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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Naomi Blake (1924–2018)

Sculptor whose birth name was Zisel Dum. Born into a Jewish family in Mukaĉevo, Czechoslovakia (now Mukachevo, Ukraine), she was interned by the Nazis, firstly in Auschwitz, then in a munitions factory in northern Poland, but escaped when she and her fellow inmates were marched north towards the Baltic Sea in her captors’ attempt to evade the advancing Russian army. She ultimately made her way to Palestine and joined the Palmach, a defence group established to defend the Palestinian Jewish community. In 1947 she sustained a neck wound from shrapnel thrown up by a British bullet. It was during her recuperation that she discovered her passion for sculpture, carving a dog from olive wood to pass the time. In 1948, following the declaration of the state of Israel, she joined the Women’s Division of the Israel Defence Forces; it was about this time that she changed her name to Naomi. She left Israel in 1952, and met and married a young German refugee, Asher Blake; the couple ultimately settled in north London. With the encouragement of her husband, Blake took a course in sculpture at Hornsey School of Art, 1955–61, and in 1962 first publicly exhibited her work, with the Society of Portrait Sculptors. In 1979 she was elected an Associate of the Royal Society of British Sculptors and in 1993, a Fellow. Her work was influenced by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, and, while leaning towards abstraction, generally retained a strong figurative element, reflecting her conviction that art should affirm human values of compassion and understanding between different faiths. Despite the horrors of her early life (24 of the 32 members of her family were murdered by the Nazis), she never lost her faith in humanity: as she said, ‘There is a lot of good in people … with my past, if I were pessimistic, somehow, it wouldn’t have been worthwhile surviving’. Blake’s public sculptures include View, Fitzroy Square Gardens, London (1977); Refugee, College Green, Bristol Cathedral (1980) and Bramcote Hills Park, Nottinghamshire (2002); Mother and Child, Norwich Cathedral (1984); Solidarity, St Anthony’s College, University of Oxford (1985); Sanctuary, St Botolph Aldgate, City of London (1985); Man Against the Odds, Tel Aviv University, Israel (1987), and New London Synagogue, St John’s Wood, London (1992); and Diversity in Harmony, Centre for the Study of Public Order (now School of Criminology), University of Leicester (1990). Blake donated two of her sculptures to the National Holocaust Centre, Laxton, Nottinghamshire, Memorial to the Six Million (1976) and Abandoned (1996). In 2014, Blake’s daughter, Anita Peleg, published two books, Naomi Blake: Dedication in Sculpture and Glimmer of Hope: The Story of Naomi Blake, and launched a website dedicated to her mother’s life and work.

Bibliography: Ben Uri Gallery: ‘Naomi Blake 2018–2018’; L. Blake, ‘Brave and gifted sculptor who sabotaged Nazi bombs in Auschwitz factory’, Jewish Chronicle (online), 22 November 2018; Naomi Blake website; D. Buckman, Artists in Britain since 1945 (2 vols: A–L, M–Z), Bristol, 2006; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Leicestershire and Rutland, Liverpool, 2000, pp. 174–75, 356; R. Cocke, Public Sculpture of Norfolk and Suffolk, Liverpool, 2013, p. 275; D. Merritt and F. Greenacre, with K. Eustace, Public Sculpture of Bristol, Liverpool, 2011, pp. 76–77, 263; G. Platt, ‘Beating Hitler: How Naomi Blake survived Auschwitz and escaped the death march’, International Business Times, 26 January 2015; Royal Society of Sculptors: ‘Naomi Blake FRBS’; The Times, 24 November 2018, p. 96 (‘Sculpting hope after surviving the Holocaust. Naomi Blake, 94’); P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, pp. 351, 450–01.

Terry Cavanagh, June 2024

Blake, Naomi

Naomi Blake with Refugee, 1980, Bristol Cathedral
(photo © The Bristol Post)