David Wander: The Jonah Drawings

On View

September 25, 2006 – January 19, 2007

Artist’s Reception and Colloquium on Jonah

October 25, 2006 at 5:30 p.m., followed at 6 p.m. by a discussion with leading scholars, artists, and art historians, moderated by Rabbi Ruth Gais

David Wander: The Jonah Drawings presents a 13-panel, 50-foot long drawing depicting the complete story of the biblical Jonah, as well as several themed paintings and handmade books inspired by Jewish folklore, history, celebrations,and ceremonies.

Wander’s fresco-style work on paper pays homage to the entire biblical story while adding personal interpretations. Most depictions focus only on the Book of Jonah’s early chapters relating to Jonah’s evading of his responsibility of preaching to the sinning population of Nineveh, his flight by fishing boat toward Tarshish, the ensuing storm at sea, his being cast overboard by the sailors to separate themselves from God’s punishment of Jonah, and Jonah’s being swallowed up whole for three days in the belly of a great fish, during which he repents to God and is disgorged unharmed. Wander places special emphasis on the later chapters, which describe Jonah’s struggle with being a party to God’s forgiveness: his return to Nineveh, the repentance of the people, his anger at God’s compassion, his suffering in the heat when his shade-providing vine is destroyed by a worm, and his ultimate understanding of God’s mercy.

During Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the entire book of Jonah is read, with significance placed on the third and fourth chapters, which recount the repentance of the people of Nineveh and God’s forgiveness, followed by Jonah’s learning a lesson in forgiveness by a compassionate God. In the New Testament, the story of Jonah is referred to by Jesus as a prefiguration of his own death and resurrection (Matt. 12:40).

The story of Jonah has inspired significant works of literature (Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”), fine art (Giotto’s fresco in the Arena Chapel in Padua and Michelangelo’s Seven Hebrew Prophets in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican), and illustration (French and Flemish illuminated manuscripts of the 15th and 16th centuries). Most recently, it has been the subject of the 1990s rock musical drama by the contemporary musician, director, and composer Elizabeth Swados.

“As a contemporary artist, David Wander allows us to enter the many aspects of the story, employing symbolist, kabbalistic, and surrealistic approaches,” states Laura Kruger, Curator of the HUC-JIR Museum. “His narrative challenges us to heed the message of compassion, empathy, and concern for mankind, an expansive ‘oneness’ and embrace of the world.”

Wander is a renowned book artist, who works in an “accordion style” book format, each unique. The artist’s books included in the exhibition explore Wander’s expression of Holocaust memory in “Auschwitz-Birkenau Train Lines” (2006), impressions of holiday celebrations within a synagogue community (“Simchat Torah” and “Purim”), and the mythical Golem of Prague (a legend that inspired Mary Shelley’s “Frankestein,” among others).

Wander works extensively in pastel as well as in oil and watercolor. His palette enhances the spirituality and intensity of his subjects. He has illustrated manuscripts of religious texts and created posters for Broadway plays.

Wander is currently an artist-in-residence with the Creative Center for Cancer Patients, which sends artists into the rooms of people undergoing treatment for cancer, and encourages and teaches them to draw and paint while in the hospital.

Wander, a New York native, received his B.F.A. from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, and has studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York, NY, and the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, RI. During the past fifteen years, he has exhibited his pastel and acrylic works at the Sande Webster Gallery in Philadelphia, PA and at numerous galleries in New York City, including the Kathryn Markel Fine Arts Gallery, the Allan Sheppard Gallery, and the Synagogue for the Arts. His work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Jewish Museum, and the Jewish Theological Seminary Library in New York, NY, the President’s Library and the State Department Collection in Washington, D.C, the Israel Museum and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Israel, and the libraries at Yale University in New Haven, CT, and Harvard University in Cambridge, MA.

Images Available

please contact Rachel Litcofsky, 212-824-2205; rlitcofsky@huc.edu


Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum One West 4th Street (between Broadway and Mercer), Manhattan

Museum Hours

Mondays-Thursdays, 9 am-5 pm; Fridays, 9 am-3 pm; Selected Sundays, 10 am-2 pm, Oct. 22; Nov. 5, 19; Dec. 10; Jan.14, 28.


(212) 824-2205; www.huc.edu/museum/ny


Free, Photo ID Required