After Debra Pell, a former National Chair of the JFNAs National Young Leadership Cabinet, made Aliyah in the mid-1990s, she and her business partner looked for Israeli companies in which to invest. They decided to buy Eilon Mosaics, a small kibbutz company that was struggling. I believe in investing in the periphery, asserts Pell, and Eilon Mosaics had an amazing product, representing one of Israels oldest artistic traditions. I also liked the fact that the factory was a virtual ingathering of the exiles, with newly-arrived Russian immigrants working side-by-side veteran immigrants and old-time kibbutzniks.
Still today, Eilons workforce is very diverse. It is a place where artistically-inclined residents – primarily women – from the northern Galilee can find work, and this income allows them to pursue their own art as well.
Eilon creates mosaics from various materials, employing a variety of methods. The works are influenced by ancient and contemporary art, and the sources of inspiration range from replicas of ancient mosaics found at historical sites in Israel to modern works designed by leading contemporary artists and architects. Each project is a labor of love. From cutting the stone to choosing its precise location in the mosaic, a great deal of thought and feeling are invested in turning every creation into a unique and lasting work of art.
The Eilon Mosaics factory in the Western Galilee also enjoys welcoming visitors. Groups touring the region can visit the premises and participate in mosaic workshops that appeal to all age groups. Furthermore, the factory has a store where visitors can purchase mosaics in all styles and sizes.
A wide range of clients
Eilons hundreds of clients in Israel and abroad include hotels, private homes, offices, museums and synagogues. Its mosaics embellish dozens of embassies in Israel and abroad, as well as the President of Israels Residence and the Knesset.
When Pell and her partner Amnon Shoshani decided to invest in Eilon Mosaics, they realized that the way to grow is to export the mosaics. I loved the fact that all the stones in the mosaics are from the Land of Israel and all the works are made by hand, and I felt certain that many people around the world would be equally enthusiastic, says Pell.
Today, many of Eilons projects are indeed commissioned by clients located overseas. Our prices are competitive and the shipping costs arent high. The works can easily be installed by any local professional tile layer, so there are no additional expenses. Since we sell directly to the customer and not through showrooms, we are able to offer very reasonable prices, assures Pell.
Although Eilons natural market consists of people who feel connected to Israel, many clients commission their work because theyre looking for mosaics that arent machine-made – which today is hard to find. There is a special quality and coloration that can only be found in hand-made mosaics, explains Pell, and, as a result, each of our pieces is a unique work of art. Clients can choose from a wide range of designs, including replicas of antique mosaics, or else they can provide their own designs, such as a family portrait or an artistic image. We love taking other peoples designs and turning them into mosaics, she notes.
In recent years, Eilon Mosaics has completed many important projects in the United States, including a church in San Francisco, the whole lobby of a Jewish day school on Long Island, and a beautiful home in Chicago where modern mosaic designs now embellish the foyer and the fireplace as well as all the bathrooms. In Israel, one of the most meaningful recent projects is the donor recognition wall in the lobby of Beit Issie Shapiro in Raanana – the world-recognized center for treating severely handicapped children. Eilon Mosaics has created many donor walls over the years, each one based on the unique input of the NGOs board and staff.
The story of a factory
Kibbutz Eilon, located in the Western Galilee, was established in 1959, and for many years there were discussions about how to provide work for older kibbutz members so that they wouldnt have to continue to do hard manual labor. They finally decided to open a mosaics factory and, after purchasing stone-cutting machines, the project got underway.
At first, the factory consisted of a small group of workers who came up with ideas. They met with leading Israeli architects and suggested that they include mosaics in their projects. The artists began to specialize in replicas of mosaics from ancient synagogues that were discovered during archeological digs. One day, a professor from Jerusalem came to the factory and purchased one of the replicas. This convinced the artists that they were on the right track, and they continued to create replicas.
During the 1960s, the gabai of the Or Torah synagogue in Acre discovered the skills of Eilon Mosaics artists and hired them to decorate the Acre synagogue – a project that continues to this day as part of a plan to recreate the synagogue from the city of his childhood in Tunisia. From then on the factory began to receive orders for many varied and interesting projects. The workers became more professional, their work methods more efficient, and a lovely exhibition hall was built on the kibbutz, which was visited by tourists from Israel and abroad. That was how the factory began to spread its wings and to gain an international reputation.
In the late 1960s, Eilon Mosaics was commissioned to create a mosaic for the floor of the reception hall of the Presidents Residence in Jerusalem. The project was unique and exciting, and many of the factory workers helped to produce this huge mosaic. The factory was also commissioned to decorate Israeli embassies and consulates around the world, as well as synagogues, hotels and private homes.
Zohar Ofir from Kibbutz Eilon started working at Eilon Mosaics in 1978 and eventually became its production manager. He recalls collecting the stones that were used for the mosaics: Every six months a truck set out with several kibbutz members. We had a regular route for collecting stones. Each time, we amassed a large inventory that would suffice for a large number of projects. We collected granite from the mountains of Eilat, unique brown stones from Mitzpe Ramon, green stone from Timna and black basalt from the Golan. Those were very special days.
In the late 1960s, the type of work produced in the factory changed. They began creating mosaics that combine metal and stone: Hanukkah menorahs, bookends and iron columns that include mosaics. They also started using a unique gluing method: since then the different sections are assembled in the factory and afterwards the work is installed at the site.
Then and now
The art of mosaics and embedding mosaic stones has been known for hundreds of years. Since the earliest days of Judaism, mosaics have figured prominently in ancient synagogues and in Jewish institutions. It is still an art form that is frequently used to beautify spaces, and in Israel many public buildings are decorated with artistic mosaics, usually with a Jewish theme that is inspired by Jewish sources.
In the past, mosaic works of art were an integral part of a building. It was not unusual to find mosaic floors or entire walls covered with mosaics. These mosaics involved a great deal of work, which often took weeks. The artist who created the mosaics would plan the picture that would appear on the mosaic and cut small stones in the appropriate colors and sizes. They embedded the stones in a foundation of closely packed stones and earth, on which they poured wet cement, to create a mosaic floor. Later they started to create mosaics on sheets of fabric, with the picture drawn on the fabric, and the mosaic stones were glued onto it with resin or special glue.
Nowadays, many advanced techniques have been developed for creating mosaics. The different methods make it possible to create a variety of beautiful patterns, to combine various types of stones, and to produce pictures, tiles, walls and floors. The new techniques constitute a strong foundation for creating lovely and inspiring mosaics, which are certain to transform any structure, institution or home into a uniquely beautiful setting.
The Knesset challenge
The Knesset recently acquired an original and beautiful mosaic designed and created by the artists of Eilon Mosaics, in cooperation with architect Yoram Friedman. The work was installed in the VIP lounge of the new international wing in the Knesset building. This unique mosaic includes a collection of replicas from ancient mosaics that were found in Israel.
The main question facing the architect when he started to plan the international wing was how to link the legislative body to the history of the State of Israel. One of the main elements chosen to symbolize the connection between the State of Israel and the historical roots of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel is a unique mosaic with motifs from ancient mosaics found in old synagogues.
The architect chose to combine present and past, and the mosaic looks as though it was only recently discovered among the ruins. The result is an authentic look for the new VIP lounge. Among the motifs included in the Knesset mosaic: the Menorah from the ancient Maon synagogue near Kibbutz Nirim in the Negev, elements from the sixth-century Armenian bird mosaic in Jerusalem and the pomegranate tree from a mosaic found in Caesarea.