ambitious of these projects was a 36-foot-long series called “The Connecticut Murals,” created for the New Britain Savings and Loan Association in 1957, for which the Haifa mural might be seen as a kind of prelude.

Korder (1891-1962) was born in Berlin in 1891. When he was 18 months old his parents immigrated to the United States and settled in Hartford, Connecticut, where he attended school and took classes at the Hartford Art Society. After graduation from high school he received a scholarship to attend the Royal Academy in Munich, where he mastered the art of academic figure painting. On graduation, he returned to Hartford, where he worked with his father decorating period rooms in Hartford mansions. During World War I, he served in the American army, where he painted portraits of his fellow soldiers. During the 1930s he produced murals for the Works Progress Administration and for the Public Works of Art Project, and also served as an administrator for the WPA in Hartford. He and Sandy Low became friends at some point in the 1930s. Korder was an active participant in the activities of The Red Barn, and also summered on Martha’s Vineyard, where he joined Low’s landscape painting group.

A major shift in Sandy Low’s activities occurred in 1938 when he was appointed director of the New Britain Museum of American Art and also as a member of its board of directors. A wealthy widow, Grace Judd Landers, was expected to donate a large amount of money to the museum, but unfortunately, she lost her money in the stock market crash of 1929. She did, however, leave her house to serve as a home for the museum upon her death in 1934. What Sandy Low became director of was this house and a collection of 24 paintings, acquired through a bequest made in 1903 from a local businessman, John Butler Talcott. By the time of his untimely death just 30 years later, at the premature age of 59, this very modest start had grown to a collection of about 1,500 paintings, including masterworks by many of the most illustrious names in American art, such as Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, Childe Hassam—the list goes on—including a complete mural cycle by Sandy’s personal friend, the great regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton. Today many of the paintings Low acquired are worth millions, and the collection as a whole surely ranks among the top 10 collections of American art.

Low clearly recognized that his Hawaiian ancestry made him something of a misfit in the sedate, business-minded community of New Britain, and rather than seeking to hide this fact, he played it up, and as a consequence was forgiven many transgressions of normal Yankee behavior. A remarkable instance of this was his success in enlisting support for the museum from the richest individual with ties to New Britain, Alix W. Stanley, whose forebears had established Stanley Tools in New Britain, then the largest manufacturer of tools and hardware in the United States. For 15 years Alix Stanley had lived in Europe, but in 1939, returned to the safety of the family home in New Britain. As Sandy Low later wrote, in an undated memo:

In 1939 the massing of war clouds in Europe forced the return to New Britain one of her native sons, Alix W. Stanley, a retired wealthy industrialist, who had lived for 15 years on his estate in Southern France. Although previously never interested in art he took it up on his return to this country for want of something to do. As is his custom, anything he does is done completely, sparing no effort or persons. During 1940 it was my good fortune to have a hand in stimulating him into the possibility of buying pictures as a hobby.

“Although previously never interested in art”—in fact, this conversion of Stanley to art-collecting was in good due to the charm and persuasiveness of Sandy Low; and the exact circumstances of the conversion were often fondly described afterward by Robert Vose, the director of Vose Galleries in Boston, the oldest family-owned art gallery in the United States.

The date was Christmas Eve, 1941. Vose had made a trip through Connecticut with seven paintings in the back of his station wagon, and stopped off to see Sandy Low on his way back to Boston, having failed to sell a single one of them. Low looked at them appreciatively, as Vose unloaded them from his car, and then remarked:

There is a gentleman up on the hill, Alix W. Stanley, a member of the famous Stanley family—the founders of Stanley Works. I’ve always wanted to get him involved somehow in the Museum. He doesn’t like art but he ought to. Let’s go visit.

Vose was naturally a bit startled by the proposal that they should just crash the gates without an introduction, but Sandy was undaunted. They reloaded the paintings, climbed into Vose’s station wagon, drove to Stanley’s house, and knocked on the door. As they were waiting for someone to open it, Sandy turned to Bob and commented: “The old gentleman is a teetotaler. The first thing we’re going to do is ask for a drink.”

A butler ceremoniously opened the door, and Low slipped into the lugubrious Stanley castle for the first time. After a short wait, Mr. Stanley, who was elderly, hobbled into the room. Sandy promptly introduced Bob Vose as “an expert in American art from the world’s most famous American art gallery,” and before Stanley could say a word added, “and he needs a drink.”

This was easier said than done, since there was no hard liquor in the house. But eventually the cook emerged with glasses of cooking sherry, to serve the purpose. They exchanged some small talk. It it did not take long before Sandy and Bob carried the paintings in the station wagon into Alix Stanley’s large, gloomy parlor, arranged them against a wall, and launched into a talk in which they discussed each painting in turn. When they were done, Stanley remarked: “Well, I don’t know anything about paintings, but I thank you very much.” To which Sandy replied:

“Well, you don’t have to worry because I know a lot about art and Mr. Vose knows even more than I do. These are wonderful paintings.”

“What do you think I should do?” Mr. Stanley asked, “Should I buy some?”

“You should buy them all,” Sandy answered.

This was surely a startling thought for Alix Stanley. An enormous mental leap. Not surprisingly, after thinking the matter over for a moment, Stanley decided not to buy them all. But he did buy three.

After making this modest venture into collecting, Alix Stanly became hooked. Despite his previous disinterest in paintings, he began to seriously focus on art collecting, took to joining up with Sandy Low on buying trips to New York, and eventually left to the museum his truly exceptional collection of American paintings, assembled with Sandy’s guidance. What’s more, on his death he left a very sizable financial bequest to the museum.

Along with his many connections in New Britain, Sandy Low also stood at the center of another lively circle of unconventional friends on Martha’s Vineyard, where he and his wife had a 19th-century gingerbread cottage in Harthaven— a little community known for its “studious informality,” which was established in the 1870s by a businessman from New Britain named William H. Hart. A snapshot that shows Sandy at the center of a typical handful of these friends includes the well-known illustrator Stephen Dohanos, who did covers for the Saturday Evening Post; the retired Hollywood movie star, James Cagney; Walter Korder, Sandy’s partner in mural painting; Mr. Ned Allen, amateur artist and owner of a department store in Hartford, Sage Allen; a high school art teacher; and a scattering of others. Over a 40-year period, with Sandy’s encouragement, the members of this group would head out in the morning in all kinds of weather to paint scenery, harbor scenes, weathered houses, seagulls, fishermen, and the like. As Sam Low recalls:

My father and his “artist’s group” gathered in Harthaven in the early morning when dark shadows splayed out from pine trees and scrub oak. They joked and grumbled. They smelled of cigars and garlicky food and, usually, of liquor and fish. By seven or so, they were gone to places all over the island that my father had scouted in his many summers on Martha’s Vineyard.
Then, in the early evening, they would then reassemble at Sandy’s cottage, where they would lay out the paintings on the porch for everyone to admire, while they sipped gin-and-tonics and old-fashioneds and exchanged gossip.

While he loved to paint, Sandy had other enthusiasms as well. Love of cooking led to a particularly close Vineyard friendship with Denys Wortman, a well-known syndicated cartoonist, and a masterful draftsman, who was also a great cook. As Sam Low recalls: “Together they cooked turtle soup—which was a failure—and put on a traditional Hawaiian Luau—which was a great success.” During his childhood in Hawaii, Sandy had developed culinary habits that were often startling to New Englanders. For example, he liked to pick up sea urchins on the beach and eat them raw. As it happened, this friendship with Wortman was to prove of momentous significance for the New Britain Museum.

Sandy Low’s artists group, Harthaven. From left: Unknown, Ned Allen, Walter Korder, James Cagney, unknown, Sanford Low, Irving Katzenstein, Steve Dohanos, Louis Fusari, unknown
Sandy Low’s artists group, Harthaven. From left: Unknown, Ned Allen, Walter Korder, James Cagney, unknown, Sanford Low, Irving Katzenstein, Steve Dohanos, Louis Fusari, unknownCourtesy Low Family

In 1947, the great regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton, the single most notable artist on the island, and a giant in the history of American art, persuaded Wortman to sit for a portrait. Then, seeing that it made Wortman restless to just sit still, Benton proposed that they engage in an artistic duel, and that Wortman do a portrait of him. When they had finished the project, eager to see what they were up to, and with Wortman’s encouragement, Sandy arranged to visit Benton’s studio in Chilmark. Astutely, Sandy arranged to purchase both paintings for the New Britain Museum, recognizing that separating the two would dilute the impact of them both. And this resulted in a nice bit of publicity for New Britain, since the editor of Collier’s magazine also saw the two paintings in Benton’s studio, and published an illustrated article about them, titled “The Battle of Beetlebung Corners,” which received national circulation.

Notably this purchase also resulted in another triumph—arguably Sandy’s greatest coup as a museum director—when the Whitney Museum of American Art, which was moving from a row of connected brownstones to a new building, decided to get rid of the major mural Benton had painted for their library in 1934 which is generally regarded today as one of the greatest American paintings of the 1930s. Benton’s subject was “The Arts of Life in America,” the recreational life of the American people, from playing music to tossing horseshoes. One of the scenes portrays Benton’s student at the time, Jackson Pollock, playing the harmonica alongside a Tennessee fiddler. The price Sandy paid to the Whitney: $500. Today each individual panel would be worth many millions.

Given his gift for pulling together people of disparate backgrounds and interests, it’s not surprising that Sandy Low took on this project for a Jewish temple. Indeed, many of his friends were Jewish and the creation of the State of Israel, resonated with his deepest belief about the essential fellowship of all mankind. In the photograph of him standing with his Vineyard friends, for example, it’s notable that he stands next to a Jewish painter from Hartford, Irving Katzenstein, who worked for the WPA in the 1930s and later taught at the Ann Randall School for Creative Arts, the West Hartford Art League, and the Hartford Jewish Community Center.

Low’s group of friends and artists from both Martha’s Vineyard and New Britain, were in many instances early supporters of the State of Israel. Although this has been widely misrepresented, both Thomas Hart Benton and the art critic Thomas Craven had many Jewish friends and were early supporters of Israel. During his early years in New York, Benton became a close friend of both David and Leopold Mannes, who summered on Martha’s Vineyard. David Mannes, was a gifted classical violinist, who established the Mannes School of Music, which still survives, as well as the Colored Music Settlement School, probably the first music school of its type in the United States, both in accepting African American students and in combining popular and classical musical forms. His son David was both a classical musician and a physicist, and in partnership with his cousin Leopold Godowsky Jr. invented Kodachrome, the first successful and marketable color film.

Both David and Leopold appear in a major painting by Benton, Evening Concert, of 1948. David, cradling a violin in his hand, is also the subject of a striking portrait by Benton, painted in the following year. Benton’s supporters in Kansas City were mostly Jewish businessmen, and in 1949 he painted a major mural for the Harzfeld department store on the theme of Achelous and Hercules. Thomas Craven actively engaged in fundraising for the State of Israel.

Temple Beth Shalom, constructed in 1940, and located in Manchester, Connecticut, at 63 Linden St. (at the corner of Myrtle and Linden streets), was a red brick Georgian building with a classical pediment supported by Doric columns. The substantial size of the building, and the all-American qualities of its colonial-style architecture, surely served as a marker of the increasingly significant role of Jewish people as civic leaders in American society. In 1946 the synagogue added a school, and commissioned the mural of Haifa for a large teaching room downstairs. The temple later moved to a larger building at 400 Middle Turnpike East, leaving the mural behind; in 2009 it merged with Temple B’nai Israel in Rockville to form Beth Shalom B’nai Israel, which is one of the largest conservative congregations east of the Connecticut River. For years the room with the mural served as a dance studio. In 1965 the town of Manchester purchased the building to serve as the Manchester Senior Center. Today it houses the Manchester Youth Services Bureau.

Low and Korder painted quite a number of murals in New Britain and the vicinity, ranging from routine commercial commissions, for bars and drugstores, to an elaborate panorama of the history of the area for a local bank. But the Haifa mural clearly rises to a different artistic level, and in fact, in interesting ways is rather different both in subject and in artistic approach. Indeed, one might propose that the special challenges of its subject led both artists to outdo themselves.

The creation of the State of Israel is surely one of the most remarkable events of the 20th century, with roots both in ancient history, and in the reconfiguration of countries and political forces that took place in the aftermath of World War II. According to the Bible, as set forth in Exodus 17-28—and in a number of clarifying statements in other books of the Bible—after they fled from slavery in Egypt, God established a covenant with the Jewish people, the children of Abraham, to have everlasting ownership of the land of Canaan—the land of Israel. Since these books of the Bible are considered holy not only to Jews, but to those of the Christian and Islamic faiths, these statements are embedded in the sacred texts of these other religions as well. Some 2,000 years ago, however, the Jews largely lost possession of this territory during the Jewish revolt of 66-73 CE, when the Romans burned Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple. In the following centuries, many Jewish people emigrated to other countries, and by the fourth century CE Jews had become a minority in Palestine, although some small Jewish communities stayed, and have lived in Palestine since ancient times to the present. Over the following centuries the Jewish people were widely dispersed in different countries, particularly in Europe, Central Europe and the Russian Empire.

The creation of the modern State of Israel dates back to 1897 when Theodor Herzl, at the first Zionist congress, proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth. Herzl was a Jewish writer and journalist, who as correspondent for the Neue Freie Presse had covered the Dreyfus affair in France, in which a Jewish officer was falsely accused of treason. The case created enormous controversy and led to massive antisemitic rallies; it also coincided with a series of pogroms in Russia. Events such as these convinced Herzl that only by establishing a nation of their own could Jews be free from persecution, an argument he put forward in 1896 in his book Der Judenstaat, and then energetically sought to put into practice.

The route to achieving this goal was arduous and winding. But after the defeat of Ottoman rule in Palestine during the First World War, England (or more properly the United Kingdom) became the ruler of Palestine. On Nov. 2, 1917, the Balfour Declaration, which was reaffirmed in 1922 in a mandate by the League of Nations, affirmed the right of the Jews to a national homeland. These abstract statements became a political reality after World War II, when thousands of Jews who had survived the Holocaust began to emigrate in large numbers to Israel. In this period, as unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust were exposed, and brought to the attention of the world, it attracted widespread support internationally, and particularly in the United States, for the Jewish cause.

On May 15, 1948, the United Kingdom formally withdrew from Palestine, and the evening before, David Ben-Gurion, president of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, declared Israel’s statehood and independence. What he proposed was a state that would offer protection to Jews but would offer equal rights to people of all faiths. As the declaration stated:

The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled on its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.

Despite this statement of friendly intentions, just four hours after the announcement, the Egyptians bombed Tel Aviv, and shortly afterward they were joined by the Syrian, Egyptian, Jordanian, Iraqi, and Saudi Arabian armies who invaded Israel from all sides. Nonetheless, but despite being heavily outnumbered, the Israelis pushed back their attackers and established Israel as a state. Ultimately about 700,000 Jews immigrated to Israel and a roughly equal number of Palestinians fled or were expelled.

Haifa dates back to the 14th century BCE, when it was a port and fishing village. By Roman times it had become a major center for turning sea snails into expensive purple dye. Its growth into a major city, however, occurred following World War I, and the British victory over the Ottoman Empire. In this period, Haifa grew into a major administrative center, and the major port for shipping crude oil under the British Mandate. Its importance as a refining center is discreetly indicated in the Low/Korder mural by the puffing smoke from an oil refinery on the right.

Notably, the Low/Korder mural focuses on things that celebrate progress and cultural exchange: the Technion (on the right) and the Baha’i Temple (on the left). The Technion was the first university in the Middle East, it was the first university to teach classes in Hebrew, and today it ranks as the foremost university in the Middle East, and one of the best in the world. With courses focused largely on science and technology, it symbolized the dream that Israel would become a leader in future scientific advances.

Distinctly unusual for a painting in a Jewish temple is the emphasis on the Baha’i Temple in Haifa, which is the world center of the Baha’i faith. But the Baha’i faith is a welcoming and ecumenical one, which teaches the essential truth of all religions, including Judaism, and the unity of all the world’s people, and which today counts some 7 million adherents.

The newest of the world’s four major Middle Eastern religions, Baha’i was founded 200 years ago by a charismatic Persian prelate named Siyyid Ali Humammed Shirazi. Shirazi declared himself a prophet and gained tens of thousands of followers, but was executed only six years after he began the movement. His mission was continued, however, by Mirza Husayn Ali Nuri, who chose the name Baha’u’llah. Not surprisingly, Baha’u’llah also faced persecution. After being expelled to the Ottoman Empire, the Ottomans consigned him to a prison in Acre, about 10 miles north of Haifa, at the northern tip of Haifa Bay, but eventually allowed him to purchase a house and live out his days in relative peace. His ministry was then continued by his son, Abdul-Baha.

While Acre is the site of Baha’u’llah’s home, his tomb, and the gardens where he strolled, the world headquarters of the Baha’i faith, is located in Haifa, and is surrounded by beautiful gardens which are the city’s major tourist attractions, with about 750,000 visitors a year. By prominently featuring the Baha’i headquarters, Sandy Low clearly intended to support the notion that Israel could become not only a refuge for Jewish people, but a country which would give equal rights and freedom of religion to all its inhabitants, as Ben-Gurion’s declaration had insisted. Interestingly, three camels are strolling in the courtyard of the temple, perhaps a reference to the Arabs who remained in Israel, and perhaps a sly reference to the three wise men of the Christian story, who rode camels to come worship the Christ Child.

The central scene in the mural, which contains a panoramic view of the city and port of Haifa, is flanked by scenes of men (on the left) and women (on the right) at work. At this time, one of the most fascinating things about Israel to Americans is that women worked and served alongside men, for example serving in the army and working alongside men in kibbutzim, the rugged socialist communities that successfully brought farming and other productive enterprises to seemingly inhospitable desert regions, through ingenious irrigation and creative enterprise. The oranges and other fruits the women are tending celebrate the fact that the settlers of Israel had created a flourishing garden in a region that previously had been barren.

There’s no documentation as to which painter did what on the Haifa mural. It is very likely that Korder was chiefly responsible for the figure painting, while Low concentrated on the landscape and city scene, and the luminous, cloud-filled sky. One of the most interesting artistic features of the mural is its emphasis on the sea, the sky, and a bank of cumulus clouds—that is on empty open space.

Other murals by Low and Korder, such as the Connecticut murals they produced for a bank in New Britain, are crowded from floor to ceiling with figures in historical costumes. By contrast, a major part of the Haifa mural is a large open field—essentially an abstraction that gives the painting a cosmic and transcendental feeling. It places the activities of man within the larger context of the infinite expanse of the universe and of mysterious divine forces which will always elude complete human understanding. In doing so, the painting invites us to set aside our daily concerns for a moment, and to reflect on our place in the cosmos, with mindfulness not only of ourselves but of all humankind, and of mankind’s cosmic journey.

Henry Adams is the Ruth Coulter Heede Professor of Art History at Case Western Reserve University and the author of Eakins Revealed, among other works.