In Judaism we have the concept hiddur mitzvah, “The Beauty of Holiness.” The idea is to make physically beautiful the objects and spaces used in the performance of ritual. At one level, that is the essence of my work. At the simplest level, beauty enhances the emotional component of any act, and is especially beneficial in encouraging activities that are repeated often. One looks forward to using a treasured item, whether an antique handed down through generations, or an object acquired because it spoke to one’s aesthetic and emotional sensibility.
Trained as an architect, function often serves as my frame of reference. Another focus is the history of particular objects as expressed for millennia. For me, it is important that my work be connected to, and part of, the tradition of Jewish religious objects. In order to remain vibrant and personally relevant, every generation has to create its own interpretation of ritual and the associated objects. I search traditional texts for ideas that will inspire my work, including some from Jewish mysticism. The ideas contained in those texts are frequently the starting point for both functional and symbolic works. In my most recent work I am attempting to get to the heart of spiritual awareness. These pieces aim to inspire God consciousness even more than religious practice.
Arnold Schwarzbart, z’’l March 10, 1942 – March 16, 2015
Arnold was born in Russia during World War II and began school in Vienna. In 1951, with his family, he came to Knoxville with the help of his grandfather’s cousin, Max Friedman, knowing no English. His family joined Heska Amuna Synagogue, where he was bar mitzvahed and confirmed. He was married for almost 51 years to his high school sweetheart, Mary Linda Morrison.
Arnold learned English at Flenniken Elementary School in South Knoxville, taught by Irene Seale Stewart (Mrs. Bain T. Stewart); he was a graduate of East High School and a member of the first class of the Knoxville East High School Alumni Association Hall of Fame. He was a member of the first graduating class of the University of Tennessee School of Architecture in 1969 and a partner in the firm GSW and later Wilcox and Schwarzbart. Two of his favorite projects were the Knoxville Zoo and the L T Ross Building, home of the Knoxville-Knox County CAC. Arnold left his architecture work in the early 1980s, moving into creating artwork based on our Jewish ritual items and our texts.
His Judaic career began with a 5 week beginning pottery course at the AJCC and people wanted to buy what he made. Arnold made a line of Judaica from 1981 to 1996 which was sold in synagogue gift shops, fine craft shops, and Jewish museum shops. His first one person show was in 1989 at Bennett Galleries. Arnold had work in 45 shows, including 3 one person shows. He designed and created 35 eternal lights and 20 donor walls.
Many local organizations benefited from Arnold’s leadership and skills. He was past president of AEPi Fraternity. He served as both president and board chair for Heska Amuna Synagogue, the Arnstein Jewish Community Center (AJCC), and the Knoxville Jewish Federation (KJF). He then chaired the committee to merge the AJCC and the KJF, forming the Knoxville Jewish Alliance. He was a member of the Exhibition Committees of the Dulin Gallery and the Knoxville Museum of Art; Youth Endowment Advisory Board and grant making arts panel at the East Tennessee Foundation. Additional memberships included Arts and Culture Alliance, Southern Highlands Craft Guild, and American Guild of Judaic Art, as well as being a Hadassah Associate.
Arnold preferred to be called an artisan. He was a craftsman whose work was both functional and artful. His Judaica items for use in our homes, and his installations are current, modern, and fresh while they also invoke feelings of an ancient history and our shared past. This ability to blend antiquity with modernity was just one of his gifts; just one reason his work resonated with so many people. Arnold’s works can be viewed and appreciated in homes and venues, community buildings and Jewish houses of worship throughout the country and world. But it is Knoxville that was Arnold’s home, the site of his studio and the place where he honed his craft. It is the Knoxville Jewish community that welcomed his family, gave them refuge and helped them build a new life.
On January 31, 2016, The Knoxville Jewish Alliance/Arnstein Jewish Community Center opened The Arnold Schwarzbart Gallery at The Arnstein Jewish Community Center, a permanent installation about Arnold Schwarzbart and his work. More information may be found here and here. You can read more about Arnold’s life here. The Knoxville Museum of Art acquired two works by Arnold in October 2016.
Donor wall, ark, eternal light, sculpture, omer counter, synagogue art, amulets, ritual objects, kiddush cups