Original Article Published On The Jewish Ledger
NEW HAVEN — What do Duke University, the State of Israel and the Knights of Columbus Museum have in common? They have all been fortunate enough to host an extraordinary exhibit of lithographs by Scottish architectural and landscape painter, David Roberts. Roberts spent 11 months traveling extensively throughout the Near East in 1838 and 1839.
“Roberts was quite a breakthrough individual,” reports Larry Sowinski, director of the Knights of Columbus Museum. “He was one of the first Europeans (under Ottoman Rule) to undertake such an expedition.” And Roberts’ route to the holy land is rather interesting.
Roberts was born in 1796 and was recognized at an early age for his skill in making accurate renderings of building and land around Edinburgh. As his family lacked finances for formal training in the arts, Roberts was apprenticed to a house painter at age 12. He later became a scene painter with a traveling theatre company. He always enjoyed outdoor and topographical paintings, and he was attracted to foreign lands. He traveled to Spain in the early 1830s, where he sketched gypsy costumes and Moorish architecture. Sales of his sketches of Spain were so successful that he now had enough money to finance his journey to the Near East.
After spending months in Cairo, he crossed the Sinai Desert to Mount Sinai and St. Catherine’s Monastery, then on to Petra and to the Holy Land. Roberts entered holy places, accompanied by body guards, with his sketch pads in hand. By the time he returned to England, Robert had three full sketchbooks and more than 272 watercolors.
In 1996, the State of Israel and the State of North Carolina engaged in the Israel/North Carolina Cultural Exchange. The Duke University Museum of Art was one of two dozen North Carolina cultural institutions which participated in the examination of Israeli arts; “Jerusalem and the Holy Land Rediscovered,” an exhibit of 123 of Roberts’ prints, was housed at the Duke Museum.
Sowinski has been in discussions with the Duke Museum for the Roberts exhibit for many years. “The lithographs don’t travel for more than eight weeks a year, and they haven’t been on display in more than two years,” notes Sowinski, “and we are lucky enough to get an extension to have the exhibit for ten weeks.”
Sowinski reports that 90 tinted and hand-colored lithographs will be on display at the Knights of Columbus Museum from Nov. 1, through Jan. 9, 2005. The Knights of Columbus Museum is, perhaps an unusual home for such an exhibit. The Knights of Columbus, incorporated in 1882, is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization. The Knights of Columbus prides itself for its volunteer service and charitable contributions; in the past decade, they have volunteered nearly 400 million hours of service and raided and donated nearly one billion dollars to charitable causes. And Knights of Columbus Insurance has been protecting member families since its founding.
Sowinski doesn’t find the museum’s interest in the Holy Land exhbit strange at all. “We need an exhibit like this at this juncture in history” says Sowinski, who recounted in detail the centrality of Jerusalem for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Sowinski has been promoting the “Holy Land” exhibit in Catholic publications by inviting them to “Celebrate Catholic Christmas in Connecticut.” In Jewish publications, readers are
invited to “Visit the Promised Land in New Haven.” The exhibit will feature the 90 lithographs, each with a caption and more recent photo of what each of Robert’s sites looks like in modern Israel.
The “Holy Land” exhibit runs from Nov.1-Jan. 9 and is open seven days a week from 10am until 5pm (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day). The Knights of Columbus Museum is at State Street in New Haven Call 203-865-0400.