Jewish American Heritage Month: Spotlight on Works by Harvey Breverman

By Jason E. Shaiman, Curator of Exhibitions, Richard and Carole Cocks Art Museum

For the 2023 Jewish American Heritage Month, the Richard and Carole Cocks Art Museum (RCCAM) is highlighting works currently on display in the Art & Architecture History Capstone exhibition, Experiencing the Divine: Devotional Practices of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Two works by Harvey Breverman, titled Preparation: The Rabbi and Mystery of a Prayer Shawl II (Sanguine), are in the Art Museum’s permanent collection and reflect the artist’s background as an American Jew.

In researching these two works for the exhibition, students Jessica Pierce and Logan Bowers contributed interpretive writings provided here to offer a context for Harvey Breverman and his work in representing Judaism:

Harvey Breverman (American, b. 1934)
Preparation: The Rabbi, 20th century
Oil on canvas, 32 x 28 inches
Gift of William Murstein

Wearing a kippah (kee-pah), or “skullcap” and tallit (tahl-eet), or “prayer shawl,” we see a Rabbi in contemplation and preparation of further practice. Harvey Breverman depicts multiple objects of devotion used in Judaism, all used to connect a man with his faith. On the right we see a possible tefillin (tih-fill-in) bag with arm and head wrappings on top of assumed prayer books. The siddur (sih-door), a Jewish prayer book of liturgy, would include the shacharit (shah-kha-reet) or the Morning prayer for which this Rabbi could be preparing. Following his hands, we can see the Rabbi filing through the tzitzit (tzee-tzeet), or “fringes” in preparation to don the garment. Breverman uses his identity to create this self reflection, not portraying himself but portraying his life experiences as a Jewish man.

Harvey Breverman (American, b. 1934)
Mystery of a Prayer Shawl II (Sanguine), 1986
Conté crayon on paper, 44 1/2 x 30 1/4 inches
Gift of Ken and June Shafor

Harvey Breverman’s identity as a Jewish man and an artist influences the way he portrays individuals practicing religious devotion in his work. The tallit gadol (tah-leet gah-dole), “big prayer shawl,” is traditionally worn draped over the head, shoulders and back of the worshiper. Before adorning oneself, a blessing is spoken and the garment is wrapped around the worshiper for ritual purposes. The tassels/fringes or tzitzit (tzee-tzeet) remind Jewish followers to remember God and his commandments. Breverman’s use of pastels manipulates the perception of light in this image, creating a more enticing design through soft lines and brighter contrasts between spaces. The figure faces away, focusing on the tallit in active use of assisting devotion and inspiring contemplation of the garment.

Experiencing the Divine: Devotional Practices of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the 12th annual Art & Architecture History Capstone Exhibition is on display through June 10 in the Walter Farmer Gallery.


Jason Shaiman is the Curator of Exhibitions at the Richard and Carole Cocks Art Museum. Learn more about Jason in his staff biography on our web site.