Chana Orloff divided her life between France and Israel. In Paris, where she worked and gained international recognition as one of the outstanding sculptors of her time, her home was some kind of Israel colony, and politicians, public figures and art lovers from Israel were always to be found there, enjoying her hospitality. If ever her friends could not find her there, they knew she was at her Tel Aviv home.
Chana Orloff came to Eretz Israel from a small town in the Ukraine in 1904, at the age of 16. Her father worked in the citrus orchards of Petah Tikvah while Chana worked as a dressmaker. Six years later she left for Paris, where she met the poet Justman and married him.
Her exciting meeting with the world of art happened quite by chance. Her husband, who was friendly with all the great Jewish artists of the Paris School, introduced her to Modigliani, Soutine, Pascin, Lipshitz and Chagall and they became her friends. One day, on a visit to a sculptor's workshop, she picked up a piece of clay, began to play with it, and the sculptor couldn't believe his own eyes as he witnessed the birth of a sculpture.
In those days, Paris was a melting pot for many different schools of art. Orloff was influenced by Cubism and Expressionism but developed her own unique style with its human warmth and humor which found expression in her full, flowing, rounded forms. For dozens of years she took part in the salons and major exhibitions of Paris and was also very successful in Europe and the USA where she showed her human sculptures - figures of men, women, children and animals - which she created from stone, marble, bronze and, above all, wood.
All this time Chana Orloff was very involved in the state-in-the-making. She was acquainted with the leaders of the Jewish community of Eretz Israel and among her best known busts are those of David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol. She was invited to execute a monument to Dov Gruner and his comrades Israel Feinerman, Yaakov Zlotnick and Yizhak Bilu who took part in the raid on the Ramat Gan police station on April 23, 1946 in an attempt to obtain arms. Gruner was severely injured in the course of the raid and taken prisoner by the British, while all three of his comrades were killed. Dov Gruner was put on trial by the British, sentenced to death, and hanged on April 16, 1947. The symbolic monument created in 1953, which stands today in Ramat Gan, shows the old British lion grappling unsuccessfully with a young lion.
Among Chana Orloff's other sculptures in Israel are: the Wounded Bird at Kibbutz Bet Oren; Motherhood at Kibbutz En Gedi; the Eagle at Kibbutz Revivim, and Peace in Jerusalem.
It is more than symbolic that this famous sculptress died in Israel in 1968 while her admirers were busily engaged in preparing a retrospective exhibition of her works in honor of her 80th birthday.
ABRAHAM MELNIKOV - THE ROARING LION, THE TEL HAI MEMORIAL
Abraham Melnikov was born in Bessarabia in the year 1892. His parents sent him to Vienna in 1909 to study medicine and he spent his evenings studying art at the Vienna Art Academy. When he decided to drop his medical studies and devote himself wholly to art, his parents ceased supporting him and he went to stay with his brother in Chicago.
In 1919, Melnikov volunteered for the Jewish Legion and arrived in Eretz Israel from Egypt. He soon obtained his discharge from the army and began to devote himself full-time to art. He gained acceptance in British ruling circles and achieved a prominent position in local art circles. Sir Ronald Storrs, Governor of Jerusalem, put at his disposal a workshop in the Old City of Jerusalem over the Damascus Gate which was later looted and destroyed during the 1929 riots.
In 1920, Joseph Trumpeldor and his comrades S. Sposnik, A. Sher, Sara Cisik, Devora Drechier, Ya'akov Toker, Benjamin Monter and Ze'ev Sherf fell at Tel Hai. At that time Melnikov was in command of Jabotinsky's Jewish self-defense group in the northern sector of Jerusalem.
In 1922, the Association of Jewish Artists was founded under the presidency of Boris Schatz, and Melnikov served as his deputy. During the period 1921-1928 Melnikov took part in all the exhibitions held by the Association in the Tower of David.
In 1928, Lord Melchett (Sir Alfred Mond), responding to the initiative of the Zionist Executive, agreed to be responsible for financing the construction of a memorial to the heroes of Tel Hai. He consulted with Melnikov who prepared a sketch for a memorial in the form of a roaring lion. At the same time, the executive of the Histadrut (Jewish Labor Federation) issued a public tender for the erection of a memorial on the same spot. This resulted in the outbreak of a fierce controversy among the Jewish population. Melnikov then went to live in Kefar Giladi and began work on his memorial.
In the year 1930, a 22-ton block of stone from the nearby quarries was put in position and Melnikov began to carve the sculpture which he completed in 1934. However, the funds collected by Lord Melchett ran out and Melnikov, who refused to compromise on the size of his work, provided the rest of the money from his own pocket.
The statue of the lion facing eastwards and roaring to the heavens was fashioned in the Assyrian style as befits the site, and on February 23, 1934 the memorial was officially dedicated in the presence of Ch. N. Bialik, Y. Ben-Zvi, E. Kaplan and other Jewish personalities. Two days later, Melnikov left for London to prepare an exhibition of his works.
During his 25-year stay in London, Melnikov achieved renown as a sculptor of busts, and his subjects included Churchill, Bevin, Toscanini and many others. In 1940, his studio and most of its contents were destroyed during an air raid.
After making a number of unsuccessful attempts to settle down in Eretz Israel, Melnikov finally came back to Israel in 1959, a sick man. In 1960, while clearing his possessions and works from the Haifa Port, he had a fatal heart attack and died unknown, in Haifa's Rambam Hospital. In compliance with the terms of his will, he was buried alongside his wife at the foot of his Roaring Lion.
The ill-luck that dogged Melnikov throughout his life, continued even after his death. His works which had been loaned to various public institutions were forgotten, destroyed, or simply vanished and we are left with very few examples of the work of this highly talented artist who gave expression to one of the country's most famous legends.
The first retrospective exhibition of Melnikov's work was held in the Haifa University Art Gallery in 1982.
Countless hikers have made their way to the monument erected to that famous watchman and man of the soil, Alexander Zaid. The striking figure of Zaid, mounted on his noble horse, standing on the hills of Bet She'arim, can be seen from far around.
In the years preceding the establishment of the State of Israel, this man and his story were a symbol of pioneering for Israeli youth - but who was the sculptor who executed his memorial? The name David Polus is practically unknown. The sculptor, a truly modest man, shunned publicity and even used to keep his age a secret. He immigrated to Eretz Israel at the end of the third wave of immigration and joined Yitzhak Sadeh's group of quarry workers in Migdal Zedek, near Petah Tikvah.
His close association with stone and stone-working led to the creation of his first piece of sculpture - a bust of A. D. Gordon. From then on, sculpting became his lifetime vocation, each new work depicting some heroic event in the history of the Jewish people from biblical times to the birth of Zionism. "Eretz Israel is a temple," he used to say, "I don't wish to bring just ordinary statues into it."
David Polus used to wander the countryside, living and sculpting in different kibbutzim: Ramat David, Tel Yosef, Bet Oren and Ramat Rahel. He had a hut in the Mahlul quarter of Tel Aviv where he used to live by himself and plan his future works. Later on, he moved to Jerusalem and lived for many years in a hut in the heart of the pine groves next to the Allenby Barracks. It was at Kibbutz Ramat David that he produced his first monument, 47 years ago. He had come to visit his stone-cutter friends, and on learning that the kibbutz was named in honor of David Lloyd George, a former Prime Minister of England, he decided to pay due tribute to the great man and erect a memorial at the settlement. The monument, which took him two years to complete, takes the form of a statue of David, the shepherd-king, plucking at his harp, his spear at his side. Other monuments that he created are: at Kibbutz Bet Oren - the figure symbolizing Israel, with his prayer-shawl wrapped around a pioneer rising from the waves - bearing aloft a hoe and a rifle; at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel - Mother Rachel depicted as a beauty of days gone by, hugging a young boy and girl - he titled this work ... and the children returned to the homeland.