Object of the Month - April - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Object of the Month - April

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April 2019

Seder Plate

Seder Plate Richard Fishman (b. 1941) Providence, Rhode Island, USA, 1977 Cast silver, onyx B’nai B’rith Klutznick Collection, Gift of Joseph H. and Olga Hirshhorn

Passover is an opportunity to commemorate the Israelites’ freedom from slavery in Egypt. As family and friends gather together for the Passover Seder (ritual meal), foods, prayers, and songs aid in the retelling of the exodus from Egypt. A Seder plate displays the foods used to tell the Passover story. Foods traditionally included on the Seder plate are bitter herbs (maror), a paste made of apples, nuts, wine, and cinnamon (charoset), parsley or a green vegetable (karpas), a shank bone (zeroa), and a hard-boiled egg (beitzah). Chatzeret, another bitter herb such as romaine lettuce, is sometimes included on the Seder plate, but often salt water takes the sixth place instead. All of these foods are symbolic and tied to the Passover narrative; they are a reminder of the Israelites’ journey from enslavement to freedom. In recent times, other foods have been added to the Seder plate to be more inclusive of underrepresented groups and to highlight the themes of liberation in the Passover narrative.

This Seder plate was created by artist Richard Fishman in 1977 to replace his original work, which was made ca. 1969 and was stolen in 1976. The Seder plate contains a rectangular box base with drawers to hold matzah (unleavened bread). On top of the base are movable holders for each of the six foods. When designing each piece, Fishman considered the symbolism of the food it would hold. In an article about the Seder plate, Fishman describes how he used art and form to embody tension and bitterness (maror), mortar in a person’s grasp (charoset), spring and vegetation (karpas), a pierced lamb sacrifice (zeroa), references to God and life (beitzah), and overflowing tears (salt water). The sculptural holders are cast silver, providing a contrast with the black onyx top of the base, and reflections on the onyx surface further accentuate the holders' artistry.

Richard Fishman is a sculptor who earned a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1963 and continued his studies at Tulane University, graduating with an MFA in 1965. His work has been shown at such acclaimed institutions as The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., the Jewish Museum in New York City, and the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. He was previously awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and is currently a Professor Emeritus of Visual Art and Director of the Creative Arts Council at Brown University.