Page as Art, Text as Object: Anatoly Kaplan and Jewish Book History
In theory, official ideology required that Yiddish books produced under the Soviet regime be stripped of Jewish distinctiveness; in practice, a specifically Jewish design-sensibility pervades Anatoly Kaplan’s illustrations of Yiddish literature. Visualizing the classics of Sholem Aleichem and others, Kaplan inscribed his lithographs not only with the texts of Yiddish literature and song, but just as crucially with the visual, calligraphic and decorative conventions of pre-modern Jewish books: from the symbolic animal motifs of medieval Hebrew marginalia to the ornate woodblock title-pages of the dawn of Yiddish print. In so doing, Kaplan re-imbues the Soviet Yiddish book with the ritual charisma of its pre-modern predecessors. The present lecture will tour Kaplan’s aesthetic evocation to a millenium of Jewish book arts.
Rachel Wamsley is an independent scholar based in Jerusalem. She received her doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2015 where she specialized in literary adaptations of the Hebrew Bible in early modern Yiddish. Her current work fuses poetics and the study of the material text in the exploration of literary creativity in early modern Ashkenaz. She has held postdoctoral fellowships at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Harvard University and has served as Sassoon Visiting Fellow at the Bodleian Library’s Centre for the Study of the Book. She is also a Senior Fellow in the Society for Critical Bibliography at the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. Her essays have appeared in Lias, Journal of Early Modern Intellectual Culture and its Sources and Studies in American Jewish Literature, as well as the edited volumes The Worlds of Old Yiddish Literature and Printing and Misprinting.