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Sculptor Ahron Ben-Shmuel began carving in his father's shop, where pelts and skins were removed from animals and placed over carved wooden replicas. He began carving anything he could find: pieces of chalk from school and pieces of marble, limestone, or sandstone from demolition rubbish. Ben-Shmuel was exhilarated to discover his gift for sculpture as a "sixth sense" by which he could transform impressions from his other senses and "muscularly think them out into moving forms." His formal training began in a stone yard, where he served a three-year apprenticeship as a monument carver. He also worked for other sculptors, reproducing their models in stone. His independent study of primitive and classical sculpture in museums confirmed his conviction that direct carving in "resistant" material was the basis of sound sculptural technique. Ben-Shmuel's forms in granite seem to be emerging from their blocks of stone into stylized figures that retain the density of the original mass, yet counterpoint it by their fluid rhythms, projecting strength and power as well as delicate gracefulness. Suffering from ailing lungs, he later changed medium to painting in an abstract style, producing quite a large body of work.
Artist Jackson Pollock studied with Ahron Ben-Shmuel at his studio in Greenwich Village in New York.
Ahron Ben-Shmuel c. 1932. James A. Michener Art Museum archives. Gift of Mrs. Penny W. Caccavo.
Education and Training
Ben-Shmuel began carving as a child in his father's shop.
He served a three-year apprenticeship in a stone yard as a monument carver and studied on his own in New York museums.
Teachers and Influences
Ben-Shmuel admired the work of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Renaissance Florentines, especially Michelangelo. Jackson Pollock was a student of Ben-Shmuel in New York in the 1940s.
Connection to Bucks County
Ahron Ben-Shmuel lived in Riegelsville in Upper Bucks County for an unknown amount of time, most likely in the 1940s. Sculptor Jo Jenks became his student in 1932. The couple married in 1958 after they had re-met in New York. After getting married, Jo Jenks gave up sculpting for weaving and changed her name to Josefa Ben-Shmuel. In 1968, the couple moved to Israel. Josefa Ben-Shmuel returned to the United States in 1975 after their divorce while Ahron Ben-Shmuel spent the remainder of his life in Israel where he died in 1984 of cancer of the kidney.
Colleagues and Affiliations
Fellow sculptor and writer George Papashvily was a neighbor of Ben-Shmuel's in the mid-1940s, and helped Ben-Shmuel transport large stones for his sculptures.
Ahron Ben-Shmuel, Job, n.d. Private collection. James A. Michener Art Museum archives. Gift of Mrs. Penny W. Caccavo.
Major Group Exhibitions
New York, New York, 1934
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1934, 1936, 1945
2nd Sculpture International, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1940
Philadelphia Art Museum, East Terrace, Boxers (1937), installed 1958 (now in storage)
Fairmount Park Art Association, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial, North Terrace, The Laborer, (1949), 1958
The Whitney Museum of American Art , New York, New York
Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts
Fairmount Park Art Association, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial, North Terrace, The Laborer, (1949), installed 1958
Philadelphia Zoo, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, The Lizard, 1940
Guggenheim Fellowship Award, 1937-1938
Criticism and Essays
Carving: A Sculptor's Creed (essay), Magazine of Art, September, 1940.
Contributed to Magazine of Art, Studio News, and Arts Weekly in the 1940s