Arieh Merzer (1905-1966)

Arieh Merzer, an artist who worked in hand-hammered copper, was born in Warsaw in 1905, the scion of a large Hassidic family. He graduated from the Academy of Arts in Warsaw, and became the pupil of Professor Adam Richtarsky. He later worked with a group of Jewish artists who wanted to resuscitate the ancient oriental-Jewish craft of hand-hammering metal (metaloplastics), which was passed on to us as a legacy by far-off generations from the time of the Bible.
In 1928 Arieh Merzer exhibited his works in Warsaw for the first time. From 1930 he lived and worked in Paris. He was one of the Jewish artists who gathered there and were known as the Jewish 'Ecole de Paris.'

Merzer regularly exhibited in the well-known 'Salon d'Automne' and 'Salon des Tuileries,' as well as in solo exhibitions in Paris and throughout France.
Arieh Merzer's work was highly acclaimed well before the Holocaust, before it became a memorial to a world destroyed. He portrayed the story of the Jewish spirit on copper, on silver, and on gold: stories from the Bible, the life-styles of the Jews in their shtetls and ghettos, of Hassids and Kabbalists of renown, of wars of liberation and revival. A special stress was placed on the link between the new Jewish experience and its historical nucleus. His major innovation was the moulding of mystic and traditional Jewish motifs, that surrounded the Holy Ark in Europe's burning synagogues, and presenting the results before the world of modern art. As a result he became generally recognized as an international Jewish artist. In 1943, when France was conquered by the Nazis, Arieh Merzer escaped from a concentration camp, and after a stint in the maquis, he crossed the border into Switzerland and was sent to a labor camp. Later, he arrived in Geneva, where an album of sketches of his works was put out. In 1945 he made aliyah to Israel with his family, settled in Safed, and helped to found the Artists' Quarter there.
Arieh Merzer lived and worked in Israel for twenty-one years. His exhibitions in the country include: 1946 in the Tel Aviv Museum; 1947 in the Pevsner Artists' Pavilion in Haifa; 1951 in the Artists' Pavilion in Tel Aviv; 1955 in the Museum for Modern Art in Haifa; 1955 in the Artists' Pavilion in Jerusalem; and 1957 in the Tel Aviv Museum. His works were also on permanent show in his atelier in Safed. He was awarded prizes, including: the Herman Struck prize in 1946; the Dizengoff prize in 1951 and then again in 1965; and the Mayor of Haifa's prize in 1954. His works appear in numerous museums and collections throughout the country and abroad. His heart stopped beating on the eve of Holocaust Day, 1966.
Arieh Merzer, who was brought up in a Hassidic family, was drawn to the world of art from an early age; he was influenced by the moods and new ideals of the socialist circles and prepared himself to study art in the academy. On Passover eve , after clearing out the bread, while the rest of the household was busy preparing for the Holiday, a book fell from the bookcase and from out its pages flew dozens of sketches and drawings of nudes that the young Arieh had prepared for his folio for the entrance examinations to the academy. His sisters tore up the drawings with cries of treyfe treyfe (ritually non-kosher) and many months' hard work went down the drain. As a result of this, he left his home at the age of fifteen, and later joined a group of young artists who wanted to revive the ancient art of hand-hammered copper - metaloplastics - bequeathed to them by past generations who lived in Bible times.
Thus did he part from his family - mother, father, thirteen brothers and sisters - who all perished in the Holocaust. He alone survived, and made an oath that he would commemorate in copper all who had died.

Arieh Merzer wrote:
"From my earliest childhood I remember a little volume in my father's library which always intrigued me with its strangely drawn figures and circles. When ever my father hid it behind the heavy Gimorahs I pulled it out again and again. It was in the book of Kabballah "Raziel the Angel" that for the first time I came across plastic art.So, perhaps, it is not by chance that almost forty years later, after the old Jewish homes in Europe together with their inhabitants were destroyed in fire and in smoke, fate led me to the Kabballah city of Safed: The city which crowns the thoughtful inspiring mountains of Galilee with her old Synagogues, surrounded by caves and ancient tombs from the time of the wise man and teachers (Shimon Bar-Yochai, his son and pupils Shmaiah and Avtalion and many others). Safed with her mystic stories and legends where Moshe Kordovero and the Ari Hajadosh studies Kabballah with their pupils, where the spirit of the mishna came each night to Yosef Karo to study the secrets of the Torah with him, city where Shlomo Alcabetz sang the great love song "Lecha Dodi" to Queen Sabath. Safed the wonder-city where generations of Jews came from the wide world to seek meaning and slavation - Therefore, it is no wonder that this city, hundreds of years later, attracted painters and artists from the whole world."

Arieh Merzer street in Safed

In the summer of 1946 whilst I was getting acquainted with Safed for the first time, the city charmed me with her beautiful mysterious folk, her little streets with their oriental-mediaeval architecture and their wrought-iron balconies like fine embroidery.
I was fascinated by the patriarchal Jews, remnants from the old Kabbalists who still walk in these Safed streets.
Arieh and his wife, Ester Merzer in Safed \ Merzer house in 1955



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