David Davidson

 

DAVIDSON, DAVID
(1812–?),
who called himself an Artist in Penmanship, excelled in “micrography,” an ancient Jewish art form in which texts written in tiny characters are used to create portraits or other figures, architectural devices, and abstract geometric and organic shapes. In micrographic drawings, the texts themselves are so minute that they cannot be seen,except on close examination, only the images that they form are immediately apparent to the eye. Davidson was born in Russian-controlled Poland, where the traditionsof micrography continued to be known and actively practiced, left there in 1848 for England, and finally settled in the United States in 1851.A number of clues have been uncovered about Davidson’s life and career. Researcher S.Ruth Lubka has demonstrated that he sought and briefly securedemployment as a
hazzan
in synagogues in New York and Baltimore, but he was not successful in this calling. In nineteenth-century America, the
hazzan
not only wasexpected to lead the congregation in prayer but to deliver sermons as well, and Davidson apparently lacked sufficient facility in English to be effective as a publicspeaker. His failure led to a deep personal crisis and a determination to devote his efforts to micrography, although he had had no instruction in the practice. Exhibitingtwo works based on biblical texts, one in Hebrew and the other in English, in New York’s Crystal Palace from 1853 to 1854, he was praised as an artist bycommentators in the Jewish press of the day.Lubka’s research has revealed that Davidson published a small, eighteen-page pamphlet in 1855 as a key to a massive “pictorial specimen of penmanship” that hecreated over a two year period. According to the pamphlet the large, micrographic drawing depicted a visionary temple in black, red, and blue inks. Measuring six-and-a-half by five feet, it contained the entire text of thirty-six books of the Old Testament on one side of a sheet of paper. The work, which is no longer extant, was publicly shown at the Stuyvesant
Institute in New York in 1855.
The Asmonean,
a Jewish periodical, urged its readers to see “the most astonishing specimen of artistic skill and patience ever exhibited.” Blind in one eye, Davidson was intensely, perhaps obsessively, devoted to his art form.Among the handful of works by Davidson that survives is a
mizrach,
his earliest effort and only known work in a non-micrographic format. A
mizrach
(the word inHebrew means “east”) is an ornamented sign or marker placed on the eastern wall of a synagogue or home to indicate the traditional direction of Jewish worship.Davidson’s
mizrach
is composed of cut paper and employs brilliant watercolors and Hebrew calligraphy in gold. Also extant is a pair of micrographic portraits of aMr. and Mrs. H. Brody on embossed and perforated lacelike paper, one of which contains the English text of the Book of Ruth and the other the books of Haggai andZechariah; a frontal elevation of the New York Public Library; and a geometric rendering of the Declaration of Independence, in which the artist, in a true tour de force,fashioned the tiny characters of the text not by writing the letters themselves but by filling in the negative space around them.
See also
Calligraphy and Calligraphic Drawings;

Fraktur; Jewish Folk Art; Papercutting; Religious Folk Art
.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Kleeblatt, Norman L., and Gerard C.Wertkin.
The Jewish Heritage in American Folk Art.
New York, 1984