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Ben-Zion, the son of a renowned cantor, was born Benzion Weinman in the Ukraine. Though his family directed his education toward rabbinical studies, he followed a creative path. Traveling first to Vienna, he briefly attended art school but left due to what he later recalled as overt anti-Semitism and a highly restrictive course of study. By 1920, he had immigrated to the United States, where he found creative camaraderie among Hebrew writers and poets.

Often focusing on human frailties and inequities, Ben-Zion’s usual subjects, represented by three of the four works included in the State Department exhibitions, reflect the unforgiving mechanized modern world. In the case of the fourth, this watercolor of thistles, the artist notes the eloquent but equally harsh and merciless beauty of the natural world as he considers the plant’s inherent variance of grace and thorn.

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