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Artistic Inspiration in Israel

Thursday, December 1, 2016
Artistic Inspiration in Israel

Art Museum. Pen, Watercolor, and Transparent paper by Maddy Witt

Alumna Maddy Witt interns at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem

by Carlos Anchondo ’14

High on a hill in the heart of Jerusalem between the National Library and Parliament sits the country’s national museum. The Israel Museum is the largest cultural institution for the State of Israel and possesses a vast collection of artistic and archeological pieces. Hard at work in the Museum’s wood conservation and design departments is Top Israel intern Maddy Witt ’16. An aspiring art conservationist and artist, Witt has paired a love of travel with her desire to acquire “hands-on” experience in art preservation.

Since the start of her internship in late August, one of Witt’s projects has involved chipping paint off an 18th century bench from the Tzedek ve-Shalom Synagogue. The bench is a typical example of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogues in the New World. After a brief tutorial, Witt has carefully stripped away paint layers to determine the original color of the bench. Another project involves a large sculpture by Louise Nevelson that is created entirely of small black boxes. When the sculpture moves museums, the box holes need to be filled and the boxes repainted using color matching. Both projects require a keen eye and unwavering attention to detail.

“At times, it has definitely been really scary,” says Witt, laughing. “I have learned how to keep the artistic integrity of a piece, and I work pretty independently for the most part.”

In the museum’s design department, Witt has gradually registered more than 600 drawings from Jewish/Hungarian artist Zoltan Harmat into the museum’s online art database. She takes a photo of the art and writes notes about the drawing. Although most of the artist’s annotations are in English, Witt has expanded her Hebrew language and writing skills. A Top Israel component is a month-long intensive ulpan program designed to teach basic Hebrew conversation, comprehension, and writing skills.  

A reformed Jew, Witt learned about the Top Israel program after her older brother participated in Birthright. Witt’s brother enjoyed his experience abroad so thoroughly that the 10-day trip turned into a seven month stay. Anticipating that she would also prefer to spend more than 10 days in Israel, Witt applied to the Top Israel internship program. She currently lives in an apartment with other interns in Jerusalem’s centrally located Nachlaot neighborhood.

“I live right by the shuk, which is a giant marketplace with hundreds of stands to buy food,” says Witt. “Every day people come to the market, which has so many nooks and crannies. Jerusalem itself is so old that there are always new things to find. It is hard to describe.”

In addition to her internship at The Israel Museum, Witt has also been able to travel to several landmarks within Israel, including the Golan Heights, Tel Aviv, and the Negev Desert. She has plans to go to The Dead Sea and to the port city of Haifa. Witt loves to travel with her Top Israel roommates, who, like her, have come to Jerusalem from across the world. Witt says she has earned a new appreciation for Judaism not only through Israelis, but also from the other interns who experience their Jewish faith differently in their respective countries.

When she is not working or traveling, Witt explores Jerusalem. She has joined a group called The Urban Sketchers who wander across the city drawing various markets, synagogues, and anything else that catches their eyes. An art major, Witt was a Baker Duncan Scholar who came to Trinity from Albuquerque. While she explored a wide variety of courses, she always returned to the art department. As a senior Witt participated in the competitive Mini Exhibition, an annual art department showcase that features the work of art and art history majors.

Although her internship is scheduled to conclude come January, Witt is considering extending her time in Israel and at The Israel Museum.

“Israel is unlike any other place that I have ever been,” Witt says. “I really like my internship and my training. I’m excited to explore conservation as a career as I pursue my goal to become an artist.”

Carlos Anchondo is a writer and editor for University Marketing and Communications. He is a 2014 graduate of Trinity and can be found at @cjanchondo or at canchond [at] trinity.edu.