Born as Moshe Klein in Eastern Hungary in 1913, Maurice Ascalon grew up in a Hungarian shtetl under strict religious Hasidic culture. Because the cultural environment stifled his artistic aspirations, Maurice decided to leave home at the age of 15. He moved to Brussels and studied at the prestigious Académie Royal des Beaux-Arts before heading to Milan. In Milan, Maurice partnered with Giovanni Rosa and designed some of the early mannequins for La Rosa Mannequins, a company well known for creating sophisticated figures for couture designs.
Maurice Ascalon hammering "The Scholar, The Laborer, and The Toiler of the Soil" for the 1939 New York World's Fair
Photo Courtesy of Ascalon Studios
In 1934, Maurice emigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine, after meeting his wife-to-be Zipora Kartujinsky. There, Maurice founded the Pal-Bell Company after realizing his desire to create decorative metalwork for the masses. This work included bowls, vases, ashtrays, pitchers as well as menorahs and other Judaica. The objects were not only purchased by locals and tourists, but also exported to well known department stores in the United States and Europe. The designs Maurice produced for Pal-Bell Company earned him the title of father of the modern Israeli decorative art movement.
Pal-Bell Company’s well-known “oil lamp” menorah is decorated with twin olive leaf branches, the symbol of the new state of Israel. It has become one of their most iconic pieces, with one residing in the permanent collection of New York’s Jewish Museum. Maurice also developed a chemical process to mimic the green patina that art objects traditionally only got with age. This chemically induced look, known as “verdigris”, became a trademark of the company and an important stylistic look in the modern Israeli decorative art movement.
After two decades in Israel producing designs for Pal-Bell as well as participating in the Israeli War effort by having his factory both design and produce munitions, Maurice and his family immigrated to the United States in 1956. Maurice became a master silversmith over the next twenty years while living in New York and Los Angeles, creating Torah crowns and other objects for synagogues. During this time Maurice also passed down his design knowledge both to students at the University of Judaism (now the American Jewish University) in Los Angeles as well as his two sons.
Holocaust Memorial by David Ascalon for Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on Susquehanna River in Harrisburg, PA
Maurice’s elder son Adir was a well-respected surrealist painter and sculptor who collaborated with the famed Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. Maurice’s younger son David followed in his father’s footsteps, creating sculptures, mosaics, and stained glass for houses of worship and other public institutions. Together Maurice and David founded Ascalon Studios in 1977. David has created both small tabletop objects and larger pieces, including his well-known Holocaust memorial in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This 15-foot sculpture was installed next to the Susquehanna River in 1994 and is made up of a series of stainless steel poles wrapped in a rusty-looking serpentine shaped form, reminiscent of barbed wire.
David’s sons, Eric and Brad, have continued in the family business. Eric works with his father David at Ascalon Studios, whereas Brad has formed his own eponymous studio with a commitment to contemporary furniture design. Brad Ascalon has made his own name in the contemporary industrial design scene, being one of only two Americans to have designed for the upscale French furniture brand Ligne Roset. Design Within Reach also produces Brad’s “Atlas” tables and his Carrara marble menorah, a modernist nod to the legacy of his grandfather Maurice who died in 2003.
Lincoln Square Synagogue's Sanctuary Ark by David, Eric, and Brad Ascalon in New York City
In January 2013, New York’s Lincoln Square Synagogue transferred their sacred scrolls of the Torah from their old Amsterdam Avenue location one block south into a newly built synagogue. The family design team chosen to design the ark these scrolls would sit in was David Ascalon and his sons Eric and Brad. The stunning bronze doors of the ark are sculpted in the shape of an olive tree, which harkens back to the olive branch motif of Ascalon family patriarch Maurice. Though generations of Ascalons men have produced distinctive design styles, it is clear that great design is a family trait.
Written by Jordan Martin
Source: Ladin, M. (2013, February). Three Generations of Industrial Designers Bridge Their Vision From Art Deco to The Contemporary. Aufbau.