Lets get onto to contemporary judaic metalsmithing in the United States. The start is in New York in the mid-to—late 18th century. Amongst America’s preeminent silversmiths was a jew, Myer Myers. Many consider him on a par with Paul Revere. Our interest is that he fabricated the first “home grown” pieces of judaica in America.
About 10-12 years ago my wife need to attend a continuing education course on Cape Cod. I thought this would give me a great opportunity to see the Myers’s rimonim at Touro Synagogue. I called the synagogue and asked about any opportunities to see the pieces. They informed me that the pieces were used during services and that would be my opportunity to view them. We scheduled our trip to the cape so that we would spend Saturday in Newport so I could go to services and see the rimonim. We went, it was an Orthodox congregation, I say by the bemah and my wife sat upstairs. I was able to get a short glimpse of the pieces while they were on the bemah.
The following information comes from David Barquist’s seminal work on Myer Myers, Myer Myers, Jewish Silversmith in Colonial New York, Yale University Art Gallery, 2001, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-09057-9.
There are six pieces of Myer Myers judaica known today. These include five sets of rimonim or torah crowns and one circumcision shield. Also, a drawing exists of a circumcision medal Myers engraved in 1784.
As many of you know prejudice precluded Jews from being involved in guilds in Europe from the middle ages on. I don’t think you can say that such prejudice didn't exist in North America, however Myers was able to apprentice as a silversmith in New York and obtained freeman status in 1746. He was the first Jew to train as a silversmith in New York as well as the first Jew to do so within the British Empire.
Between his ascendency to freeman status and the Revolutionary War Myers established himself as one of America’s pre-eminent silversmiths. In addition to the judaica he produced both before and after the war Myers was an active member of Congregation Shearith Israel, New York, the oldest synagogue in British North America.
Four pairs of torah crowns, the pair at Sheath Israel, two pairs at Tuoro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, and a pair at Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia show similar traditional Sephardic design elements, particularly the three flattened spheres and the six bells per sphere. The design is similar to rimonim found at Congregation Nidhe Isreal in Barbadosand dating to the early 18th century. The design probably travelled through the merchants going between New York and Barbados.
Three of these sets are pre-Revolutionary war and are characterized by intricate piercing of the largest, center, flattened sphere. The top and bottom spheres had engraved detail. In the only known pair from Myers post-Revolutionary career the piercing had been replaced by additional engraving,
The fifth set, also at Mikveh Israel has Ashkenazy design influences. This pair has a spirally fluted bulbous shape giving way to a taper that ultimately leads to crowns atop the finials. Bells are suspended from the beneath the shape’s bottom and from the taper/crown transition.
PIECES THE MONTH
This is the first installment of a new feature, “Piece of the Month”. In this part of the blog I will feature one of my pieces and provide insight into the design process and fabrication that went into its creation.
This month’s piece is the “Tree of Life Yad”. It is sterling silver approximately 8 X .75”. The design is intended to simulate a tree branch stemming from the pointer, touching the Torah, through the arm and into the heart and mind of the reader.
The piece is fabricated from 2 pieces of 16 gouge sterling which are rolled out to 20 gauge. Two blanks, 8 x .75” are then cut from rolled out sheet. One blank is then covered with adhesive paper, such as is used for address labels, and a tree branch design is sketched onto that piece. The tree branch is then cut out and sweat soldered to the second, uncut blank using hard solder. Fingers are sawed into the narrow part on the yad. One is left out and the others are rolled under. After cleanup the piece is made slightly convex to add strength and for visual interest. The piece is then polished. Finally a jump ring is attached to the yad and a 20” sterling chains attached to the jump ring.
This piece and all others in this series are available through my website, www.jimcohenjudaica.com.