When my Saba (grandfather) Israel Fruchter, a master tinsmith, could no longer work, he sold his shop and and its content. I don’t know what became of most of his treasures. I do know, however, that my father took a handful of the tools as a memento. He kept them in his tool shed, where they hung for decades mixed in with his own tools.
My mom loved the quilts I made with my father’s algae collection. She suggested that I make a series based on her father’s tools as well. Mom was very close to her father and loved him dearly. I promised to do as she asked.
During my last visit with her, I took the tools out of my dad’s shed. I carefully photographed them one by one. When I looked at them, I remembered my grandfather’s hands holding them. They felt precious.
Some were so old that they were rusted shut. They must have belonged to my great grandfather, or even to his father or grandfather before him.
After my mom passed away, I thought long and hard about my grandfather’s tools, and how I could use them in quilts. Eventually, I decided to make a small series of three quilts, that would roughly tell the story of my grandfather’s life. I decided to call it “Fruchter’s Workshop,” since my grandfather was mostly known as “Fruchter.” To depict the tools, I planned to incorporate various printing techniques: block printing, stenciling and Gelli plate printing, as well as raw-edge applique.
I knew I wanted to use metallic colors for the quilts, because my grandpa worked with metals. The color silver was a natural choice for one quilt, for that was the color of the galvanized metal sheets he worked with. I chose rust for a second quilt, because that was a dominant color in his workshop, and because all the pictures I took of it in the 1980’s faded to that color. It was a bit hard to chose a color for the third quilt, however. Eventually, I decided to go with gold. My grandfather didn’t use any gold in his work, but it was metallic, and I thought it would be a good metaphor for his youth.
A gold quilt for Fruchter’s youth, a rust quilt for his middle age, and a silver quilt for his later years.
I didn’t make the quilts in chronological order. I started with the last piece, the silver one, because I only knew my grandfather, and loved him, as an old man. The silver quilt portrays the Saba I remember.
I started by going over my grandfather’s pictures. For hours I combed albums, seeing many pictures for the first time. It felt like I was getting to know my Saba better, meeting him young, before I was born, and also revisiting our common memories. This was several months after my mom had died, and the process was both emotional and comforting at the same time.
I wanted to incorporate only pictures of my grandfather at work. There weren’t many of those, although my grandfather spent a large part of his life working. Luckily, I did eventually manage to find a suitable picture for each time period. Once selected, I printed these pictures, as well as pictures of his hands at work, on transparent, iron-on transfer paper.
With my grandfather’s pictures chosen, I moved on to depict his tools. I carved a lino block based on two of the tools, which I used for all three quilts.
I also cut a few tool stencils.
A Golden Quilt for My Grandfather’s Youth: “A Tinsmith from Galicia”
I started each quilt by auditioning and selecting fabric. I didn’t think I had much gold, but was surprised to discover I actually had a wide selection! Using paper printouts of my chosen pictures, I played with the background fabrics and composition until I was happy. The picture in this quilt depicts my grandfather (front left) with his co-workers in Tel Aviv, in the very first workshop he was employed at after getting off the boat in Palestine-Eretz Yisrael.
Once I settled on the composition, I printed tools onto different panels, appliqued tools on other panels, and ironed the transfer paper with the pictures onto their permanent spots. Then I sewed it all together.
This is the first piece, “A Tinsmith from Galicia.” It’s a homage to my grandpa’s early years as a Zionist immigrant to British-ruled Palestine-Eretz-Yisrael. For the first two years, he worked hard to earn enough money to survive, to sponsor visas for the family members he left behind in Stryi, Poland (his father, brother, sister in law and sister), and to finance their journey, thus saving them from sure death in Nazi concentration camps. Later, he worked to establish his professional career and support a young family of his own.
A Rust Quilt for Saba’s Middle Age: “145 Jaffa Street”
If you’ve seen my work from the last couple of years, you’ll know I have a thing for rust. It is no wonder, then, that I enjoyed hunting for rust-colored swatches in my stash to incorporate into this quilt. I found some with delicious textures, that went really well together.
This second piece describes my grandfather’s mid life. At this stage of his life, he had already established himself as the master tinsmith he was. He owned his own workshop on Jerusalem’s Jaffa St., where he employed several workers to help with the many jobs he secured. He worked tirelessly helping construct the new Jerusalem, the capital of the young state of Israel, by taking part in private and public construction projects. By then, his daughters were growing, later having kids of their own. Despite the wars and economic difficulties of the time, my grandfather was able to keep supporting his family by the labor of his hands. He purchased a new, better apartment at the center of Jerusalem, paid for college, financed weddings and helped his daughters launch.
The picture I chose for this quilt depicts my grandfather (top left) and two of his employees in the courtyard of his shop, on a rare, snowy Jerusalem winter day.
The Dome of Montefiore’s Windmill
My grandfather worked on many construction sites throughout his life, but none was more well know than the dome of the Montefiore Windmill.
After the unification of Jerusalem following the Six Day War (1967), the City of Jerusalem set about to restore the crumbling Montefiore Windmill, a Jerusalem landmark in the Jewish neighborhood of Mishkenot Sha’ananim. The task required master tinsmiths specializing in working with copper. There were no such people in Israel, and so those in charge originally sought to bring experts from Europe. When my grandfather learned of this, he immediately applied for the job. Although copper wasn’t his expertise, while back in Stryi he helped his father cover church roofs in copper sheets. He knew how to do this specialized work and had some experience doing it. He got the job.
The dome my grandfather built for this windmill was his most well known accomplishment, one of which he was very proud. His dome, and the windmill which it topped, were recorded in many photographs and paintings throughout the decades. (The dome was restored again in 2012, at which point my grandfather’s work was replaced).
It was important to me to include the dome in this quilt. I printed a picture of the windmill, sketched its outline onto iron-on interfacing, cut it out with an exacto knife and then painted it black.
Carefully, I stitched it onto the quilt, appliqueing a golden dome on top.
I also appliqued some tools.
Because this quilt is so textured, I decided to make it even more so. I did so by couching on a few highlights of golden sateen.
This is the finished piece, “145 Jaffa Street.”
A Silver Quilt for Grandpa’s Later years: “The Shop”
In this piece, I used similar techniques as in the other two. Here, I also incorporated a gel plate printing of tools. The print didn’t come out as clear as I had hoped it would.
To fix this, I hand embroidered the tools’ outline, giving them a more defined look.
I hand-painted some tools using a stencil and acrylic paint.
This is the finished piece, “The Shop.” It depicts a picture I took myself of my meticulously-dressed grandfather in front of his backyard storage shed. This quilt celebrates my Saba’s pride and perseverance. In his later years, my grandfather could no longer work on construction sites. The invention and spread of plastics stole most of his work, by cheaply replacing items previously made from metal. In those late years, he didn’t have enough work to pay for workers. His health was starting to fail him. And yet, day after day, year after year, decade after decade, he got dressed each morning and walked over to his shop. There, he sat alone in the darkish space, doing one odd small job or another. But he kept on going, until he couldn’t.
To connect all three pieces in this series together, I incorporated in each piece a color from another piece. The first, golden quilt has gray/silver highlights. The second, rusty quilt, has gold highlights, and the third, gray/silver quilt, has rust highlights. Each piece also incorporates a square with a grid. I chose these squared as a references to the Jerusalem Stone bricks that covered the workshop, and to the grid of its bar-covered windows. All of the quilts in this “Fruchter’s Workshop” series are 23” x 29.”
After my grandfather sold his shop, the new owner renovated the building. He added a second story, and turned the place into a hotel. On a recent visit to Jerusalem, I visited the site after almost a decade of not doing so. That whole part of Jerusalem is now hardly recognizable. To my surprise, I discovered that the entire block on which my grandfather’s shop once stood was razed to the ground, replaced by a brand new building. This new building is built in the old style, but is otherwise entirely modern. When I was there, workers were still putting finishing touches to the interior of new, modern shops.
Behind the single row of new shops, a huge, recently-completed apartment complex was already bustling with young families. The houses on Jaffa Street, it turned out, were also renumbered. 145 Jaffa is now a corner shop that has nothing to do with my grandfather.
Like my grandfather and his generation, the old workshop and the world in which it existed now live in memory alone.
“A Tinsmith from Galicia” will be displayed in the 53rd Annual Textile Exhibition at Olive Hyde Gallery in Fremont, CA. The show will run from Thursday, August 17 to Saturday, October 7, 2023.