Wildflowers of Israel - Eretz Israel Museum

Wildflowers of Israel
Painted by Bracha Avigad Levy on Naaman Porcelain

In 1983, Shimon Bader, chief designer at the Naaman porcelain factory, was searching for a local subject to use for decorating tableware produced by the company. He therefore invited Bracha Avigad (1919-2016), painter of wildflowers of Israel, to compose floral motifs for a variety of white porcelain vessels. Thrilled at the prospect of rendering her paintings on dining sets, Avigad drew single flowers during their life cycle, which were assembled into bouquets fitting the forms of the different vessels. The decals (water slide transfers) were printed in Europe. The first dining sets were presented to the President and to embassies of the State of Israel and exported overseas. Items designed as souvenirs included biblical verses referring to the landscape of the Holy Land, captions for the various flowers and inscriptions mentioning the artist. Organizations purchased ready-made vessels and added their own emblems and legends to them.

The charming porcelain set that brought the wildflowers to the dinner table was short-lived. The decals were consumed in a fire, never to be reproduced.

Beatrix-Sophie-Brandl Guthmann’s drawing skills were recognized from early childhood. While still atschool in Darmstadt she visited with her class a special exhibition of flower paintings by the German artist Margret Kranz (1888-1973). Kranz’s paintings left a deep impression on the young girl who, growing up in a Zionist home, made up her mind to draw the flora of the Land of Israel once she arrived there. On the way home from the gallery she caught sight of Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel’s “Das kleine Blumenbuch” in a bookshop window. She bought the little book of flower woodcuts, and kept it all her life.

Avigad immigrated to Palestine with Youth Aliya in 1935. While at Tel Hai, Henrietta Szold, director of the Jewish Agency’s Youth Aliya Bureau, noticed the girl’s artistic talent and arranged for her to train at The New Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts. When Ephraim Rubinovitch-Hareuveni suggested she prepare scientific botanical illustrations for him, she politely refused. Her drawings were produced inresponse to the thrilling discovery and observation of the delicate flower as it sprouts and grows from the soil of the homeland.

Bracha Avigad’s wildflower painting is a localized expression of modern nationalism that sought to convey the idea of the homeland by means of botanical drawing, thus defining territory, national identity and belonging.

Bracha Avigad’s paintings were first exhibited first at the annual Haifa National Flower Show, founded by mayor Abba Hushi. The display led to fruitful cooperation with the city’s Department of Education and the authors Se’ev Berlinger and Zwi Silberstein, educators at the Hebrew Reali School, to produce “Carmel Flowers”, the first book illustrated by Avigad (1958). Single sheets, featuring the flower on the obverse and with commentary on the reverse, were distributed every Friday to school children, who unintentionally became loyal wildflower guardians. Images from the books “Carmel Flowers” and “Galilee Flowers”, co-authored by Uzi Paz, the first director of the first director of the Nature Reserves Authority, were incorporated in the Protected Flowers poster that accompanied the massive campaign embedded in the law for preserving natural treasures (1963). The campaign was subsequently chosen as the most effective in the country’s history. The poster began in modest versions printed by the Municipality of Haifa with financial support from BlueBand-Telma Food Industries and the Dagon Granaries. Under the auspices of the Nature Reserves Authority the Gold Band-Telma “Wildflowers of Israel” album was published. Photographs of flowers were distributed with purchases of certain food products.

Up to the 1960s flower gathering was a “national sport” in Israel. People raided the countryside, harvesting flowers to their heart’s content, and in some cases also making it a source of income. Children were encouraged to collect wildflowers, to be sent to their diaspora brethren in order to strengthen mutual ties. Only a few believed that the public would respond to the call that wildflowers were everyone’s property yet no one had the right to pick them. The campaign, propagated in schools, backed up by radio broadcasts and the press, penetrated into public consciousness. Wildflowers returned to the landscape of Israel.

Naaman items decorated with wildflowers of Israel are like a sequel to the books illustrated by Bracha Avigad (1919-2016), known mainly for her wildflower paintings. The artist’s illustrations were incorporated in the posters that accompanied the flower preservation campaign, considered as one of the most effective advertising campaigns in the history of Israel.

The Naaman factory, among the earliest enterprises of the Kibbutz Industry, was founded at Kibbutz Kfar Masaryk near Akko in 1939, in order to manufacture construction materials, particularly bricks, from soils mined on the banks of the Naaman river. The factory soon turned into Naaman Porcelain, the only porcelain manufacturer in modern Israel. The thriving industry, whose output was used in kibbutz dining halls and exported abroad, was sold to Koor Industries in 1970. As a result of economic crisis and the gradual flooding of the market by cheap tableware, Naaman was sold to private owners. Unlike the wildflowers, Naaman Porcelain did not survive the hardships of time, and closed down in 1996.

The current display at the Ceramics pavilion, which documents the production in clay from antiquity to the present day in the Land of Israel, reveals one aspect of the history of industrial ceramics in the State of Israel.

The display includes Naaman items decorated by Bracha Avigad, books illustrated by the painter and other didactic material relating to botany instruction and the preservation of wildflowers, as well as items that show her inspiration sources in her early life.