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From Jerusalem to South Florida Sculptor Yaacov Heller Brings Peace Through His Works

By Krista Martinelli

Was it a little luck or destiny that worked this man’s sculptures into the hands of Yitzhak Rabin and wife Leah Rabin? In 1972, sculptor and artist Yaacov Heller set out to sculpt the stories of the Bible, moving from Cleveland, Ohio to Jerusalem. He spent eighteen prolific years in Israel. It certainly helped that the former Prime Minister’s wife Leah fell in love with one of Heller’s works, a statue of David and Goliath. She knew it would be perfect for her husband to give as a symbolic gift to President Gerald Ford. On his way to Washington for this presentation to President Ford, El Al Airlines presented Rabin himself with one of Heller’s works, a sculpture of Jacob wrestling with the angel.

A friendship between the artist and the Rabins brought Heller to some amazing places, in terms of his commissioned work and his travels. Heller enjoyed playing tennis (doubles) with Leah Rabin; these matches introduced him to many of the world’s leaders and ambassadors.

"The Israeli President, Navon, would call me to discuss what gift to prepare for kings and presidents of the different countries," says Heller. "At the same time, Ruth Dayan, the wife of the famous Israeli General Moshe Dayan, was an angel in my career, promoting my work wherever she went."

For an artist, it was an incredible eighteen years spent in Israel. The majority of his work was commissioned. Yet Heller also succeeded in sculpting every major Bible story that he had set out to lend his artistic hands to when he first moved to Jerusalem.
In 1982, Heller’s sculpture illustrating the Bible’s "The Wolf Will Dwell with the Lamb" was presented to Egypt’s President Sadat by then Israeli Prime Minister Begin. The symbolism of world peace among nations was timely and beautifully rendered.
While it was a risk to choose a career as an artist, Yaacov Heller says that it was a necessity.

"If you have a gift, you must use it to find happiness," says Heller imperatively. "Either you will be successful or you will be very thin."

Today Heller and his wife Soozan, also an artist, operate Gallery 22 in Royal Palm Place, Boca Raton, just about a few blocks away from Mizner Park. The gallery displays many of Heller’s works, Soozan’s works and the work of a few other artists.

Of all of the presidents, kings, celebrities and prime ministers who have purchased or been recipients of his work, Heller enjoyed meeting Bill Clinton most of all. He was struck by Clinton’s friendliness, humor and charm.

These days Heller continues to work on sculptures and jewelry as well. He combines ancient and modern silversmithing techniques. Heller, in the process of constantly improving his work, invented his own methods to produce sculptures. It’s fairly often that Heller will be watching a talk show and see a celebrity wearing his jewelry. His jewelry can be found in the hands of Hollywood’s Marilyn McCoo, Barbi Benton, Deanna Lund, Carol Connors, former Spice Girl Victoria Beckam and many more.

Heller created a sculpture for Sammy Davis Junior’s home in the 60’s. Another major commission at this time came from the producer of "The Courtship of Eddie’s Father," Jimmy Komack. Heller created 150 pendants representing the "clasped hands logo" of the TV show. These were given to and worn by the "Who’s Who" on the MGM lot including Elizabeth Taylor and Elvis Presley.

Heller has created many "Fiddler" sculptures throughout the years. In fact, when asked about his favorite work of art, Heller without hesitating says that it’s his musical Fiddler on the Roof sculpture in Miami, pictured above. This outdoor sculpture, a self-portrait, plays the entire score to Fiddler On the Roof for onlookers to enjoy. A few years ago, Heller tried to change things up and switched the music to Pavarotti. He was concerned that passersby had heard enough of Fiddler on the Roof. Faithful fans of the sculpture protested and asked him to switch back to the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack, so he did.
As an artist, Heller stays busy. Most recently, Heller designed a special sculpture for Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who is being honored by the Alzheimer’s Family Center.

The Early Years...Born to Sculpt
When asked about how he became a sculptor, Heller believes he started as a baby. His mother would be hanging out laundry to dry, and—she tells him—he would be sitting on the ground, playing with the dirt, sculpting it with a mission, even as a toddler.
In kindergarten, his class was assigned the task of making an elephant out of clay. Heller’s elephant was so polished-looking that he brought it home to find that his parents did not believe he could have made it. After some investigating, they were shocked to find that he had sculpted it at such an early age.
"For me, it’s like meditation," explains Heller. Sculpting is relaxing and quiets the mind, according to Heller. A peaceful man, Heller studied Kabbalah and believes this has also helped him to connect better with people in his daily interactions.

At Home in Royal Palm Place, Boca Raton
While Heller’s artwork reaches into homes all over the world, he feels most at home these days at his gallery in Royal Palm Place in Boca Raton. For visitors to the gallery, it’s just a couple blocks away to the Boca Raton Museum of Art in Mizner, where Heller’s 7-foot sculpture on top of Flossy’s Fountain stands out front. Florence Keesely, one of the first ladies of daytime television, commissioned the sculpture. The sculpture is the "most-photographed thing" in Mizner Park. The muse-like, inspiring sculpture stands below The Michael and Madalyn Savarick Tower at the entrance of the Centre for the Arts.

His Sculptures Will Live On
One of the things Heller takes great satisfaction in is the knowledge that his works will last for many years, especially his bronze sculptures which could last for thousands of years.

"It’s the knowledge that you’re creating works that are going to be around for a long time," he explains, that motivates him even further.
Lately Heller has been finding his works coming back to him after thirty years or so, needing to be polished. It’s interesting for him to come across his own works that he had almost forgotten.

Amazingly, Heller’s Fiddler at Douglass Gardens in Miami (who stands on one toe) has withstood Hurricane Andrew and other hurricanes since its installation in 1990. While hundred-year-old trees and houses fell down around the musical sculpture, somehow this Fiddler on the Roof stood firm. Heller says it reminds him of "Nero playing while Rome burned."

Today at Gallery 22
Today Yaacov Heller works from his studio/gallery in Boca, Gallery 22. He also occasionally completes sculptures from home.

"Yaacov does his best work in the peace of the night," says his wife Soozan Rogaff Mochtak. She says that she sometimes wakes up to find that he’s completed a magnificent sculpture in the course of one evening. Soozan is an artist, photographer, and art teacher. Her photography, drawing and collage mixed-media ManicKinz and wearable art are also on display at the Gallery with custom decorative hand-painting also available.
Together they enjoy greeting the community from their Gallery 22. There are many pieces of jewelry for sale, in addition to all of the sculptures. Heller is known for his celebrity appearances on the QVC Network. He has created affordable sterling silver necklaces, earrings and pendants for their Sterling Designer Showcases.

Yaacov Heller’s works include nature themes, sports, designer chess sets and unique gift items for every occassion. In addition to creating many "Fiddlers," he has sculpted many menorahs. He works in silver, bronze, lucite and more.

For more information, call Gallery 22 at 561-347-1677. Or visit them at Royal Palm Place, Store 53 at 282 Via Naranja, Boca Raton, 33432.

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