The Survey of Wall Art in Israel
The Survey of Wall Art, a joint project of the Department of Visual Documentation and Exhibitions at Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, the Council for Preservation of Heritage Sites in Israel, and the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, documents the works of art that decorate walls in the public sphere throughout Israel. These works were created in a variety of techniques and materials, among them painting, mosaic, sgarphito, and relief. The works were documented and photographed with the help of the public and the photographs are kept in a digital archive, together with the relevant artistic, historical, and technical data about them. Works that were removed for various reasons are also documented as well as possible so that their place will be preserved in the context of research on Israeli art.
In this way the Survey of Wall Art is being constructed, and it is possible to find in it already today rich data on wall art, on the artists who created them, and on the different techniques they used.
Wall art is a part of the landscape in Israel. The works of art – including paintings, reliefs, mosaics, and a range of other techniques and styles – grace the walls of cultural institutions, public and religious buildings, hotels, and private homes, both inside and out. They attest to historical, social, national and religious perceptions and illustrate the people and communities living in Israel. The object of the Israel wall-art survey is to classify and bring together in a single place the many examples in the country, some of which are threatened with destruction and oblivion, and to form a comprehensive database collected with the cooperation of the public.
The database enables the compilation of a long-term program to document, catalog, and preserve the works, which are a significant visual and cultural embodiment of Israel’s historic heritage.
The Yad Ben-Zvi Institute began conducting the first survey of its kind of Israel’s wall art in 2013, initiated by the Heritage and Commemoration Department of the Prime Minister’s Office with the cooperation of the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites. The survey aims to uncover, document, preserve, and provide access to the works that have adorned the walls of public buildings and private homes across the country from the nineteenth century to the present day.
The information about the works, their condition and their location comes from the public and is entered into a comprehensive database. A serial card is assigned to each work, containing basic information about it and allowing more data to be added in the future. A professional data system was built for the survey, enabling experts from various disciplines to examine and categorize the works with the aim of documenting and researching the wall art as well as preserving it. The site also contains articles, news items, and other links designed to increase awareness and interest in this aspect of Israel’s visual cultural heritage.
Pioneers / Shraga Weil and Shmuel Katz, 1954
In the 1950s, when the dining room at Kibbutz Ein Hamifratz was built, the artists Shraga Weil and Shmuel Katz were asked to paint one of its walls (15 m. wide). They painted nine figures in the style of socialist realism – men and women engaged in agriculture, among them: a fisherman holding a net, a woman harvesting oranges, a shepherdess with a lamb. However, when the building was redecorated in the 1980s no consideration was made for preserving the paintings and three of them were destroyed. Matti Lahat, an artist born on the kibbutz, insisted that that the destruction of the wall cease and volunteered to save the paintings, which he loved from childhood. He was unable to enlist professional restorators and had to carry out the work on his own without training. "I developed a primitive technique and over a few days removed the remaining paintings. I spread them out on my living room floor face down and poured fortified cement with an iron net creating cement plaques five cms. thick, that can be moved and hung." After that the paintings were forgotten in a dusty warehouse, awaiting the day when they will be exposed to the light and once again decorate the walls.
The Seven Species and the Produce of the Land / Mordecai Gompel, 1961
Dining room of the Electric Company, Haifa
In this work, which decorates the dining room of the Electric Company complex in Haifa, Mordecai Gompel expresses the passion for food by showing the abundance offered by the produce of the land. Gompel painted a deer, a donkey, a palm tree, a man playing a recorder, a woman dancing, harvesting with a sickle, carrying sheaves, and a fisherman catching a fish in his net.
Members of Hashomer Hatzair Youth Movement / Yohanan Simon, 1951
Former Club House of Hashomer Hatzair, Bar Giora St. 50, Haifa
On the wall of the Hashomer Hatzair club house in Haifa, the artist Yohanan Simon painted the images of boys and girls dancing, working, waving flags on parade, and playing ball. In the background of the action there is a glimpse of kibbutz houses.
The work was on the entrance to the building, and every time the wall was whitewashed parts of it were eliminated. That is the account by Avital Yad-Shalom, a former member of the movement, who kept a photograph of the work from 1955 in his album. Finally the work was painted over entirely and is no longer visible. Today the building serves as a Talmud Torah.
The Development of Hebrew Script / Moshe Saidi, 1985
Municipal Library, Zvi Bornstein St., Yeruham
The ceramic relief by Moshe Saidi decorates the outside wall of the municipal library in Yeruham. The subject of the work, from 1985, is the world of books and letters.
The Rainbow / Lev Syrkin, 1973
Hebron Road 101, Jerusalem
The artist Lev Syrkin worked for a year to create a mosaic of the rainbow, consisting of 50,000 ceramic pieces, on the building of a telephone exchange in Jerusalem. In this work the artist wanted to relate a message of peace in a war-torn land after the Yom Kippur War and hope for a better future.
In 2009 an order to tear down the building was issued, and the private developer who purchased the building was about to carry out the order. After great effort an agreement was signed, by which the developer promised to transfer the mosaic in its entirety to a special wall to be built for that purpose, so that passers-by could continue to enjoy it as the artist intended. In 2018 the building was destroyed, and the work was stored and preserved. The entire mosaic was finally emplaced on the new wall in 2021.
This is the inheritance of the tribe of the sons of Judah according to their families" / Gershon Knispel, 1975"
Central bus station, Dimona
The relief tells the history of Dimona from Biblical times to the construction of the nuclear reactor, adorned with the verses: "This was the portion of the tribe of Judah by their clans: The towns at he far end of the tribe of Judah, near the border of Edom, in the Negev were: Kabzeel, Eder, Jagur, Kina, Dimona, Adada (Joshua 15:20-22).
The work is made of aluminum alloy and mounted adjacent to the entrance to shops in the central bus station of
Patriarchs' Inn / Bezalel (Lilik) Shatz, 1959
Sonol station, Yeruham
A wall decorated with ceramic tiles created jointly by the artists Bezalel (Lilik) Shatz and Iche Mambush; Shatz painted the pictures and Mambush made the tiles in his studio in Ein Hod. The wall was created as part of a project of the Ministry of Tourism, placing works by Israeli artists at inns along the tourist routes. These two artists also made ceramic decorations in Caravan Inn in Abu Gosh and Nabatean Inn in Mizpe Ramon.
Itamar Golani and an Ancient Hebrew Patriarch / Sheldon Schoneberg, 1953
Beit Itamar, Kibbutz Afikim
The artist Sheldon Schoneberg painted the work "Itamar Golani and an Ancient Hebrew Patriarch" on two sides of the stage in the culture and sports hall in the kibbutz. The hall commemorates Itamar Golani, one of the first sons of Kibbutz Afikim. Schoneberg painted a fresco depicting two giant figures (5 meters in height) expressing the connection between the past and the present: Itamar holding a scythe and the "ancient Hebrew patriarch" (as Schoneberg called him). Itamar's face was painted from a photograph, but since the artist did not have a full body photograph, he used a kibbutz member, Shaul Lazarerowitz, as a model. Over the years the painting was damaged and soiled by human touch and struck by balls in the sports hall. In the summer of 2016 "Tchelet Studio" restored it in the framework of the Survey of Wall Art in Israel.