Hanging Out in David Ben-Gurion's Bedroom

Shenkar College students were tasked with recreating the textile design of the curtains at the David Ben-Gurion House Museum. They were aided by faded pictures and digital textile printing

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A new curtain created by students from Shenkar and a Polaroid photo taken at Ben Gurion's Tel Aviv home in 1973.
A new curtain created by students from Shenkar and a Polaroid photo taken at Ben-Gurion's Tel Aviv home in 1973.Credit: Moti Milrod
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

One of the first assignments Aurora Lattarulo got when she received her new position was changing the building’s curtains. Given her workplace and her position — conservation manager at the Ben-Gurion House Museum in Tel Aviv — this turned out to be a serious task.

“The manager said the curtains were appalling and had to be replaced, but first of all I had to check since when the curtains had been in the house, to see if they even could be replaced”, she said this month during a tour of the house.

A Polaroid photograph taken at Ben-Gurion's Tel Aviv home in 1973, showing some of the curtains used at the time.Credit: Moti Milrod

Fortunately for her, it turned out the curtains were not authentic. They were placed at the house in the mid-1970s, after “the old man,” as Ben-Gurion was nicknamed, had passed away and the house had become a museum. Lattarulo realized they were not the original family curtains and let out a sigh of relief. And thus, about a year ago, began a project that combined historical research and modern technology, in a collaboration between the museum and Shenkar College’s design department.

“Curtains are essential items for the atmosphere of the house. They tell a story”, Lattarulo says. First, those involved with the project searched and found visual documentation of the original curtains that used to hang in 17 Keren Kayemet Bouleverad (now Ben-Gurion Boulevard) in Tel Aviv, the family home of Israel’s first prime minister between 1931 and 1973 (with the family sometimes also living in their house in Kibbutz Sde Boker.) The pictures depict the curtains the rooms of Ben-Gurion and his wife Paula, as well as those hanging in the dining room, in the huge second floor library, next to the fireplace and other parts of the house.

Lattarulo went through fabric and textile stores across Israel in search of similar curtains, but found none. Twenty—first century Israelis have different tastes than those of the Ben-Gurions, born in 19th-century eastern Europe.

Twenty-six textile design students from Shenkar decided to take on the challenge. As part of a course titled Restoration Lab: Project Ben-Gurion, they split into several groups, each redesigning the curtains in one of the museum’s rooms. “It was challenging”, says student Rotem Finzi. “With a few faint photos, we had to recreate the original curtain.”

She and the rest of her group took charge of the library, containing about 20,000 volumes in a variety of languages (including Latin and ancient Greek) and a variety of subjects (including Buddhism and Islam). The original curtain had a plant motif. The students found documents in which Ben-Gurion wrote about Israel’s plant life and its importance, and kept that motif on the new curtain. When getting close to the curtain you can see the phrase “you don’t write history, you make history,” attributed to Ben-Gurion, written in all of the 11 languages he spoke. That’s how the students created a link between the curtain and the contents of the room.

One fact was not represented in the new curtain, and apparently rightfully so. Ben-Gurion did not buy most of the books in his library using his own money, as documented by historical research. Wealthy Jews paid for the books. “Mr. Ben-Gurion is the only hired employee that has no wallet … Ben-Gurion has no contact with actual money… his aides say he has a platonic attitude towards money”, ridiculed the communist newspaper Kol Ha’am (“the voice of the people”) in 1962. “How does one buy books with no money? On the rare occasions in which he buys books, he doesn’t need his salary money – the booksellers know who the distinguished buyer is and to whom the bill has to be sent.”

Stav Shuker and her group were entrusted with designing the curtain for Paula Ben-Gurion’s room. In order to do that, she studied Israel’s first wife of a prime minister. “We only had one photograph of the original curtain, and we decided to factor in the existing photograph as well as the place where the curtain was, and the person living in the room”, she says. The result is visually beautiful. The new curtain has a drawing of a bird that was on the original curtain, but it is now made of maps that depict the important places in Paula’s life – Minsk, where she was born; New York, where she immigrated as a teenager; Tel Aviv and Sde Boker.

True to the original

The curtain that closest to the original, out of all the house’s rooms, is the one hanging in the living room. It is based on several photos of the original 1950s curtain. The fabric was found on chairs kept at the Ben-Gurion House made from the same fabric as the original curtains. The students took pictures of it, and created a collage printed on the new curtain. Ben-Gurion’s daughter, Renana, had a curtain with a motif showing a plant climbing upwards. Her room was used as a command center by Ben-Gurion during the 1956 Sinai campaign. The students left the plant and added the special Hebrew punctuation known as nikkud, after they found out Ben-Gurion used those in the letters he sent his children.

Hadas Himelstein, head of the design department at Shenkar, points out the technical aspects of the project. The new curtains are the product of digital printing on textile, made in cooperation with Kornit Digital, which started as a startup and has since been growing and has been cooperating with Amazon. “The same way that Uber connects passengers and taxi drivers, Kornit connects fashion websites and print-on-demand companies, but Kornit also provides the car, meaning the printing machine, and the fuel, meaning the ink for the printing machine,” Ronen Samuel, Kornit’s CEO was recently quoted as saying on TheMarker.

The course was led by Dana Ben Shalom and Ya’ara Perry. “It’s a rare and unique course, touching one of the most important chapters in the state of Israel, while echoing the importance of the textile legacy and design in our lives,” says Perry. “We had ample proof that there’s a huge meaning to the qualities a textile designer brings – in accuracy in details and his ability to create emotional and cultural value to a place using fabric, color and imagery, and thus bring life to a space and a room”, adds Ben Shalom. The director of the museum, Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin, says the new project is “a wonderful example of combining yesterday and tomorrow, when a young Israeli generation becomes a partner in preserving memory and drawing a vision for the future.”

A dining nook at Ben-Gurion's house, 1973.

Another curtain is to be added to the Ben-Gurion House in the future, documenting correspondence between David and Paula, an idea by another group of students. When asked if another curtain would document Ben-Gurion’s vast correspondence with his lovers, the students reacted with a smile, although some of those letters, unveiled in recent years at auctions, provide a glimpse to Ben-Gurion’s incredibly romantic side.

“I find it hard to accept the fact that I’m in Europe, and so far away from you. As much as you want me to come to Vienna, maybe I want that even more,” he wrote one of them, Regina Klapholtz, in 1934. “I suppose you don’t realize yet how much the ‘silly little girl’ is precious to me and how much would I want to see her and be with her… it would have been good if you could live in Jerusalem – perhaps too good. How easy it could be working long hours and knowing a precious girl is not far from here, with whom I could rest and forget everything at least for a few moments – and maybe when you come here, I’d lose you altogether. Never mind. I could love you anyway”.

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