Birth: 1934 in Borehomwood, Herts, England
Death: November 6, 2009 (age 74-75) on Saltspring Island, B.C.
Reuven Spiers was an artist. His wife Naomi Spiers, a sculptor and artist designed this lace-like pattern for her husband’s gravestone. She included images of the flowers that he liked and often painted. He also loved birds and enjoyed talking to them. Some of his favorite birds are also depicted. Naomi Spiers wrote the following biography:
Reuven Spiers was born in Borehomwood, Herts, England in 1934. In 1951, he emigrated to Canada with his partents and two younger brothers to Toronto. He and I (wife Naomi Spiers), were married in 1962, moved to Salt Spring Island in 1975. We tried kibbutz life in Israel at Ein Harod Ichud (1978-81) but he was too independent for a kibbutznik so we came back to Vancouver and worked to amass some money to go back. In 1987 we returned to Israel and restored an old ruined house in the Artists’ Quarter of Safed. We opened the gallery in 1990 and ran it until 1999 when we returned to Salt Spring where we renovated a house and Reuven designed a wonderful garden. He died in 2009.
The Jewish Independent published the following piece written by Pat Johnson on January 4, 2002
Israel, ancient and modern:
Living legends and desertscapes are the focus of a JCC exhibit.
The Holy Land – past and present – has come to the Zack Gallery in the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. The current exhibit, by husband-and-wife team Naomi and Reuven Spiers, depicts biblical icons, as well as familiar images from today’s Israel.
Naomi Spiers is a sculptor, whose works in this exhibit include remarkable depictions of biblical figures at their most dramatic moments. For instance, Joseph is shown with his back to the beseeching wife of Potiphar. This pivotal encounter is depicted twice in this exhibit – once in grapefruit wood and another version in bronze. In another piece sculpted in bronze, the angel is intervening with Jacob, pre- sumably just before their struggle. In another, Noah is releasing the dove. In one of the most vivid sculptures, also in bronze, Jonah is shown desperately flailing above the gaping maw of the whale – a depiction so extreme that a witness is not certain whether the proper response is to laugh or scream.
Naomi Spiers’ interest in the turning point of the lives of biblical characters is carried through in a series of paper cuts that are also included in this exhibit.
With lace-like intricacy, Spiers shows the discovery of Moses in the bulrushes and, again, the fate of Jonah at the jaws of the giant fish.
In the artist’s statement accompanying the exhibit, Spiers writes that she attempts to depict biblical figures at their seminal moments – of decision, realization, testing or transcendence.
“To me, the characters in the Bible are not just historical or religious figures,” she writes. “They are real people whose stories are archetypes of human experience and with whose feelings we can all identify.”
Her husband’s work is more modern, though he depicts the ancient land of Israel. Reuven Spiers uses watercolors to convey the loneliness of the desert, returning to the image of a single home or community against the backdrop of the oppressive barrenness. Yet the beauty of the shifting sand and the power of the sun give the starkness of this landscape a definite warmth and welcoming hue.
In his pieces “Grass Lands” and “Golan Outpost,” the golden grasses blow in the wind and provide a relatively lush desertscape.
Not so lush, yet just as vivid, are the fiery reds and oranges of a series of precise watercolors that include “Kinneret Autumn,” “Sun Bleached” and “Last Tree.” In these, the solitude of the desert is repeated, with one depicting a lonely home sheltered by a slight hill and another illustrating a stubborn tree spreading its roots to get what water it can from the oasis that sustains it.
Not all of Reuven Spiers works are so bleak, however. In “Shared Breakfast,” Spiers shows two birds feasting on crumbs left out for them at an open window. Though no people are depicted, the human presence is close by. A loaf of bread and a knife are on the counter. The person has, perhaps, stepped back enough to watch the birds at breakfast.
In his artist’s statement, Spiers says that these watercolors depict his response to the countryside and other places he saw on his latest trip to Israel. For him, watercolor is the best medium to depict the stunning palette of the desert.
“The need for a direct clean application to achieve the colors’ inner light and transparency are its main appeal,” he writes.
Together, the exhibit, titled The Galilee Years, provides a rounded perspective of Israel’s ancient religious life as well as how close to the soil life remains in Israel’s modern times.
The Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery is located on the main floor of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver at 950 West 41st Ave. The Spiers exhibit runs at the gallery until Jan. 17. For information, call 604-257-5111.
Gravesite Details: Row H – Plot 19
פּ״נ (Here lies)
Hebrew Name: Reuven b. Avraham
1934 – 2009
ת נ צ ב ה
abbreviation for Biblical quote: “May his soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.”