TO A NEW ART FOFL AN OLD FLEL1 G I O NO
by A. RAYMOND KATZ
Introduction by J B U L L I E T
Preface and Explanatory Notes by SHLOMO MARENOF
L. M. STEIN, Publisher 913 W. Van Buren St. Chicago 7, III.
ORIGINAL MOTIFS BASED ON THE HEBREW
Copyright, 1945, by A. RAYMOND KATZ 1247 Foster Avenue Chicago 40, Illinois
GLOBUS PRINTING CORPORATION 1939 West North Avenue Chicago
For nearly a score of years, Alexander (Sandor) Raymond Katz has been playing artistically with the classic Hebrew alphabet, much in the spirit of the prophets and esoteric philosophers of old, but with a modern slant, even an occasional glint of wit.
The results, which have been a source of fascination to us who have been privileged to watch his experiments in their progress, are here given, completed to the public.
It is now a commonplace of specialized antiquarian knowledge that the alphabet, then the written word, then the sentence, then the book were, at first and long afterward, the concern of magicians and theologians.
Our Bible even to-day is still "The Book," sacred as much because it is a primal written document as for its contents.
It hasn't been many centuries since theologians disputed and wars were fought over the "Logos" ("The Word").
Now in the 1930's and 40's along comes Raymond Katz, seeking to give new pictorial interpretations to the Hebrew letters which were the basis of "Logos" and of much else in the religious and philosophical world, Hebraic, Christian and Mohammedan.
Traditions with which he is tampering were rampant elsewhere in antiquity, too. Egyptian hieroglyphics, for example, were at origin quite naturalistically pictorial, expressing a recognizable lion or a crocodile or a slave girl. Later they were simplified into abstractions that became symbols, growing ever more and more mystic. Katz is reversing this Egyptian processhe is giving a pictorial conception to what is abstract.
Ancient Jews and their devout followers, the Mohammedans, who accepted the laws of Moses, had tremendous and literal respect for the Commandment against the "Making of graven images, or any likeness of anything". They expressed themselves artistically by taking motifs from the alphabet, elaborating on the initial of a person or a forbidden animal or bird or fish, substituting this abstract creation for" the bodily images. Such is the origin of much of the inexpressibly beautiful ornamentation of the Alhambra . ornament that had a great deal to do with the inspiring of the cubism of the Spanish Picasso.
Katz's early experiments with the Hebrew alphabet, known to Jewish leaders in Chicago of taste and discernment, were partly responsible for his being assigned to design and execute ten murals for the Jewish sector in the Hall of Religion at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933. Then in 1935, when the little Chicago Loop Orthodox Synagogue was established, Katz was engaged to do another series of murals (frescoes), and here he introduced frankly some of the motifs he had evolved in experimenting with his Hebrew letters.
Katz was born in Kassa, Hungary. His father was a tailor and his mother of the family of Altman that had given to the world a number of rabbis and scholars.
Sandor (a name he anglicized to Alexander after coming to America and then dropped in favor of Raymond) began drawing and painting at 9, and by the time he was 1 1, he was selling his pictures to neighbors. At 14, he was sent to New York to study art, a sister having preceded him across the Atlantic. His family were to follow a few years later.
Katz began seriously his professional art career designing and making lithographs and show cards for a firm in Chicago, gaining through seven years, experience that led to a lucrative job with Balaban and Katz (no relation) doing decorative work for their new string of movie palaces in Chicago. At one time in his B. & K. studios he had twenty artists working under him. His poster work, also, included some handsome designs for Chicago Civic Opera.
Of late years Katz, still living by his art and enjoying an ever-widening circle of fame, has been fortunate enough to escape the drudgery of commercial work. He has painted in many places in America and in Europe, and the variety in locale of his paintings and sketches is matched by the variety in techniques and media in which he has worked.
His work has been shown in most of the important museums and galleries, including: The Carnegie Institute; the Pennsylvania Academy; the Corcoran Gallery; the Riverside Museum; the Cincinnati Art Museum; the Golden Gate Exposition; the Ferargil Galleries; the1, Art Institute of Chicago as a regular exhibitor; Mississippi Art Ass'n where he won first prize in national exhibition of oils. He has been awarded several honorable mentions. Has had one-man shows in most of the larger cities, including New York City, San Francisco, Detroit, Newark, Schenectady; and at the Evansville Museum, the Milwaukee Art Institute, the Little Rock Museum, the Springfield Museum, the University of Arkansas; and has lectured in connection with most of them.
He is very well known as a mural painter and designer of stained glass windows. The official mural he executed for the Century of Progress was considered one of the first of the American School of mural painting.
He is, at present, teaching creative painting at the Evanston Art Center, and is Master Craftsman at Great Lakes Naval Hospital, where he has worked under the Arts & Skills program for almost two years.
This book of plates is a worthy demonstration of his skill and of the active intelligence and imagination that go into his gratifyingly original creations.
C. '). Quillet
Chicago, October, 1944.
*7<4e Hamance the -Alphabet
It is a well accepted fact that the ancient Semitic peoples were the first to create the alphabet as a medium for conveying ideas. The Phoenicians and the Aramaeans were responsible for spreading the alphabet to the western world. They used it, however, only for simple business records and inscriptions on tomb stones. The people who first saw that the alphabet can be used for more creative writings were the Hebrews, their contemporaries and the ancestors of the Jewish people who, at the time, lived in Palestine. They produced, through the medium of the alphabet, one of the greatest collections of poems, stories and philosophical treatisesthe anthology which the western world inherited as the Old Testament.
What has not been so generally known is that in the beginning the alphabet was used by the primitive Hebrews as a medium for art expression. Archaeologists, have discovered, in many caves in Palestine, walls covered with pictures of all sorts of animals and inanimate objects which were used by the primitive Hebrew caveman for decoration or as a source of amusement.
How did it begin? It might be that the primitive was sitting in his cave at night near the fire. He had had a good day for he had hunted and slaughtered the wild ox. After skinning the animal, and feasting on its carcass, he was relaxing in the warmth of achievement and well being. The inedible remains of the animal lay on the floor as witness of his success. Suddenly he discovered on the cave wall, the reflection of the head and horns and he was intrigued by it. He took a piece of charcoal from the fire and outlined the shadow. The next day he saw a drawing on the wall that reminded him of the animal and he called out: "Aluf." which to him meant "Ox." From this drawing there developed the pictograph of the ox and it came down to us as the "A," first letter of the alphabet.
Primitive man tried to express not only objects but also abstract ideas through his drawing. When he saw his fellow man standing early in the morning praying to the sun, which he called "Helel," his arms aloft, he drew a picture from which there came down our "H." The word "Helel" came to mean "Praise," and is known to us as "Hallelujah," "Praise God."
We have no records from the time of the first Millenium to the second' Millenium about the alphabet used as an expression of art, but some literary records, over two thousand years old, tell us that the alphabet played a great part in the emotional life of the Jewish people. The "Sefer Yetzirah," (Book of Creation) which is based on sources as far back at 200 B.C. deals with Cosmopolia and tells us how the letters were used by God to create the world and man. Another book, also very old, ascribed to the authorship of Rabbi Akiba who lived in the second century A.D. called "Otiot
de Rabbi Akiba," (The Letters of Rabbi Akiba) discussed the values of the letters in Creation and human behavior. A midrashic legend tells us that "Bezalel," the artist of the Bible, inspired by the alphabet, created the Menorah and other objects of the Tabernacle.
In the Middle Ages, when mysticism played a great part in Jewish life, the alphabet was used by the Cabbalists not only for the tetragrammaton but also for Calculations which were expressed in the forms of mystical drawings and these influenced the Christian world, especially in Italy.
Although the alphabet was used in the early days of the Renaissance by both Jews and non-Jews for illumination, it failed to develop beyond that. It was left to an artist in our day to strike upon the alphabet as a medium for art expression, and to bring back to it the glory of ancient days. A. Raymond Katz, intrigued by the possibilities the letters evoked in his imagination, struck upon a unique chord in Jewish art expression. In his prelude he demonstrates to us how the letter can be used in various forms to express ideas and for design. One letter may evoke an object, another an abstract idea, religious, social or historical; still another may bring forth a graphic architectural design or an illusion of sound and light.
This album should be considered as the labor of a pioneer in Modern Jewish Art. To the artist it will be a source of inspiration. Perhaps it will become a primer to reopen the avenues of Jewish art in America.
To the layman, Jew or Gentile, it will be a source of satisfaction for his religious feelings for here is an aesthetic expression of the same letters used in the original Bible for ethical teachings.
To the American Jew let it be a symbol of his fulfilling his historic destinyto pick up the threads of culture broken in our times across the seas.
A contemporary Palestinian poet, writing on the Jewish genius, sees in the Hebrew alphabet a creative force closely bound to the Jewish people and part of its eternal destiny. He says:
From every word and every letter
Burning Seraphim flutter;
And from all the alphabeth
The destiny of a people blazes forth.
College of Jewish Studies, Chicago October 29, 1944
Pictures to be painted have filled my dreams ever since I can remember. In childhood and early youth the activities of my town (mainly a military garrison) were my subjects, with Jewish themes dominating everything. This was natural. A boy belonging to a pious Jewish family in a community of highly religious folk, I was permeated with the ways of my people: the weddings, funerals, high holidays, half-holidays, the life in the "cheder." The many happenings in the huge courtyard of the synagogue and within the temple were all paintable. Depicting these various phases of Jewish life was second nature. Contrary to the belief that such things were against Jewish tradition, I was encouraged, and my drawings seemed to be appreciated by everyone from the Rabbi down to the least schoolboy.
Perhaps I would have gone on developing along these lines, but before my formal art education could begin I was suddenly transplanted to America. In the new land1, among new faces, new conditions, a different environment, the past was temporarily forgotten. When, after a long lapse of time, I again found myself in Jewish circles, my ideas automatically returned to youthful reminiscences for inspiration. My fellow artists, the few who chose to paint Jewish themes, worked in a similar vein. The difference was only in dialect, in manner of custom, depending on the country from which they happened to come. Still, when I painted these subjects here, my efforts were not natural; they seemed forced and artificial; the folkways that were proper in their original surroundings looked out of place.
I travelled back to Europe to recapture some of those early scenes, but the results were only notes and travel sketches. To be sure, as painting goes, this venture was profitable because there are always people to whom every fragment from the old country is of sentimental value. I was dissatisfied, however, because I realized' by this time that no matter how picturesque the various Jewish folkways may be in Europe, from a strictly religious or cultural standpoint they have little to do with the life of Jews elsewhere. Besides, they contribute little to the aesthetic development of the Jewish homeland in Palestine, which probably will create its own folkways.
I came to the conclusion that there must be something we artists could do for our faith and at the same time contribute to the sum total of religious art. We Jews, who think of ourselves as purists in everything pertaining to our rituals, have allowed the embellishment of almost everything sacred to us with designs belonging to other cultures. We decorate our synagogues and meeting places with motifs that have no origin in our religious life. This was excusable when there were no Jewish artists, but to-day we have many who are able and- talented. It poses a challenge to our pride
as Jews to make some contribution in this field. It seems to me to be our job to bring the lack of fitting Jewish motifs to the attention of the seminaries and other learned Jewish organizations.
As time went on, I became more and more interested in sketching in small towns and painting Chicago street scenes, but retained the urge to do something more or less in protest against what was so freely labeled "Jewish Art." I reflected that if the venerable patriarch bending over his Talmud represented sheer nostalgia and not Jewish art (though at times resulting in good painting) ... if the decorations in synagogues were mostly copied from churches of other religions . what could be Jewish art? Frankly, I do not know, and generations may pass before something acceptable to all can develop.
Yet this is no reason why attempts or suggestions in the direction or development of such motifs should not be made. For my part, I chose the Hebrew alphabet on which to base symbols, designs, and decorations. It is the most direct form, is easily recognizable as belonging to the Jews, and for that reason has received acceptance by orthodox, conservative and reform groups. From my very first close examination it became manifest that the Hebrew alphabet was the seed from which Jewish religious art could sprout. Furthermore it has the power: to give even Biblical or descriptive subjects that Hebraic aspect and does not depend on the supposedly Semitic physiognomy, the sorrowful face, or the long beard.
While this volume deals chiefly with the meaning of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, it is not meant to be illumination or lettering. The alphabet is merely used as a springboard for creative composition. I have not overlooked the fact that we do have a few, all too few. readily recognizable ritualistic symbols I have used them within the framework of this idea in designing frescoes, murals, and stained glass windows.
No doubt there are other directions in whjch Jewish art can go. I sincerely hope this volume will be a prelude to newer ideas by other artists. Until that something better or different evolves, this may help to fill the needs of architects and designers for purely Hebraic designs and symbols for both home and temple.
I am grateful to Mr. Shlomo Marenof for his scholarly research into this idea, and for his able explanations. My sincerest thanks also go to Mr. C. J. Bulliet, of the Chicago Daily News, whose encouragement from the very start of the development of Hebraic motifs as a true art expression has been most stimulating, and to all those who directly or indirectly helped make possible my attempt to offer the Jewish people at least the nucleus of a New Art for an Old Religion.
The "Aleph" (A), first letter in the Hebrew Alphabet. The early pictographic sign expressed the idea of the ox:face, ears and horns. In the background are the lion and the fawn. Their Hebrew names also begin with the "Aleph".
The "Bet" 1B1, second letter of the alphabet. The early pictographic form expressed the idea of a "place to lodge," from which was derived the modern version of "Bayit," a house.
The "Gimmel" (G) third letter in the alphabet. First letter of the word "Gabriel, the angel.
The "Daleth" (D), fourth letter of the alphabet, meaning "Door." As the language developed it also assumed the meaning "poverty," perhaps from the idea of the "beggar at the door."
The "Hch" (H), fifth letter of the alphabet. The early pictographic sign depicts a man raising his hand in prayer toward the sun. This letter is the first of the word "Hallelujah," meaning "Praise God"; its root is "Hallel" (iHalo') meaning "Sun."
^ The "Yod" (Y), tenth letter in the alphabet, meaning hand.
The "Samekh" (S), fifteenth letter of the alphabet, here used as the first of the word "Samakh," meaning rest or support.
The "Peh" (P), seventeenth letter of the alphabet. The early pictographic form expressed a "mouth"; according to ancient legend the mouth was created for prayer.
The "Tsadi" (Ts), eighteenth letter; here used, as the first letter of the word "tsemah," meaning "plant." This study is based on the biblical conception of "[Righteousness blossoms like a plant." This letter is also the first of the word "Tsedakah," meaning "Righteousness." Its pictograph expressed a trap.
The "Kuf" (K), nineteenth letter of the alphabet; initial letter of the word meaning voice or sound vibrations.
The "Shin" (Sh), twenty-first letter of the alphabet. The early pictographic form expressed a tooth. In the later Hebrew it came to mean also a cliff (Shen ha-sela).
*"j A study of the final "kaf" (K), printed and written form.
The Peh (P) as used at the end of a word. In this form it has the sound of the English "F."
The ".Mem" (M). This form is used only at the end of a word. Because of its architectural structure, this letter is re-designed into forms suitable for Hebraic decorations, grill work, illuminations, etc.
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Prelude to a new art for an old reli jud PJ 4589.K3