Make art, not war

Artist Yaacov Yuval has dedicated his time and talent to carving wooden messages of peace, which he has given as gifts to heads of state, military brass, naval officers and air force personnel around the world.

Wood carvings 370 (photo credit: courtesy)
Wood carvings 370
(photo credit: courtesy)
Putting his own spin on the biblical quotation about beating swords into plowshares, Yaacov Yuval has spent his life turning the art of war into artwork, using the crafts of battle for his own brand of craftsmanship. With peace as his prime objective, Yuval carves wooden sculptures that integrate weaponry with symbols or words of peace.
“I’m not a political person, but I am a patriot,” asserts the 77-year-old Yuval, who would like nothing more than to see Israel and the other nations of the world live together in harmony.
To that end, he has dedicated his time and talent to carving wooden messages of peace, which he has given as gifts to heads of state, military brass, naval officers and air force personnel around the world. He has also spent many years raising the spirits of casualties of war, visiting wounded soldiers in hospitals, injured children and bereaved families, giving each of them his sculpted tokens of hope for the future, be they toys, butterflies or whittled weaponry.
He has also given his wooden toys to many communities of children of different races and religions.
“That is my way of teaching them harmony and happiness,” he says.
“That is my weapon of peace.”
In addition to toys and military models, Yuval has crafted pieces related to music, sports, medicine, law and education. He has also carved many Judaica items for the various Jewish festivals. His hanukkiot, for example, are displayed in the Knesset and the President’s Residence.
Not an artist by profession but by passion, Yuval is a former IDF officer and a retired Egged bus driver. He honed his woodcraft as a hobby, having learned the basics from his father, who was a wood craftsman in Russia. Yuval later taught the skill to schoolchildren.
Yuval purchased his own equipment and scoured the country for the best types of wood to use for his pieces. What’s more, he never took a penny for any of the thousands of handcrafted items, both large and small, that he has distributed over the years.
“Some people spend their money on trips or boats,” he says. “I bought the equipment for my hobby.”
The tools in his studio include lathes, a saw and a drill. Rare wood such as olive, ash, oak, cherry, ebony, maple and mahogany have been his materials of choice, which he traveled throughout the country to secure and carried on his shoulders. He doesn’t have a car, so how did he transport all that lumber home? “Egged!” he says with a laugh. Of course.
“It’s all in my book,” he says, referring to his as yet unpublished autobiography entitled The Scent of Wood: On the Seas, in the Air and on Land. A Life’s Work.
At present, Yuval is no longer able to perform his labor of love.
Afflicted with a barrage of debilitating conditions, he has difficulty seeing, hearing, speaking, walking or using his hands. Yet when he talks about his artwork and his personal mission and the people he has met in that context, he is animated with an irrepressible surge of energy and enthusiasm.
Fighting the battle with his physical disabilities, he says, “I have to win the war on my severe disease. I was born to live, and I accept my pain and suffering in order to create beautiful things for the world.”
ATTESTING TO the warmth, respect and appreciation that he and his work have garnered over the years, Yuval’s apartment in Jerusalem’s Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood is laden with accolades. Innumerable plaques and framed photographs of ships, aircraft and decorated officers adorn the walls of his living room, while stacks of letters of gratitude, published articles and photos of his artwork cover every cranny.
His sense of pride is palpable as he sifts through letters of appreciation from heads of state and top brass, as well as photographs of himself with politicians and military personnel. The roster of dignitaries includes Menachem Begin, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon, Teddy Kollek, Rafael Eitan, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Jacques Chirac, George Shultz, Thomas Pickering, Colin Powell, Norman Schwarzkopf, Edward Teller, Zubin Mehta. How did Yuval get to meet or contact so many high-profile personalities? “It is hard work,” he says, “but with stubbornness like mine, everything is possible.”
The artist also beams with pride in the presence of British-born Patricia McGee, whom he calls “my queen,” the woman who has been his life partner for the past 38 years. Yuval is divorced and has two children, both of whom live in Israel.
Born in Haifa in 1936 as Yaacov Vdovets, Yuval began working with wood at an early age. As a child, he recalls, he would go down to the sea and collect balsa-wood rafts from British navy ships and make model boats and airplanes out of them. He later studied carpentry at the ORT Technical School. In the IDF, he served as a paratrooper. He worked as a bus driver with the Egged cooperative until his retirement in 1980, after which he taught woodworking at the Rene Cassin Secondary School and the Sieff Community Center in Jerusalem and devoted his time to his own craft and personal mission.
His main focus now is on publishing his book, in both Hebrew and English, which has taken him four years to write. The text is complete, but the book awaits his adding the photographs of his life’s artwork. It will be another form in which to disseminate his message of goodwill.
As Yuval says in the introduction to his book, “My wood carvings symbolize my dreams of peace, security, freedom, Jewish heroism and friendship. I have attempted to convey the message of friendship to the world at large by donating carvings to ambassadors, statesmen visiting Israel, US and NATO naval ships, IDF personnel, well-known personages in Israel, visiting folklore groups, Israeli and foreign children, victims of war, terrorist attacks and road accidents, and to the families of our prisoners of war.”