THE SILVER DEPARTMENT AT "BEZALEL" Boris Shatz founded an art-and-crafts school in Jerusalem in 1906, naming it "Bezalel" for Bezalel Ben Uri, builder of the First Temple of biblical times. Marking the onset of applied cultural Zionism in the Land of Israel, the Bezalel School heralded efforts to forge links with a broad range of Jewish artistic traditions from East and West. The school's daring innovation offered a leading role to the local Yemenite community,particularly in the Filigree Silver Department, which was inaugurated in 1908. Boris Shatz originally hoped to coax dozens of Jewish silversmiths' families from San'a in Yemen to come to Jerusalem. He even went so far as to consider a journey to Yemen disguised in local costume, but ultimately settled for the manpower available in Jerusalem's Yemenite quarter of Mishkanot. In 1910, he relocated a dozen families of Yemenite silversmiths from Jerusalem to a small crafts village in the Ben Shemen Forest near the town of Lod. The Bezalel Colony, as the village was called, sent quantities of filigree silver products to Jerusalem, in order to supplement similar articles created by the Bezalel Silver Department. By 1913, the Bezalel Silver Department already numbered some eighty employees, among them Yehia Yemini, who had been working there from the outset. The department was headed by Shmuel Persov, an artist of Russian origin, who had spent a year studying filigree craft in Damascus in 1908. Persov taught new concepts of filigree work that were not always familiar to his Yemenite employees; thus the craftsmen, who ranged from children to the elderly, produced filigree work influenced both by the Yemenite and the East European style. The products were of every type and variety, including both ritual articles and practical utensils: Torah finials, perfume containers, Hanuka menoras, scroll covers, pipes, paper knives, coffee cups and saucers, sugar tongs and spoons, tea caddies, buttons, purses, jewelry boxes, cigarette cases, book bindings, bracelets, and brooches. Yehia Yemini distinguished himself with the quality of his work which included handcrafting, Oriental decorativity, and figurative or abstract ornamentation. The designs were interspersed with classical hammerings of Biblical heroes, holy places and tribal emblems and embellished with traditional verses. Filigree work was used with etching and hammering, with settings of stones, and with mother-of-pearl and enamel. Additionally, he combined granulation (soldered silver balls) with fine flowery adornment in the style of Russia and Poland. With his multi-dimensional perspective and outstanding Yemenite handcrafting skills, he created a pluralistic and eclectic style that came to embody the Bezalel Silver Department.
Many of Bezalel's leading designers, such as Ze'ev Raban and Erich Goldberg, provided the Silver Department with many prototypes. Goldberg, together with his father, directed Bezalel's workshop in its early years. Extensive dismissals of workshop employees in the First World War era led to the emergence of independent groups of "Bezalelite" craftsmen. The "Keter" group, for example, was headed by Yehuda Shneior. They specialized in works of silver, gold, ivory, stone, mother-of-pearl and metal-hammering. A majority of this group's craftsmen were Yemenites, who persevered in the execution of "Bezalelite" designs. When Bezalel closed in 1929, the Yemenite craftsmen continued to occupy the deserted buildings, applying the Bezalel stamp to the metalwork that they produced in their now recognizable forms. Yehia Yemini, the most renowned of the craftsmen, continued his craft almost until his death. He created a large quantity and variety of characteristic Bezalelite products, with the authentic Yemenite flavor, a large majority of which were based upon detailed sketches he received personally from Ze'ev Raban in the 1940's.
YEHIA YEMINI Born in 1897 into a family of San'a silversmiths, Yehia Yemini reached Jerusalem with his family at the young age of three. When Bezalel founded its Silver Department In 1908, Yemini became one of its employees, and helped other Yemenites to forge Bezalel's unique synthesis of East and West. After the dismissals of 1914, Yemini joined three groups of Jerusalem craftsmen who specialized in silver crafting in the manner of Bezalel: "Keter," "Kav Lavan," and "Sharar" (directed respectively by Shneior, Ossanovitch and Rabinovitz). Yemini was exceptionally talented and skilled in blending the traditions of Yemenite silver work with the design directions supplied by Ze'ev Raban. He established his workshop in the ground floor of his home in a Jerusalem neighborhood, known as Neveh Bezalel. To supplement his livelihood, he also worked as a torah scribe. In time, his craftsmanship gained prestige, both local and international. In 1931, he won a silver medal at the Paris world exhibition and in 1932, he won a gold medal at the Yarid Hamizrach exhibition in Tel Aviv. In 1937, he fashioned the Torah scroll cover and receptacle for the letter of goodwill, which were presented to King George VI on the occasion of his coronation. Yemini continued to actively work and produce Jewish ritual articles of filigree silver until the age of 85. He passed away in Jerusalem in 1983.
YAACOV YEMINI Born in Jerusalem in 1929, Yaacov has spent his entire life in close proximity to the family workshop. In 1947, he began his studies in the metalwork department of the "New Bezalel" (which was reopened in 1935 under the direction of new immigrants from Germany). During this time period, the institution was directed by Mordechai Ardon, a graduate of the Bauhaus; the metal department was headed by Yehuda Wolpert and David Gumbel. In the course of his studies, which he completed in 1950, Yaacov absorbed novel German design principles: functionalism, clean lines, geometricality, an absence of romantic ornamentation and mechanistic aesthetics. However, in keeping with family tradition, Yaacov expanded the Yemenite influence in the "New Bezalel" by complicating the universal language of modernistic formalism with the Yemenite-style flowery filigree ornamentation that is often set with stones. He worked with his father in their home studio for many years, supplementing Yehia's traditional line with a newer, more stylized and abstract one, one which also uses squarer lettering. In this manner, he has distinguished his own work from earlier pieces by being less burdened with ornamentation.
BOAZ YEMINI Born in Jerusalem in 1956, he joined Bezalel's silversmith and goldsmith department upon completion of his military service. The department under Arie Ofir, like other sections of Bezalel, was at the time experiencing a shift towards innovative Western design. Boaz Yemini pursued his studies till 1981, absorbing the abstract geometrical minimalism that the department's teachers had adopted under the influence of advanced Anglo-Saxon sculpture. Totally lean forms; the blending of silver with novel materials (brass, perspex, wood and iron, for example); an inclination towards modularity, serialization, aesthetic simplicity and a striving for the utmost uniformity - these are untraditional values Boaz Yemini has brought to the design of traditional silver utensils. His early work as silversmith in the family studio has shown a continued inclination towards forms and figures, which were in part surrealistic, organic, and fluid; nevertheless, his other creations are characterized by starker forms, injecting the traditional articles with an innovative and sophisticated structuralism (with an occasional leaning towards kineticism). Throughout his career, Boaz has added a variety of modes and tangents to ornamentation, his Yemenite affiliation.
MALCA YEMINI Born in Jerusalem in 1934, Malca is the undeniable backbone of the dynasty - the quiet force behind the scenes – and cannot be left unacknowledged in any recording of family history. Besides being an amazing fountain of historical knowledge in her own right, Malca provides the loving physical, emotional and cultural nourishment which make the wheels go round, keeping all of the "motors" functioning smoothly and happily! Additionally, she has been called upon countless times throughout the years to lend a critical eye and a skilled hand to the production line in the Yemini studio.
MARGIE YEMINI Born in the US in 1955, Margie made aliya in 1972 and the following year began studying at the department of Graphic Design at Bezalel. After two years of study she left to fulfill her two years of army service, and subsequently returned to Bezalel to begin a four year stint in the department of Industrial Design. She graduated in 1981. That same year Margie and Boaz got married and began their most creative endeavor of all times - the breeding and nurturing of a new generation of Yemini offspring. No announcements have been made regarding the emergence of a fourth generation of artists who choose to carry on the family involvement in the studio, though nothing to the contrary has been officially announced yet either! Under the attentive instruction of two master artists (in the form of her husband and father-in-law) Margie has mastered many of the silver production techniques. She also fills the role of associate designer, silver artist, graphic artist, photographer, secretary and designated family liaison to the world of computer technology.