Betty Moller felt something was lacking in her bust of David Ben-Gurion. The
young art student stared at her creation unhappily, unable to put her finger on
it, until finally reaching her conclusion. “I need to see him,” she recalls
thinking to herself. So she made the journey from Tel Aviv to the Knesset, and
nervously sat before him in his office.
“When he spoke to me, I couldn’t
hear. I heard only one thing,” she says; the song “Ma’al Pisgat Har Hatzofim,”
(Above the Peak of Mount Scopus), a song about the Jewish yearning for Jerusalem
and rebuilding the city from its ruins. Her sculpture of Israel’s first prime
minister, a wrinkled brow over serious, visionary eyes, today sits in the Tel
The chic 87-year-old sculptor of bronze human forms,
especially biblical figures and scenes, is showing several musically themed
works at the “Muse” exhibit at the outdoor Alrov Mamilla Avenue, running until
December. Her pieces include a domineering, dark Goliath, a striking portrayal
of the patriarch Abraham holding two worlds in his hands, one labeled Ishmael
and the other labeled Isaac, and a woman in the form of a cello, whose face
reminds her of her mother’s.
Many of Moller’s works focus on the themes
of Jewish strength, survival and heritage.
She draws on the Pentateuch
for artistic inspiration, she says, not as a religious document, but rather as a
Perhaps not every word of the holy text is true, she
concedes, but these figures existed. She is sure of that.
actually buried not far from Mamilla, and he’s our father and our past,” she
says of the first Jew. “I very much love the Tanach, all the stories. I am not
religious in action, but I am religious inside, truly.”
studied art at the Avni Institute in Tel Aviv, sculpture for three years at the
Academie de Beaux-Arts in Paris (where she befriended Jewish painter Mane Katz),
and the Art Student League in New York, sees a consistent trend in Jewish life
from the Bible through the founding of Israel and the present day – a cultural
insistence on creation and a determination to thrive.
“Jews don’t waste
their energy on how to hate and how to destroy, and how to kill,” she says in an
interview at the Amelia café in north Tel Aviv not far from her
“Our energy is internal, to create, to do, to believe in our
The octogenarian takes the same approach to her craft. Moller says
an idea comes to her, and then she takes her time to imagine the final product,
dreaming of it, before actually working on it.
“I start to work on the
idea,” she says, “I decide that’s what I want to see, that’s what I want to
create... if I decide it, so it has to be done.”
She strives to create a
bridge of contact between her art and the viewer, and a connection between
herself and the piece.
Moller says she is dreaming of sculptures of King
David and King Saul, among other ideas swimming around in her head. She says her
David may come to fruition, as a present to the capital for Jerusalem Day, in
honor of the 45th anniversary of the city’s reunification.
for Jerusalem has carried over into Moller’s personal life as
Moller returned to Israel from New York where she was living just
to give birth to her son, Gilad, a musician. The Jewish people having dreamt of
the Jewish state for 2,000 years, Moller says she felt a need to return for the
occasion. “It’s a privilege that he is born here in Israel,” she says.
native of Persia, Moller says she made aliya at the age of five with her sister
and Russian-born mother, leaving behind her father to attend to his fur business
(he joined the family 20 years later). She remembers early on in her childhood
Jews in Iran publicly pretending they were Muslim, but practicing Judaism at
“My mother didn’t want to raise children like this,” she
says. Life was hard as new immigrants, money was tight and learning the
language wasn’t easy for her mother.
“I imagine how much my mother
suffered,” she says, yet adding that she was always proud and exuded dignity.
She worked hard to raise her children on her own, sewing their clothing,
crafting dolls for her to play with, and never complained; the same no-nonsense
attitude Moller brings to sculpture.
Just before the 1948 War of
Independence, Moller says her mother was ill, so she sent her and her sister to
live with different families. The daughter of the family with whom she was
staying was studying art. One day she brought home a lump of clay, and Moller
says she started to play with it, until creating a figure.
“I was so
scared and thought... I took her material and made a problem here.”
the family noticed her talent and sent her to study art as well.
me, or it’s them or it’s God’s will,” she says of her entrance into art. “I
don’t know. Whatever it is, I’m happy with it.”
While living in
New York, Moller met her husband, artist Isadore Grossman. The two began working
together on the delicate and tedious job of restoration art for wealthy clients
like the Johnsons (of Johnson & Johnson) and galleries, and she still does
this work occasionally for clients abroad and leading museums. Projects can
range from Egyptian to Mexican sculptures, and through the process, Moller has
studied the historical periods from which the pieces originate. “I love
puzzles,” she says of the time-consuming, though satisfying work.
business of art never interested her (“money is money and art is art”), and
today she enjoys focusing on sculpture for its own sake.
godly,” she says, of the energy that comes forth from a creation. “I got this
present from God. If I got this present, I have to work. I have to do