My artistic journey started long before I discovered textiles. As a young child, I was the designated artist of the family, but took art more seriously in high school, when I enrolled in Thelma Yellin, which was then Israel’s only high school for the arts. It didn’t take long before I became interested in abstract, recycled art and assemblages.
I painted with pieces of broken antennas, framed a pair of worn shoes, and made collages out of torn newspapers. In my senior year I made a series of three meatal-and-wood artworks inspired by a picture of a bomb-revenged window I saw in a magazine. For those, I used wooden carts/frames I found in piles of garbage on the streets, and soft, easy-to-cut metal sheets I got from my Saba (grandpa) Israel, who was a master tinsmith.
I didn’t know exactly how to refer to them. They weren’t paintings, reliefs or even assemblages. So I called them “Constructions.”
Below are pictures of two of the three Constructions. I couldn’t find a picture of the third. (I took these and the following pictures in the 1980’s, on a real camera, the ancient kind that used film. Sadly, much of the color faded in the decades that followed).
My Grandfather the Tinsmith
A Zionist from Galicia
My grandfather, Israel Fruchter, was born in 1908 in Stryi, Galicia, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, later a part of Poland, and now in western Ukraine. He was the fourth child in a family of tinsmiths. His father, grandfather and great grand father were all tinsmiths. After graduating from school, he learned tinsmithing as an apprentice in his father’s workshop. He later furthered his professional education and became a master tinsmith.
This is him, on the top left, with his sister Mina and his parents, Henia and Anchel.
A Zionist escaping antisemitism, he immigrated to British-ruled Palestine-Eretz-Yisrael in 1933. He found work the day after he arrived, first in Tel Aviv, later in British army bases. He soon moved to Jerusalem, where he opened his own workshop. In less than two years he saved enough money to sponsor immigration visas (“certificates”) for his father, brother, sister-in-law and sister, and to finance their journey to the Holy Land (his mother, sadly, passed away eight months after he left Stryi). They arrived in Israel in summer 1935, right as the Nazis were taking control of Europe, and the lives of European Jews in general and Polish Jews in particular were becoming increasingly more difficult.
In Jerusalem, my grandpa specialized in construction tinsmithing, and helped build many new buildings, including some public ones, in the quickly-developing city. He married my grandma in 1937, and had two daughters. His wasn’t an easy life, but he worked hard and persevered, literally supporting his family with his two hands. His workshop, which he called “The Shop,” was a source of pride and a refuge. He kept going there daily, well into his eighties, even after the invention of plastic narrowed his business to a trickle, and even after he was getting weaker and his hands started shaking. He gave it up reluctantly only after Parkinson’s took its heavy toll.
My Grandfather’s Workshop
I knew my grandpa as an old man, my doting Saba who visited every week bearing bags of chocolate and baked goods. As a child, I spent many vacations at my grandparents’ apartment in Jerusalem, and often visited his workshop at 145 Jaffa Street, right near the Machne Yehuda market.
My grandpa’s workshop was located in an old-style Jerusalem building. It had thick walls made out of Jerusalem stone, and arched bar-covered windows, which didn’t bring in a lot of light. There was a main room, a back room and a small courtyard with a storage shed. The workshop was equipped with strange machines, rows of tools, and various stencils hanging on the walls. There was absolutely nothing for kids to do there, and so, as a child, I found it boring. This changed when I went to high school and developed an admiration for everything old, rusty and weathered. Suddenly, my grandfather’s workshop became a treasured Aladdin cave.
One day, I asked my grandpa to let me take pictures of his shop. He happily agreed, and we spent a fun morning snapping photos. Now these are some of my favorite photos of him, and I am sorry I didn’t have the insight to take more.
This is my Saba at the entrance to his shop:
Here he is inside, with some of the machines and tools he brought from Poland. On the walls you can see the many stencils he used in his work.
My grandpa was always meticulously dressed, with trousers, a button-down shirt, shiny shoes and a hat. Yes, even when he went to work!
I don’t know what any of these machines were for, but I do know that when he brought them to British-mandated Palestine-Eretz-Yisrael, they were the top, state-of-the-art tools of tinsmithing.
These are some of his hand-held tools hanging at an alcove on the wall. Hammers and metal cutters, some belonging to his great-grandfather.
My First Art Collaborator
In my senior year of high school, we had to complete several graduation projects. We needed to write a senior thesis for art history (mine was about the use of trash as a subject and material in modern art), and needed to create a final project for our sculpting class. I knew what mine would be. I wanted to enlarge one of my three metal and wood “constructions,” and make it into a standing 3D piece. For that I needed my grandpa’s help. And my mom’s and dad’s, too.
I went with my dad to a carpenter and bought wooden beams for the frame. My dad helped me prepare it for assembly. My grandpa, in the meantime, helped me pick a suitable type of galvanized sheet metal from the selection in his storage shed.
He carried the heavy roll for me on the hour-long bus ride home. Once there, we unrolled the sheet on the dining table. Using a marker, I drew the pattern I wanted onto the metal sheet.
This sheet metal was much thicker than the one I used for my Constructions, and was too stiff for me to cut myself. But my grandfather, then in his late 70’s, was still strong and steady. Using one of his metal scissors, he easily cut the rounded shapes I needed.
My mom, his daughter, helped hold the metal sheet from moving.
I carried the various pieces to school on a bus (we didn’t have a car at the time). It took several days to bring them all. Then I assembled them in the school courtyard. The sculpture was quite big, so my classmates helped. We dug holes in the ground and placed the sculpture inside. Then my friends Limor, Hagar and Hadas filled the holes with concrete.
This is what it looked like in the school courtyard.
I don’t actually know how long it stood there. I’m sure the school took it down eventually, to make room for new student work. But the wonderful memories that came from working with my Saba, my first art collaborator, can never be erased. These are memories I will cherish forever.