The light of inspiration

Jerusalem is an artistic muse for local silversmith Iris Tutnauer.

Menora (photo credit: Courtesy/Iris Tutnauer)
(photo credit: Courtesy/Iris Tutnauer)
For lifelong Jerusalem resident Iris Tutnauer, a silversmith designer by trade, the city has not only been her eternal capital but also her ever-constant artistic muse. Tutnauer, a mixed-media artist, specializes in integrating contemporary design and craftsmanship to convey traditional Jewish concepts and values in Judaic and Jerusalem-inspired art.
“Jerusalem is a source of inspiration for me. Although the day-to- day routine tends to hide the special aspects of Jerusalem, there is something that inspires me – the people, the streets and unique neighborhoods, the complexity of life here… Jerusalem is another input to my creative process,” says Tutnauer.
From an early age, she realized that her creativity was enriched and stimulated by the city. Working with the colors, textures and materials of Jerusalem throughout her childhood, Tutnauer was motivated and eventually wanted to galvanize her talents by studying in the silversmith department of Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design.
Since her graduation from the school in 1990, she has been an active artist working in the city, aiming to redesign and modernize Judaic objects along halachic guidelines by using pure silver and additional materials such as stone, wood, glass and fabric for her work.
She begins new commissions or projects by researching the historical, cultural and halachic aspects of the topic in order to comply with any related restrictions. This extra research “provides me with a background of the object I will design, and this knowledge is also a source of ideas that may come from my understanding of the context of the topic,” she says.
In 2009 Tutnauer opened a studio in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mahaneh Yisrael, an area just outside the walls of the Old City. Working daily within the proximity of the Old City and the modernity of contemporary Jerusalem inspires her to use her artistic talents to bridge generations of Judaic history through her art.
“I recently designed a hanukkia that relates to my childhood in the Bukharan Quarter, an old neighborhood in Jerusalem, where my grandparents live. My memories of Hanukka in this neighborhood are quite distinct. I remember the simple and beautiful hanukkiot on the windowsills. My stone hanukkia tries to relate to this simplistic beauty,” says Tutnauer about working in Jerusalem.
She believes that the popularity and aesthetic of her art are strongest with traditional families who are looking for modern design for traditional Jewish ornamental objects. The combination of old and new aesthetics can be seen in her Jerusalem Citadel series, a handcrafted sterling silver mezuza series shaped like the openings in the walls of the Old City, formerly used to protect its inhabitants from attack.
Tutnauer’s bold creativity has been garnering attention outside of homes. Her unique mezuza designs were installed in all the apartments in the King David Residence in Jerusalem and are collected by private buyers. She has also been commissioned to design the main mezuza for Temple Judea in Tarzana, California, and her works have been purchased for exhibition by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and the Jewish Museum in New York.
Looking to the future for new creative challenges, Tutnauer anticipates that she will continue creating Judaic art, though she is open to applying her capabilities of design and practical work in other areas of art.
Whatever direction she chooses to reach for creatively in the future, Iris Tutnauer is clearly not forgetting to look towards Jerusalem’s past and its future.
Handcrafted hanukkiot at the Iris Tutnauer Gallery, 24 Agron Street, Jerusalem, 054-771-8198.