Unusual Skills = Unusual Volunteer Opportunity

Posted on June 17, 2014

I realize Asian art is a very narrow focus. Even in the U.S., it’s quite a specialized field, and I was only aware of one museum in Israel devoted to it. So I presented quite a challenge to the Israeli-based staff of Skilled Volunteers for Israel. However, they more than rose to the occasion, locating three Asian art institutions that I could volunteer in, all accessible from Tel Aviv. I selected two of them as most appropriate for me.

When I began at the Yechiel Nahari Museum of Far Eastern Art in Ramat Gan, just outside Tel Aviv, its director, Oded Avramovsky, gave me my first research assignment: identify a set of nineteen Japanese prints. I love mysteries, especially those set in foreign locations, such as ones written by Alexander McCall Smith, and Colin Cotterill. So it’s no wonder that I find doing research exciting, solving “whodunnit” puzzles. In this case, the “who” was just about the only thing known. The prints were created by Katsushika Hokusai, one of the two most famous Japanese woodblock print artists.

Oded is an amazing guy. He runs the museum practically single-handedly, doing everything from plastering the walls to framing the art and fixing the monitors showing videos for the exhibitions. He admits, though, that research is not his strong suit, so he was pleased to have my assistance. Well, it’s no wonder he finds it difficult! The museum has virtually no library, no access to online auction databases or academic journals, no Interlibrary Loan system, and some days even no Internet service at all. I realized I’m not such a hotshot researcher back in the States, given all the resources I usually have at my disposal. But in Israel I learned some new tricks in finding online sources, and was able to identify the prints. Considering Hokusai is so well-known in Asian art circles, it was surprisingly difficult to identify this series that is not in many other museums’ collections around the world. (I know – I checked.) After much searching I found out some interesting information about the places, people and scenery in the prints, and prepared labels for each of them, as well as a general introduction, that can be used for a future exhibition. Although there’s no firm date set for when they’ll be on display, I hope I’ll be able to go back and see them on the walls of the museum someday.

Benita Stambler, Sarasota Florida

Skilled Volunteers for Israel note:

Benita and Roz in a Tel Aviv Cafe after a month of volunteeringBenita came to volunteer with her friend Roz, both from Sarasota.  The adventure of volunteering at the same time in different organizations and touring Israel together during their non-volunteer days enhanced their experience and enabled them not only to learn about Israel and Israelis through their individual volunteer placements, but to share their experiences (and the cost of housing!) with each other.