Ephraim Keyser , Sculptor and Teacher

In the United States, Teacher Appreciation Week is in the spring. This year May 5-9 is Teacher Appreciation Week, with Tuesday May 6 being designated as National Teacher Day. It is a fitting time to remember Ephraim Keyser, 1850-1937, whose long tenure as a teacher in Baltimore at the Maryland Institute (now The Maryland Institute College of Art or MICA) and the Rinehart School of Sculpture affected the lives and careers of many students.

KeyserpassportIn 1893 Keyser was hired to teach modeling in the Maryland Institute's day school. He also was an instructor in the Freehand Division of the night school. In October of 1900, a third teaching position was added, as Keyser became head of the Rinehart School of Sculpture, which was allied with the Maryland Institute and offered advanced instruction in sculpture. He remained head of the Rinehart School until 1923 but continued to give lectures there and in the day school of the Maryland Institute until shortly before his death.

We can learn about Keyser as a teacher by looking at some of his correspondence that survives and by reading statements about him from his students and contemporaries.

Keyser wanted his students to have the best possible opportunity to learn and tried to acquire proper aids for his classroom. Toward that end, he wrote to the chairman and trustees of the Rinehart Fund in a letter dated October 14, 1909, and asked for a skeleton. He notified them that, "a well articulated and mounted skeleton is a need greatly felt and it would add greatly to the efficiency of the class could one be obtained."  The trustees apparently did not purchase the skeleton that year because on October 14, 1910, he again pleaded to the chairman and trustees for a skeleton. "My work in the class is greatly handicapped by the lack of a well articulated skeleton so necessary to teach the structure of the figure and I earnestly request that one be obtained."

Keyser's concern for his students did not stop after they left his classroom.  In 1907 one of his sculpture students was awarded a Rinehart scholarship to study in Paris. Keyser, concerned that the student, who had never been away from home, would have difficulty adjusting to life in Paris, promptly wrote to his nephew, Leo Stein, asking Leo to look after the student.b2ap3_thumbnail_images.jpg

 Keyser was well regarded by his students as evidenced by the following quote from Isabelle Schultz Churchman in The Rinehart School 75th Anniversary Catalogue, 1896-1971, "Mr. Keyser considered anatomy as vital for both sculptors and painters and would give lectures on it to the whole Institute. The students would flock to hear him…His most popular lecture was the one on the face and head for he would demonstrate the facial expressions and even wiggle his ears, to the delight of all."

A lighthearted comment found in the 1908 yearbook of the Maryland Institute demonstrates esteem for Keyser. The unnamed wag reported in the yearbook that, "With that left paw Keyser could draw."

The September 17, 1924 Baltimore Sun reported on a dinner honoring Ephraim Keyser held at the Baltimore Museum of Art.  During the dinner, J. Maxwell Miller, another Baltimore sculptor and teacher gave a testimonial of his esteem for Mr. Keyser as a teacher. According to Miller, a young student obtained from Keyser, more than guidance in art, but a philosophy of life.

According to the February 21, 1937, Sun newspaper, a past student of Keyser's, Miss Valerie H. Walter,  wanted to honor  her late teacher and called a meeting of his former pupils to  plan a memorial exhibit.  The newspaper reported that Miss Walter had exhibited in New York, Rome, Paris, and London but had never found anything to equal the inspiration she derived from Ephraim Keyser.

Keyser's students are deceased themselves now. It is well that some of their written praise of their former teacher survives to validate the career of this fine educator. 

Photo Credit of Keyser: Jewish Museum of Maryland

Image: A monumental bronze figure of a cavalier

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Finding My Parents' Ketubah

As we were clearing out my parents’ apartment following my mother’s first Yahrtzeit, my parents’ ketubah was discovered amongst some old documents.  None of my seven brothers and sisters had ever seen it before. In fact, it was not immediately apparent to us that this was indeed their ketubah.

The folded yellowed document, almost 90 years old, was written in half culmus : bearing a similarity to Hebrew and “Rashi” (the typeface used in the Rashi commentary). The half culmus font had been used by the Sepahardic Jews particularly in Spain during the Tor Hazahav (the Golden Era of Spanish Jewry).  Later, after fleeing to North Africa, the Jews living in Morocco continued to write various religious documents in this font.b2ap3_thumbnail_Jewish-wedding-contract.png

The wedding contract—handwritten--elaborated on the families of both my mother and father, with special attention to my mother’s father ( “ a man of great knowledge of the Torah and acts of chesed--good deeds”) as he had been a highly-respected member of the local Jewish community.

Although the ketubah is unadorned, two passport-sized pictures of my parents were attached according to official requirements. This was very surprising for us, and at the same time also delightful. My parents were 19 and 16 at the time of their marriage. I had never seen photos of them looking so young.

Another unusual detail on the wedding contract caught my eye. There was a kind of abstract line drawing on the ketubah that we could not figure out the rhyme or reason for it being there. Only later were we able to get the answer to this curious squiggle. When b2ap3_thumbnail_Aramaic-text-Ketubah.png
we brought the ketubah to the local rabbi, we were told that this was the signature of the rabbi who officiated at the ceremony and that his signature, itself, was a chain of signatures incorporating all signatures of his predecessors -- including the current rabbi’s own addition.  Today a fine- print made of the original ketubah is framed and hanging in each of our family’s homes.

Added to the joy of being an artist and having my work be part of the wedding ceremony for many young Jewish couples around the world, my own experience of finding my parents' ketubah, gave me a new perspective of the ketubah’s significance--for not only the couple on the wedding day, but for their offspring and the generation to follow.

Azoulay's ketubah's can be found at http://ketubahstudioazoulay.com.

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