From the outside, it looks like any of the other perfectly manicured estates that populate suburban Wynnewood.
Beyond the Tudor-style brick walls, however, the residence of Haim and Sari Baron claims the international feat as the home of the largest collection of work from Israeli-Romanian artist Isiu Scharf.
Close to 1,000 pieces spanning Scharf’s long career hang on the walls of the Barons’ home. The bulk of the art rests in the basement, where it commands a busy two-room gallery, stacked table-to-ceiling with Scharf originals and some prints.
The couple, originally from Israel themselves, bought the pieces from the artist’s daughter, Karla. After inheriting a tremendous collection incapable of fitting in her Rehovot apartment, Karla readily accepted Haim Baron’s impromptu offer to buy the collection outright in 2002.
For Haim Baron, the opportunity to preserve history held personal importance; Isiu Scharf was his cousin. Baron’s grandmother was also Scharf’s aunt, and she sponsored the artist’s immigration to Israel in 1974.
Despite the familial ties, the Barons said they wish they knew Scharf better.
“He was very reserved, very quiet,” Sari Baron remembered.
Haim Baron agreed.
“We didn’t know him very well,” he said, though the artist gifted the couple a work for their wedding and painted them a scene of a beloved winery before it was knocked down.
Scharf’s professional work covers an array of subjects, from scenes of Jaffa markets and Israeli landscapes to painted interpretations of the work of Yiddish authors Sholem Aleichem and I.L. Peretz.
“The variety is almost unbelievable,” Sari Baron marveled, looking around the gallery. She noted the multitude of textures and materials used in the art, from gouache to monotype to oil.
Haim Baron emphasized the deeper meaning behind each work, noting “every picture has a story.” Many of the pieces contain a caption, often a humorous Yiddish quip scribbled in pencil by Scharf.
Born in 1913 in what is now Ukraine, Scharf served in the Red Army during World War II. He worked as a stage artist after the war, designing sets and costumes for the Iasi National Theatre and the State Jewish Theater in Bucharest.
After his move to Israel in 1974 with wife Ester and Karla, Scharf taught painting at a kibbutz and continued to paint Yiddish folklore and poems.
Material wealth never concerned the painter, the Barons said.
“He didn’t care about money or prestige,” Sari Baron noted, explaining that he painted with whatever was on hand simply for the joy of the art.
By day, Haim and Sari Baron work as the owners of Kitchen Technology, a kitchen and bathroom remodeling firm. But their focus recently has shifted from architecture to art, Haim Baron said. On June 15, he jetted to Germany to show photographs of Scharf’s art in the Documenta 14 art exhibition.
“When we turn the lights off, it’s dark in here,” Haim Baron said, demonstrating the limited accessibility of the basement gallery beyond family and friends. He hopes to change that with his renewed focus on the art world.
To introduce Scharf to a wider audience, the collectors have held three open houses, but attendance has been spotty. Haim Baron said future plans include showings at local synagogues and Jewish institutions.
Haim Baron also posts photographs of the art in online galleries. Viewable at isiuscharf.com and on Facebook under “Isiu Scharf 1913-1997,” he said he hoped the internet will create new admirers of Scharf.
The Barons noted that Scharf’s work lacks the recognition of many of his contemporaries. A possible explanation lies in the ample Yiddish cultural references in the paintings, they said.
“It’s a lot of Jewish humor, Jewish work,” Sari Baron said. “I don’t know if people wanted that.”
Despite that, the Barons proudly display the artwork on nearly every wall in their house. In the gallery, paintings jostle in piles on tables and line the walls floor-to-ceiling.
Maintaining it all involves a lot of care, Sari Baron said.
“Everything has to remain a certain temperature,” to preserve different mediums. In sifting through a pile, she noticed two works were stuck together and delicately pried the corners away from each other.
“It’s a lot,” she said, looking around again. “It’s really a lot.”