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Friday October 31, 2014
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Portrait of a People

 

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bag, a frayed map tracing the route of the Exodus — preserve a rich, vivid essence of Jewish life from many cultures and centuries.

Lifelong and shrewd collector Constance Harris's surprise recent bequest to the U-M, the 2,000-item collection of prints, posters, clothing, and religious artifacts excerpted in this exhibit ranges from a baroque Italian silver menorah with glittering lion's-paw feet to a humble yet graceful wooden matzo cutter resembling a toothed pizza wheel.

Portraits of Jews include an engraving of the late-eighteenth-century pugilist Daniel Mendoza, the first Jewish prizefighter to become a champion. The work shows a fierce yet dapper boxer in elegant shined leather shoes, standing in front of a roped ring. There's a large colored French print of an intrepid traveler, the "Wandering Jew" archetype, complete with a poem. Another more recent print shows a man on a stool in a city alley, lost in thought over a book. A crowd of distracted urbanites hustles by, oblivious, as artist Fritz Eichenberg's figure ponders Die Schrift (The Writing).

Some items show the varied influences of their creators' environments. One wooden dreidel glows in florid Russian- or Ukrainian-style painted flowering vines. A brass Moroccan chest meant to hold the Sukkoth etrog (holiday citron fruits) bears a lacy arched pattern strongly reminiscent of geometric Islamic art. An ornate cream satin matzo bag blooms in lush red roses suggesting Polish culture.

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