STAINED GLASS art created by Robert Nechin.  (photo credit: Robert Nechin)
STAINED GLASS art created by Robert Nechin. (photo credit: Robert Nechin)
Ein Hod: How did US-born Jews, Israelis make an art oasis?

Yokhai Givon has two gigantic light switches in his Ein Hod studio. Born in Israel and having spent time as a working artist in the US, the large pop-art objects mirror his biography. One is in Hebrew, the other in English. Both express the desire to create, to enlighten. 

Previously, the space was used by his late mother, Gila Givon, who started as a Dimona-based painter of the desert. Meir Ronen described her in 1964 for this paper as “a potentially interesting painter” but cautioned she can still “not manage to achieve what she wants.” She moved to Ein Hod in 1974 and painted vigorously until her death.

“People fade out of mind with time,” her son noted. This is why he lovingly archived paintings, ephemera and sketches his mother left behind.

These include a lovely ad from Chemerinsky Gallery, Tel Aviv, notifying art lovers of her 1963 solo exhibition, and a series of beautiful, thick, abstract paintings that explore a swirling sort of motion. The sheer corporality of the canvases, the weight of the paint and the impact their presence has on the viewer, drives home the need to preserve artworks made in this land.

“We discovered a lot of works unknown by her family and the artistic community here,” shared Yokhai’s wife, Frieda. “It is a hidden treasure.”

“We discovered a lot of works unknown by her family and the artistic community here. It is a hidden treasure.”

Frieda Givon

 YOKHAI GIVON holding up a photograph of the studio as his mother had kept it. (credit: HAGAY HACOHEN) YOKHAI GIVON holding up a photograph of the studio as his mother had kept it. (credit: HAGAY HACOHEN)

"A hidden treasure"

The collection includes reviews of the late Givon’s exhibitions written by art critics no longer with us, ranging from Hebrew (Yoav Bar El) to Yiddish (Yitzhak Ludan for Lezte Neies) and English (Sarah Wilkinson and Reuven Berman for this paper). Critics spoke ex cathedra back then. Bar El noted traces of Picasso and Paul Klee in her works but pointed to how, in his view, Givon is better when she drops such pretenses. Wilkins complimented Givon for “some good, finely textured painting.” Berman is perhaps the most generous, noting the works he saw were “executed in a spirit of fun.”

“Artists work many hours,” her son told The Jerusalem Post, “and there are so many hats we can wear.”

Jewish-Soviet painter Yefim Ladizhinsky ended his life here in bitterness over what he perceived as lack of interest. His family was unable to secure the future of his paintings in the hands of a museum. The heir of portrait painter Pinchas Litvinovsky is now destroying works by his grandfather, desperately hoping a museum might agree to accept a reduced number of works to a permanent collection.

Givon studied art in the US and presented his works in Brooklyn before moving to Bisbee, Arizona, around the same years as abstract painter Peter Young. His farewell gift to New York was a huge polystyrene foam rose he left on a frozen lake in Central Park in 1978.

“At Ein Hod”, he smiled, “I am not known as an artist. I am known as an artist’s son.”

NAOMI VERCHOVSKY’S pottery studio is a triumph of willpower over hardships. It was fully rebuilt from the ashes left after the 2010 Mount Carmel Forest Fire.

Verchovsky came to the artist’s village in 1974, when a dirt road led to it and Shmuel Raayoni taught painting there and Shoshana Hayman taught sculpting.

Raayoni, Marcel Janco, Hayman and a handful of other artists founded Ein Hod in 1953 at the site of the Arab village of Ayn Hud. The Arab residents, who left it during the War of Independence, live nearby at Ein Hud, a name they reclaimed in 1978. Back then, newcomers, like Verchovsky, had to be approved by a committee of working artists to be accepted to the village.

“I am one of the few potters here to still use a gas-firing kiln,” Verchovsky told the Post. Many current potters use electricity, as it allows them exert control over the heat. Wood-fed kilns, like the anagama [cave] kiln, are used by traditional Japanese potters and require a lot of knowledge to operate. 

When asked to take us on a tour of her potter’s field, Verchovsky relishes the joke. The term describes a graveyard for the poor and entered English via the New Testament, where Akeldama [Blood Field] near Jerusalem is described as where Judas was buried (Matthew 27:3-27:8). Potters used clay from that field because it was in a lovely red color.

The Carmel region is one of the oldest ongoing pottery sites in the world, with ceramic artists, like the late Israel Bankir, learning from Raja Atalla (Kfar Samir). Verchovsky was quick to laugh, but the conversation included many anecdotes about English-speaking potters who are no longer with us, people whose love of this land, and the artworks produced from its soil, are one bead in the long chain that connects us to Neolithic times. Today, Verchovsky said, almost no ceramic artists use local clay. Late artist Jean Meir, she pointed out, was a noted exception.

“This is not the Bohemian village it once was,” Maurice Gottlieb told the Post. “The founders were given these old Arab houses. Now you need to be a millionaire to live here.”

Back then, Ein Hod artists used to teach at the Avni Institute of Art and Design for a few days and live at Ein Hod the rest of the week, he said. Now many make a living from local tourism.

His wife, Mary, is another established artist and the woman Verchovsky credits her entire career to, as “she took me under her wings when I came,” she said.

Gentle and generous, Mary Gottlieb uses a variety of print techniques and displays her works at the Gottlieb gallery, opened last year. 

“Most of our buyers are European and Americans,” she said. “We would love to show our works to more Israelis.”

In the 1970s, Ein Hod was something of a haven for seekers. The first generation of Jewish artists, like Janco and Raayoni, who straddled the gap between modernism and Jewish civilization, began to give way to younger talents. One of them was a former US Army Intelligence officer turned Vietnam War objector, Robert Nechin. Nechin attended the art school at Ein Hod and studied under Edwin Sernoff and others.

“I used to come from the States with suitcases full of glass back then,” he mused, “because the stuff was expensive here.”

“I often cursed myself for the decision to work in glass,” he confided. “I have broken things.” 

With humor and ease, he presents the great variety of his skills, ranging from small, colorful angels a tourist might purchase as a souvenir to massive stained glass windows he crafted for various synagogues across the country.

“I always joke that I should charge double,” he chuckled – “once for the glass, and once for the play of light passing through it.”

Under curator Zeela Kotler Hadari, the artist’s village stands a good chance to reenter the artistic conversation from a new position, thanks to a residency program opened for the first time to local artists.

The two-week program is open to working artists and their partners. They will live at Ein Hod and create a response, such as a public sculpture or performance, to the rich history of the decades-old art community.

Last Saturday, an exhibition titled “Nature gave a Museum, I gave My Body,” curated by Hadari, opened at Ein Hod Gallery 1 with a live tattoo performance, which harks back to Uri Katzenstein and his tattoo performance at the same location in the late 1990s.

The writer thanks Yokhai and Frieda Givon for their kind hospitality and time during his visit. The Ein Hod gallery is open Sunday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call (04) 984-2548 to learn more. Artists can learn more about the residency program here: The deadline is May 1.

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