Hebrew Union College Press recently published A Collage of Customs by Mark Podwal. An exhibition of the book will be presented at the Skirball Museum at HUC’s Cincinnati campus from February 10 through May 29, 2022.
In A Collage of Customs, Podwal’s imaginative and inventive interpretations of woodcuts from a 16th-century Sefer Minhagim (Book of Customs) allow readers of this volume to see these historic images in a new light. Podwal brings humor and whimsy to religious objects and practices, while at the same time delivering profound and nuanced commentary on Jewish customs and history, both through his art, and through his insightful accompanying text.
“To update and introduce new layers of meaning to these centuries-old images,” Podwal says, “I’ve created a series of 26 collages. A giant electric light bulb, a microwave and a hairdryer are among the modern-day objects juxtaposed with the 16th-century depictions of Jewish customs. A comically large hamantasch (a triangular cookie eaten on the festival of Purim) collaged as Amalek’s hat pictures the ancient enemy of the Jewish people as the ancestor of the defeated villain of the biblical Book of Esther. A thought bubble inserted into a wedding illustration expresses the tradition that even at times of joy, Jews still recall the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem.”
Podwal continues, “It has been an honor to work with Hebrew Union College Press. Having had published over thirty illustrated books, some authored by such luminaries such as Elie Wiesel and Harold Bloom, my experience with HUC Press ranks among the best experiences. The publisher’s diligence to academic detail is very impressive. Moreover, the book’s design is first-rate.”
Jason Kalman, Ph.D., of HUC Press remarks, “HUC Press, in partnership with the Cincinnati Skirball Museum, is proud to bring to publication the work of world-renowned artist Mark Podwal. His A Collage of Customs creatively and insightfully demonstrates that everything old can be new again.”
Steven Heller of Print Mag shares in his review, “I call Podwal the Max Ernst of Judaic vintage visual narrative. Podwal (an M.D. during the day who transforms into a pictorial storyteller by night) injects his work with surrealist aesthetic and coy bite by reimagining vintage illumination. This feat is done in somewhat the same way that Ernst conjured in his infamous ‘collage novels,’ including Une Semaine de Bonté, where he surgically manipulated and transformed gloomy Victorian engravings into absurdist graphic tableau. While Ernst leaned toward eroticism and mystery, Podwal brings humor and whimsy to religious rituals, objects and practices. At the same time, in this book he delivers nuanced commentary on Jewish customs and history, both with his art and the accompanying contemporary text.”
Jewish Book Council writes in their review, “Throughout his career, Mark Podwal has creatively engaged with Jewish history and culture, producing visual art with both traditional and individual perspectives. In his latest collection, A Collage of Customs, Podwal renovates the once-popular Sifrei Minhagim (Books of Customs), illustrated guides to Jewish observance that were considered essential in providing practical guidance from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. One of the most frequently consulted, and beautiful, of these guides was the 1593 Yiddish translation of Rabbi Isaac Tyrnau’s original Hebrew text. Podwal has adapted this classic work for a contemporary audience, explaining selected customs associated with twenty-six different holidays or rituals, and enhancing the original woodcuts with new elements. This glimpse into the past offers information on practices both arcane and practical, along with pictures that depict both loving and humorous scenes from Europe’s Jewish past.”
Mark Podwal has written and illustrated more than a dozen books, and has illustrated more than two dozen works by such authors as Elie Wiesel, Heinrich Heine, Harold Bloom, and Francine Prose. His art is represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Prague’s National Gallery, the Bodleian Library, and Jewish museums in Berlin, Vienna, Prague, and New York, among other venues. Honors he has received include being named Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture; the Jewish Cultural Achievement Award from the Foundation for Jewish Culture, and the Gratias Agit Prize from the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Hebrew Union College Press is devoted to putting the finest scholarship across the entire spectrum of Jewish Studies, ancient and modern, into as many hands as possible. They are internationally recognized for the selectivity of their publications, and all of their imprints involve a rigorous peer review process. They publish books in any area of Jewish Studies, with special attention to historical monographs and bilingual editions that present Hebrew or Yiddish texts along with English translations.
The book is available for purchase here.