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Just in Time for Passover: Ben Shahn’s Haggadah

From Ben Shan's Haggadah for Passover.

From Ben Shan's Haggadah for Passover.

Ben Shahn’s Haggadah (a Jewish text that presents the order of the Passover Seder) is a beautiful book that celebrates the traditions of Passover and highlights Shahn’s masterful skill as an artist and calligrapher.

From Ben Shan's Haggadah for Passover.

From Ben Shan’s Haggadah for Passover.

Many of the illustrations in Shahn’s Haggadah were made around 1930.  However, it was not until 1965 that the artist collecting the drawings and watercolors together to form the printed Haggadah.  Only 292 copies of the book were produced.  It includes a beautifully illuminated title page and 12 illuminated manuscript pages, plus ten drawings for the Had Gadya (An Only Kid), a folk song traditionally sung at the end of the Passover ceremony.

Shahn said that the work “reflects my memories of the Passover in my father’shouse. It reflects my early impressions and feelings; the images that were always invoked in my fancy by the majestic and meaningful ritual.”

From Ben Shahn's Haggadah for Passover

From Ben Shahn’s Haggadah for Passover

The theme of struggle against oppression, which is central to the Passover story, was a common one in Shahn’s work.  At the time the Haggadah illustrations were made, Shahn was also working on a set of illustrations depicting the Dreyfus Affair, in which a Jewish Frenchman was falsely accused of espionage and imprisoned for nearly five years in the infamous Devil’s Island penal colony in French Guiana. In 1931 and ’32, he produced a series of paintings commemorating the famous trial of Sacco and Vanzetti.

See for yourself! On Monday, April 7, from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., Rabbi Jack Zanerhaft of Congregation Etz Chaim will visit Crystal Bridges to lead an exploration of Ben Shahn’s beautiful Haggadah as part of the Museum’s ongoing Great Reveal program, sponsored by John and Emily Douglas.  This is a free public presentation, but space is limited, so please register online.  We hope you will join us for this celebration of art and spirit.

Linda DeBerry
Senior Copy Editor / Publications Manager

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