About Robert Haas

Robert Samuel Haas, 1898–1997, graphic designer, photographer, printer and educator.

After mustering out of the Austro-Hungarian army in 1918, Robert Haas studied electrical engineering at Vienna’s Technische Hochschule, while simultaneously taking classes in economics, history and music at the city’s university, and typography and lettering with Rudolf von Larisch at the Kunstgewerbeschule and Akademie der bildenden Künste. He had co-founded the ground-breaking graphics studio, Officina Vindobonensis, and already been a successful printer and graphic designer for some time, when he spent two years learning photography from Trude Fleischmann. While continuing his graphic work, Haas became a photojournalist, celebrity portraitist, official photographer of the Salzburg Festival and created the world’s largest (32 x 8 meters) photomontage for the Austrian Pavilion in the 1937 World’s Fair. The following year, he fled Austria for England.

He spent six months working in London before heading to the United States. North Carolina’s miraculous little Black Mountain College took him in, as it had fifty-one other refugees from Nazi Germany during those dark times,1Darwent, Charles, In World War II-Era North Carolina, A Haven for German Jewish Artists and Academics, Jewish Book Council, November 6, 2018. including Xanti Schawinsky. But, without enough work in Black Mountain, Haas moved to New York, where, in 1941, he founded the Ram Press on 25th Street in Manhattan. In addition to designing and printing for the Guggenheim Museum, MoMA and the Brooklyn Museum, he helped Clark and Way, for a time, with printing the historically trouble-prone Frick Collection catalogue.

Haas taught calligraphy (and later typography) at Cooper Union, concurrently with Ismar David. The enigmatic note below was written long after both men had stopped working there. The reference to Haas’ brother is presumably to Georg Haas, a zoologist and paleontologist at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem since 1932, who had died eight months earlier.

Dear Mr. David:

Many thanks for your beautiful drawing which I shall keep as a valuable memorial to my brother.

Again, my apologies for the invonvenience I have caused.

Robert Haas

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Master Builder

Erich, later Eric, Mendelsohn, 1887–1953, architect. His spectacular Ufa Universum-Theater building opened in November 1928, the year Ismar David arrived in Berlin. Part of a larger complex of housing, shops and a cabaret on Kurfürstendamm in Charlottenburg, the Universum was one of a series of high profile buildings that made Mendelsohn one of the best known architects in Germany—and Europe—at the time.

Erich Mendelsohn
An undated portrait of Erich Mendelsohn.Wikipedia

Born in Allenstein (now Olsztyn,Poland), Eric Mendelsohn was the son of a milliner and the owner of a souvenir shop. His parents had not wanted him to study architecture, but after two semesters of economics at the University of Munich, he was able to persuade them to let him change course. He attended the Technische Hochschule Charlottenburg for two years, then returned to Munich to finish his degree at the Technische Hochschule there in 1912. After military service during the First World War, he settled in Berlin. His first and perhaps most famous building, the unorthodox, expressionistic Einsteinturm launched his career. Melding the emotion of expressionism and prevailing utilitarian concepts, Mendelsohn designed dynamic large-scale works, including the Friedrich Steinberg, Herrmann & Co. Hat Factory in Luckenwald; Schocken department stores in Stuttgart and Chemnitz, as well as private residences, like his own at Rupenhorn 6. In 1933, as the political situation in Germany became untenable, Mendelsohn left the country for Holland and then England. At the same time he began a partnership with Serge Chermayeff in London, he opened an office in Jerusalem and divided his time between the two cities. His first commission in Jerusalem was a house for Chaim Weizmann. He reunited with old friends, designing a villa and a library for one of them, Zalman Schocken, and tackled public work projects like the Hadassah Hospital and a plan for Hebrew University. In 1939, the Mendelsohns moved to Jerusalem full time, but in 1941, with the German Army approaching in Egypt and disillusioned professionally by various circumstances in Palestine, the couple migrated to the United States. At the end of the war, they settled in San Francisco. In addition to lecturing and teaching, Mendelsohn brought his bold fusion of art, spirituality and function to four American synagogues.

In 1921, Mendelsohn had lost his left eye to cancer. In mid November 1953, he succumbed to a recurrence of the disease. A memorial to the six million victims of the Holocaust, which would have been built in Riverside Park in New York City, remained unfinished at his death. Only few months earlier, Ismar David had written to him. They had been acquaintances at the Jerusalem Artists Club.

Letter Erich Mendelsohn
First page of a draft letter to Erich Mendelsohn, 1953. Ismar David papers, box 1, folder 3, Cary Graphic Arts Collection, RIT.

I have wanted for some time to send you greetings & only recently in a conversation with Mr. Paul Grotz of Architectural Forum when you name was mentioned I determined to write to you without further delay. It is possible that you may remember our meeting numerous times at the Jerusalem Artists Club or that you may recall my work as a graphic & industrial designer there. In the course of several visits to the United States I have had a wide variety of commissions. In 1951 to design a series of modern Hebrew alphabets for the Intertype Corp. in 1952 to design and supervise the installation of the Israel Exposition in N.Y. for the Bonds for Israel Organization. In connection with this last there were many smaller assignments and a second large exposition in Florida.

At the moment I am occupied with a number of projects and am also assembling a small exhibit of my work for the Jewish Museum. This will be quite comprehensive, covering my work in calligraphy and lettering and the designs for books, advertisements and decorative object of all kinds including Jewish ceremonial pieces such as the menorah, Sabbath lamps etc. As a contemporary artist I have tried to retain the strength, beauty and simplicity of Hebrew traditional design but to strip it of the tasteless superfluities which have been added

Letter to Erich Mendelsohn
Second page of a draft letter to Erich Mendelsohn, 1953. Ismar David papers, box 1, folder 3, Cary Graphic Arts Collection, RIT.

It would give me pleasure to meet with you again. Will you be in N.Y. in the near future? Perhaps we can arrange an appointment either here or in the West to which I may be traveling. I look forward to hearing from you at your convenience and in the meanwhile with kind regards and many good wishes I remain sincerely
Yours Ismar…

Letter from Erich Mendelsohn
Erich Mendelsohn’s response to a letter from Ismar David, 1953. Ismar David papers, box 1, folder 3, Cary Graphic Arts Collection, RIT.

Dear Mr. David:

Thank you very much for your letter. I shall be happy to see you again, here or in New York.

In the meantime, could you send me photographs of some of your graphic work and especially of your ritual implements.

With kind regards,

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About Abysinnian House

Abyssinian House, later the Ethiopian Consulate Building, built between 1925 and 1928, one of a number of structures in the northwest of Jerusalem that are associated with the Ethiopian community.

Abysinnian House
Front of Abyssinian House on Ha-Neviim Street, Jerusalem. The Renaissance-style Italian Hospital building can be seen just beyond it, on the right. G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection, Library of Congress

The devoutly religious Empress Zauditu of Ethiopia (1876–1930), first woman to head an internationally recognized nation in Africa, had Abyssinian House built not far from the Kidane Mehret Church. Brilliantly colored mosaics on the façade depict the symbol of the royal family, a crowned lion carrying a cross-topped flagstaff. The panel includes the motto , “The Lion of Judah is victorious,” written in Ge’ez. The building had been intended to serve as her residence when visiting Jerusalem, but she did not live to use it. Instead, the ground floor became the Ethiopian consulate and the two upper floors were rented out as apartments with the proceeds to benefit the Ethiopian monastery that had long been present in the city. An Ethiopian monarch did finally occupy the premises in 1936, after Italy seized Ethiopia and the Haile Selassie spent six months Jerusalem on his way to exile in London. After the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Ethiopia severed ties with Israel and the building’s a diplomatic function ceased.

At some point between his arrival in Jerusalem and moving into 8 KKL Street in Rehavia, Ismar David lived in Abyssinian House. His landlord or host was a Mr. Domowitz.1Summary of a meeting between Nahum Tishbi, Director of the Department of Trade and Industry with the Wolpert family, March 17, 1938. Central Zionist Archives S8\2292\1.

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About Susanne Suba

Susanne Suba, 1913–2012, watercolorist and illustrator.

Susanne Suba greeting card
A holiday card from Susanne Suba.

At the age of three, Susanne Suba begged for painting lessons from the head draughtsman in her father’s architectural studio. Rebuffed, she “turned to the medium of pencil on penny post-cards, recording our life in Budapest…”1Suba, Susanne, PM [An Intimate Journal For Art Directors, Production Managers, and their Associates]. New York: The Composing Room/P.M. Publishing Co., Volume 4, No. 10: December-January 1938-1939. In her youthful autobiography,2A collection of Suba’s childhood work is preserved in the Winterthur Library, Winterthur Museum, Delaware. she recorded her life from birth until her arrival in New York at the age of six with her American-born mother, pianist May Edwards Suba. Her father, Miklos (1880–1944), who joined them in Brooklyn a few years later, gave up architecture and became a well-known Precisionist painter.

After studying at Pratt (and decorating the walls of a corset shop, which she didn’t include in her professional portfolio),3 Suba, Susanne, PM [An Intimate Journal For Art Directors, Production Managers, and their Associates]. New York: The Composing Room/P.M. Publishing Co., Volume 4, No. 10: December-January 1938-1939. Susanne Suba began her career in earnest, with four illustrations for The Colophon. Her first assignment as a book illustrator, Life Without Principle by Henry David Thoreau, landed in AIGA’s Fifty Best Books of the Year in 1937. Many, many books followed, some by her then husband Russell McCracken. She designed book jackets, as well, and did numerous spot drawings, one cartoon and five covers for the New Yorker between 1939 and 1963.4 Maslin, Michael, The New Yorker Cartoonists N-Z The Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Brooklyn Museum have shown her work.

The Composing Room’s PM-AD Gallery exhibited her drawings in 1940, four years after Hortense Mendel started there. Suba, with her husband, playwright (most famously of Dark Victory) Bertram Bloch, exchanged seasonal greetings cards with Ismar and Dorothy David. Somewhere along the line, Suba tried her hand at ceramics.

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Convention in the Bronx

In late 1957, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society announced their international assembly in New York City the following year. Jehovah’s Witnesses had held conventions at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx in 1950 and 1953, each time packing the stadium. In 1953, overflow crowds had to occupy tents in surrounding parking lots. So, with evident excitement, the organizers revealed that the 1958 event would take place simultaneously at the “excellent facilities of both Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds, situated just four city blocks apart. … From any part of the world, all are welcome to attend; and we already know that thousands are coming from the ends of the earth.” Duplicate programs were arranged so that speakers in the morning session in one arena would appear in the afternoon session of the other and vice versa. When repetition was not possible, a direct wire carried audio from Yankee Stadium to the Polo Grounds.”1 The Watchtower, December 17, 1957. Over 250,000 people attended the twin locations.

Today, 1001 Jerome Avenue, an art deco building designed by Sugarman & Berger in 1937, faces gate 2 of the new Yankee Stadium (opened in 2009). When Ismar David and Hortense Mendel lived there, the House that Ruth Built was a short walk down the street. The monumental influx of people for the Divine Will International Assembly from July 27–August 3, 1958 would have been impossible to overlook, even for a neighborhood used to hoards of baseball fans. The festivities proved irresistible for (probably) Hortense and her camera.

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About Rex and Pola Stout

Josefine Pola Weinbach Stout, 1902–1984, interior and textile designer.

Rex Todhunter Stout, 1886–1975, “banker, barker, bookworm, bookkeeper, yeoman on the Presidential yacht Mayflower, boss of 3,000 writers of propaganda in World War II, gentleman farmer and dirt farmer, big businessman, cigar salesman, pueblo guide, hotel manager, architect, cabinet maker, pulp and slick magazine writer, propagandist for world government, crow trainer, jumping‐pig trainer, mammoth-pumpkin grower, conversationalist, politician, orator, potted‐plant wizard, gastronome, musical amateur, president of the Author’s Guild, usher, ostler and pamphleteer,”1Johnston, Alva, Alias Nero Wolfe – II, The New Yorker, July 23, 1949, p.30. novelist and creator of detective Nero Wolfe.

Rex and Pola Stout
Rex and Pola Stout preparing barbequed chicken at their home. Photos by Hortense Mendel

Rex Stout’s career was as prodigious as the girth of his most famous creation. A precocious child, he read the bible (twice!) before the age of four. At age 13, he won the Kansas spelling bee championship and entered Topeka High School, where he captained the debate team and was senior class poet.2 Rex Stout, Map of Kansas Literature, He skipped college and served in the navy for two years. Then he tried various cities around the country and assorted occupations, including writing stories for pulp magazines, until 1916, when he both married and devised the Education Thrift Service, a savings program for school children. Within a decade, royalties made him financially independent, allowing him to write in earnest and travel to Europe. His first novel (that had not been initially released in serial form) was How Like A God, published by Vanguard Press, which he had co-founded in 1926 to re-issue left wing classics and publish new works that could not get released elsewhere. The Great Depression quashed his fortune and he turned to mystery writing to earn a living. Nero Wolfe made his first appearance in 1934 and his last in 1975, however literature took a back seat during the Second World War, when Stout threw himself into support for Franklin D. Roosevelt and the war effort. As president of the Author’s League, he took a strong stance against McCarthyism.

In late 1931, while Stout was building his self-designed modernist home, High Meadow, on the Brewster, New York-Danbury, Connecticut boarder, he met Pola Weinbach Hoffmann, who ran an interior design business with her husband Wolfgang. A year later, Stout and Weinbach Hoffmann married in a civil ceremony at High Meadow.

Born in Stryj, then Austria-Hungary, Pola Weinbach began constructing fashions for her dolls as a child. Despite the objections of her parents, she left university in Lemberg to study at the Vienna’s Kunstgewerbe Schule. During her four years there, the Wiener Werkstätte accepted many of her designs. She lived in Paris and then Berlin before marrying the son of her former teacher in Vienna and immigrating to New York.

After her divorce from Wolfgang Hoffmann, Stout returned to textile design, helping to pioneer the revival of weaving in the 1930s. She collaborated with leading fashion houses and created collections for textile companies in Great Britain. In 1940, she headed an eponymous division of Botany Worsted Mills. Stout enjoyed the opportunity to design for a wider segment of society: “I like to make American fabrics for American women.”3 Pope, Virginia, Blends Color Harmonies Into Fine Garment Fabrics, New York Times, March 17, 1940. She used color theory to design fabrics that could be used in combination with each other and manufactured her fabrics for beauty and durability. In 1946, she formed an independent company, Pola Stout Designs/Pola Stout Colors, with its own textile mill in Philadelphia.

Pola Stout often worked from her second floor studio in the expansive home she shared with her husband and two daughters. “While she is spinning yarns in one wing of their hill-top farmhouse, he is spinning his yarns about Nero Wolfe in another.”4Ibid. Ismar David and Hortense Mendel visited Rex and Pola Stout at High Meadow, sometime during the 1950s.

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About Shaul Tchernichovsky

Shaul Tchernichovsky, 1875–1943, poet and medical doctor.

Shaul Tchernichovsky
Shaul Tchernichovsky, c. 1927.Wikipedia.

Born in Mikhailovka, Russia, to religious parents, Shaul Tchernichovsky received nevertheless a wide-ranging education. He learned Hebrew and Russian as a child and at age fourteen was sent to Odessa to further his education. There, he studied German, French, English, Greek and Latin. By the age of 16, he had published his first poem. He failed to get into a Russian University and went to Heidelberg to study medicine. He completed his medical studies in Lausanne in 1905. After a few itinerant years, he practiced medicine in St. Petersburg. He served as an army doctor during World War I, practiced as a doctor in Odessa for several years, moved to Berlin, where he worked as chief editor for the Stybel Publishing House,1Tenenbaum, Samuel, Saul Tchernichovsky: A great Poet of the Hebrew Tradition, The Australian Jewish Chronicle, reprinted from The Jewish Tribune, February 6, 1930, p. 5. and was able to visit the United States and Palestine. During all this, he never stopped writing and publishing his poems and other literary works.

When Tchernichovsky arrived in Palestine in 1931 to edit Mazia’s unfinished The Hebrew Dictionary of Medicine and Natural Sciences, he was already a celebrated poet and translator (into Hebrew) of Homer, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Moliere, Goethe and other European classic and modern literature. An admirer of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Tchernichovsky had translated the American poet’s Hiawatha as well. He lived in Jerusalem for the rest of his life, writing and practicing medicine, standing both inside and outside Jewish literary traditions.

In late 1931, Tchernikovsky, along with Herman Struck and S.A. Van Vriesland, judged the competition for the cover of the Keren Kayemet’s Golden Book V. They found Ismar David’s design “the most original and impressive.”2J.N.F. Golden Book Competition: Prize for the 5th Volume Cover Deisgn, The Palestine Bulletin, November 17, 1931, p.4.

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About V.V.

Siegfried Adolf Van Vriesland, 1886–1939, Zionist leader.

By all accounts a committed, passionate and practical Zionist, S.A. Van Vriesland had a successful law practice in Rotterdam before he accepted the position of Treasurer to the World Zionist Executive in 1919. Not long afterward,“V.V.,” as his colleagues often called him, immigrated to Palestine, where he sought to establish an orderly, rational Zionist financial system during especially contentious times.1 In Memoriam: Siegfried Van Vriesland, Palestine Post, December 13, 1939, p. 6. In 1927, he was appointed Dutch Consul General. In late 1929, he joined Palestine Potash, Ltd. as general manager, where he again worked to institute sound financial practices. In 1938, he was named General Manager of the Marine Trust, Ltd., and was largely in charge of the Tel Aviv Port. He oversaw significant expansion of infrastructure at the port, but faced crushing problems, at least in part due to the war. Early in the morning on December 4, 1939, a house maid found him in his bed, shot in the head, with his revolver at his side. No message was found.2Dr. S.A. Van Vriesland DeadPalestine Post, December 5, 1939, p. 1.

S.A. Van Vriesland actively supported the arts in Palestine. A tribute in the Palestine Post, shortly after his death, read: “There are few artists in the country, of the brush or the stage, who will not gladly own how much of their start as individuals or groups they owe to Van Vriesland.” As a judge, alongside Hermann Struck and Saul Tchernikhovsky, of the competition for the Keren Kayemet’s 1932 Golden Book cover, he chose Ismar David’s design as the winning entry.

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About the Monson Press

A.L. Monsohn Lithographic Press, later Monson or Monzon Press, founded in 1892. Originally based in Jerusalem, later also with facilities in Tel Aviv and Haifa, the Press closed its doors in 1992.

In 1890, Jerusalem-born Avraham Leib Monsohn, 1871-1930, traveled to Frankfurt to study lithography and painting. He returned two years later with a hand press and, alongside his brothers, founded A.L. Monsohn Lithographic Press in 1892, then the only firm in Jerusalem capable of color printing. At first, the business consisted mainly of decorative souvenir postcards and New Year’s cards, which Avraham himself designed and painted in the prevailing art nouveau style. The purchase of a larger—and automated—press two years later allowed Monsohn to print many more sheets per day and branch out into commemorative placards and announcements for synagogues. The Press received special permission from rabbinical authorities to print for Christian and Moslem clients and was the official map printer for the Ottoman authorities. Greatly helped by their own innovations in gold embossing and offset printing, the firm branched out into advertising and other commercial work for local fruit, wine, candy and cigarette industries. Their client list grew to include the Jewish National Fund, Shemen, El Al and the Israeli government. Monsohn printed the Koren Bible beginning in 1959 from plates prepared by Emil Pikovsky. The Press closed its doors in 1992.

During the Siege of Jerusalem in 1948, Shimon Baramatz, 1922-1992, grandson of the founder, was temporarily released from military service in order to print posters by Ismar David and Jossi Stern on the newly-purchased Monsohn offset press.

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