The Shemir Brothers: Pioneers of Graphic Design in Israel

Gabriel and Max Shemir were prominent graphic designers in Israel from the mid-1930s to the early 1990s, leaving an indelible mark on the country's visual identity. Their most renowned work includes the emblem of the State of Israel.

Gabriel (Gottlieb) (1909–1992) and Max (1910–1990) Shemir, born to Herman and Sarah Fridberg in Liepāja, Latvia (then part of the Russian Empire, now in Latvia), were graduates of the Charlottenburg School of Arts in Berlin. After completing their studies, they established the "Shemir Brothers Studio" in Riga, the capital of Latvia.

In the autumn of 1934, they immigrated to the Land of Israel and founded the "Shemir Brothers Studio" in Tel Aviv. In 1935, they Hebraicized their surname to "Shemir." The Shemir Brothers were among the founders of the "Association of Hebrew Graphic Artists in Israel."

In the following years, they focused primarily on designing posters, advertisements, and labels for consumer products using a modernist visual language. Whether driven by ideological alignment or recognizing Zionist iconography as a marketing tool to boost sales, their works often featured depictions of the landscapes of Eretz Israel, pioneering stereotypes, and images of soldiers.

In 1949, the Shemir Brothers won the first prize in a competition to design the emblem of the State of Israel. In 1958, they also won a competition to design four banknotes issued by the Bank of Israel (excluding the reverse side of the notes, which were designed by Jacob Zim).

During the 1950s and 1960s, the studio's scope expanded to include the design of logos, stamps, and medals, as well as magazines, books, and brochures. Among the logos they designed were those for Maariv, the Port of Ashdod, Israel Post, Tel Hashomer Hospital, and the Council for a Beautiful Israel.

The Shemir Brothers created various official materials that were used to convey messages from governmental entities, reflecting the needs of the time. These included fundraising for the National Loan, combating the black market, compulsory education laws, and initiatives like "Youth to the Air," among others.

Their work was characterized by a keen sensitivity to shifts in Israeli culture, a constant update of graphic language, composition, and messaging, all tailored precisely to both the inviting briefs and the target audiences.

In 1974, the Shemir Brothers closed their joint studio and began working separately. Max Shemir focused on designing stamps for African, Central American, and Asian countries, while Gabriel Shemir devoted his time to volunteering in graphic design for institutions such as Tel Aviv University, hospitals, and other nonprofit organizations.

The Shemir Brothers' legacy endures as a testament to their significant contributions to the field of graphic design in Israel, playing a pivotal role in shaping the nation's visual identity for generations to come.

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