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JRelease: On Israel's 75th Anniversary, the Decade's-Long Odyssey of an Historic World's Fair Sculpture is Commemorated

May 17, 2023 12:57 PM | Anonymous

On Israel's 75th Anniversary, the Decade's-Long Odyssey of an Historic World's Fair Sculpture is Commemorated


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MAY 17, 2023


On May 28, 1939, at the New York World’s Fair – 84 years ago this month – the Jewish-Palestine Pavilion was dedicated. The pavilion was intended to introduce the world to the concept of a modern Jewish State; which a decade later – after the atrocities of the Holocaust – would become the State of Israel. The pavilion’s façade was adorned with an imposing 14-foot-tall relief sculpture, an Art Deco representation of three figures created by a 26-year-old Israeli sculptor by the name of Maurice Ascalon (1913-2003) (born Moshe Klein). Maurice would go on to become a pioneer of modern Israel’s decorative arts movement. Ascalon’s hand-hammered copper World’s Fair sculpture, entitled “The Scholar, The Laborer, and The Toiler of Soil”, depicted the three vocational facets of a successful civilization: scholarship, industry, and agriculture; three facets that the State of Israel would eventually come to embody.

The pavilion’s opening ceremony featured speeches by its guest of honor Albert Einstein, and New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, both of whom spoke from a podium standing beneath Ascalon’s sculpture to a crowd of 100,000. During the fair’s run, the pavilion saw some 2 million visitors. With the start of World War II, logistical and legal constraints made it impossible for the sculpture and the exhibits from the pavilion to make their way back to Israel as originally intended. The sculpture was therefore auctioned off and found a new home at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning & Leadership in Chicago, where it has remained ever since. Today, the Spertus, together with Maurice Ascalon’s family and a Toronto-based Israeli memorabilia collector and historian David Matlow, are in the process of making arrangements to finally see to the return of Ascalon’s sculpture to Israel for long-term display – completing a round trip that began in the late 1930s.

In honor of the 75th Anniversary of the State of Israel, and to commemorate the unique artistic and historic importance of Ascalon’s sculpture, a limited edition of 250 replicas of “The Scholar, The Laborer, and the Toiler of Soil”, produced as a 1KG resin cast, are being released for sale this week by Piece of History, an Israeli-based studio that creates unique decorative items with Israeli history and Judaic themes. The intent for this project is to raise awareness among Jewish communities worldwide about the artwork, and to promote its return to Israel.

For more information on the commemorative edition, visit . Additional biographies, historic information, and images are attached/enclosed below.


Maurice Ascalon (born Moshe Klein) was born in the eastern Hungarian town of Fehérgyarmat. From an early age, he was drawn to art, which was frowned upon in the Hassidic "shtetl" in which he was raised. When he was 15 years old Ascalon left his boyhood home to study art at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. He took with him an understanding of Jewish rituals and traditions which knowledge he later incorporated in his work.

In 1934, after undertaking his formal artistic training in Brussels and later Milan, Maurice Ascalon immigrated to the land of Israel (then the British Mandate of Palestine). There he met his wife-to-be, Zipora Kartujinsky, a Polish-born Jew, granddaughter to the distinguished cartographer and scientist of the same surname. (Zipora, who died in 1982, became a sculptor in her own right late in her life, creating bas reliefs depicting the shtetl life of her childhood).

In 1939, Maurice Ascalon designed and created the enormous 14-foot-tall hammered repoussé copper relief sculpture of three figures, "The Scholar, The Laborer, and The Toiler of Soil", which adorned the façade of the Jewish-Palestine Pavilion of the 1939 New York World's Fair. Ascalon was commissioned to create this work for the historically significant Pavilion which introduced the world to the concept of a modern Jewish state. (The work is now part of the collection of the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership in Chicago.)

In the late 1930s, Ascalon founded an Israeli decorative arts manufacturing company, Pal-Bell, which produced trademark bronze and brass menorahs and other Judaic and secular decorative art and functional items that were exported in large numbers worldwide. Maurice Ascalon's designs, some art deco, others more traditional, introduced the use of a chemically induced green patina (verdigris) to Israeli metalwork. During Israel's War for Independence in 1948, he designed munitions for the Israeli army and, at the request of the Israeli government, retrofitted his factory to produce munitions for the war effort. In 1956 Maurice immigrated to the United States.

During the latter part of the 1950s through the 1960s, Maurice resided in New York and Los Angeles. He gained a reputation as a master silversmith, creating for synagogues Torah crowns and other objects of Jewish ceremonial art. For a time, he taught sculpture on the fine arts faculty of the University of Judaism (now the American Jewish University) in Los Angeles.

In the late 1970s, Ascalon relocated to the Philadelphia area where he co-founded Ascalon Studios. It became (and still is today, under the direction of Maurice's son, David Ascalon (b.1945)) a multifaceted art studio dedicated to the design of and creation of site-specific art for worship and public spaces.

In February 2003, Maurice Ascalon celebrated his 90th birthday as a resident of Cuernavaca, Mexico, where he lived with his eldest son, Adir Ascalon (Adir was a surrealist painter and sculptor who collaborated with the noted Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros). In August 2003, Maurice Ascalon succumbed to complications related to Parkinson's disease.

Maurice Ascalon's commissions include permanent installations at worship and public spaces throughout the United States, Mexico, and Israel. His works have been exhibited at and are among the collections of institutions including the Jewish Museum (New York), the Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership in Chicago, the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, and the University of Judaism in Los Angeles.


David Matlow is a lawyer at Goodmans in Toronto, the Chair of the Ontario Jewish Archives and is the owner of the world’s largest private collection of Theodor Herzl memorabilia (  Through his collection he became interested in the Jewish Palestine Pavilion of the 1939 New York World’s Fair, whose existence was in furtherance of Herzl’s dream for a Jewish homeland.  In researching the Pavilion, Matlow learned that the sculpture still exists, and has been working with the Ascalon family to find a permanent home for it in Israel in order to compete its  80+ year round trip.


Piece of History is an Israeli based company which designs and distributes original Zionist memorabilia, merchandise and limited-edition items. It was established in 2009 by souvenir designer Asaf Harari, with the goal to produce contemporary style items that would help strengthen Zionist identity, and make Israel’s history more accessible to people of all ages. For more information, visit


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