Oliver O’Connor Barrett, Homage to the State of Israel, study dated June 8, 1948. Collection of Yeshiva University Museum; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Selig Burrows.
This is the seventh consecutive week we’re unable to welcome visitors in person at Yeshiva University Museum. It’s also marked by two extraordinary days, Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day), which, linked back-to-back, help bring alive to Israelis that the very existence of the state was made possible by those who sacrificed their lives for it.
Like July 4th, Yom Ha’atzmaut is typically marked by parades and lively celebrations. Anticipating what will surely be the most “socially distanced” Independence Day since its founding brings to mind Oliver O'Connor Barrett’s study for a wood sculpture, Homage to the State of Israel, which the artist made on June 8, 1948, just 25 days after Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Indeed, Barret’s image of a solitary harp-plucking King David, seeking outside inspiration, may resonate with how many of us are working and subsisting these days.
Born in London, England in 1908, Barrett moved in 1940 to the United States, where he spent most of his artistic career, settling with his family in New York City. Largely self-taught, he worked as a sculptor, illustrator, and painter, while also composing music and writing poetry and short stories. He was a dedicated teacher for decades. The specific circumstances that led to the creation of Barrett’s study and his sculpture are unknown. Based on the subject he chose and the way he characterized the subject one has to imagine that the artist was greatly inspired by the events of 1948. Two other sheets of studies for the figure for the figure of King David, also housed in YUM’s collections, suggest that the artist was intent on conveying the figure’s sense of wonder, perhaps mixed with trepidation, while communicating with the divine.
Oliver O’Connor Barrett, Homage to the State of Israel, study dated May 28, 1948 (left); study dated June 6, 1948 (right). Collection of Yeshiva University Museum; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Selig Burrows
This combination of wonder and trepidation is vividly conveyed in Barrett’s final sculpture, which the artist executed in walnut in 1958, ten years after the preliminary studies. Are we to imagine King David himself reacting in wonder to the news of Israel’s rebirth?
Oliver O’Connor Barrett
Homage to the State of Israel
Collection of Yeshiva University Museum; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Selig Burrows
However you see Barrett’s image of the shepherd turned psalmist and third king of Israel and Judah, we wish you an uplifting Yom Ha’atzmaut and many wondrous moments at home in the days ahead.