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Soldiers & Sailors curator Kraus sculpting ties to Israel

| Monday, Oct. 8, 2012, 8:57 p.m.
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Pittsburgh sculptor Michael Kraus participating in 'Sculpting in the Quarry' in Galilee Park in Karmiel, Israel. Courtesy Michael Kraus

For most sculptors, the act of molding, bending or shaping a stone or a piece of metal into a piece of art is enough.

Not for Michael Kraus. Not this time, at least.

He's overseas shaping culture.

Kraus, the curator at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland, was one of 10 sculptors selected to add to the cache of artwork that adorns a park in Israel.

“Sculpting in the Quarry,” is a regional development project of the Partnership2Gether, an outreach program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the Jewish Agency for Israel. Similar to a Sister City program, P2G aims to link Pittsburgh to the city of Karmiel and the Misgav region, in Israel's Galilee, through a wide range of cultural, social and economic-development projects.

“Michael's work is well-known and well-regarded, in both the historical and artistic communities,” says Sue Linzer, senior manager of Overseas Operations for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. “He was a great selection for this project.”

This is the first time a Pittsburgh artist has been chosen to participate.

Each year since 2007, 10 sculptors from Israel and other countries gather for three weeks in the Galilee Park in Karmiel. Years ago, the park was an abandoned quarry, but with the help of aggressive revitalization efforts, it has since been converted into one of the most picturesque parks in Israel.

Today, the 125-acre park has about 30 original sculptures — made of stone, iron, ceramics and wood — that complement the natural beauty of waterfalls, shaded sitting corners, amphitheater and “four winds” observatory.

Kraus started carving things in high school and has been sculpting professionally for roughly 30 years.

He studied at Edinboro University and earned a degree in fine arts, though not in sculpture. There were no inspiring sculpture professors there at the time, he says, so he specialized in print making.

These days, he creates artwork with stone and bronze.

“Being in Israel is an overpowering experience, an ancient land with modern people,” he says. “I know I will personally take much away from here, ironically, while leaving something behind.”

One of the challenges to sculpture — and perhaps any other form of art that draws influence from history — is capturing culture, he says. And that means taking on lots of research, tons of it in libraries and on the Internet.

“I like to think of it as finding authenticity, especially when doing work on an historic theme,” says Kraus, who lives in Ingomar. “I love to learn the smallest details which become storytelling tools and help the piece appear realistic. As an artist, I have a responsibility to portray my subjects as accurately as I can because I become a translator between the past and present.”

Chris Ramirez is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at cramirez@tribweb.com or 412-380-5682.

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