Young Philip Belz (1904-2000) left Russia (now Western Ukraine) in 1910 to join his father who had already migrated to Memphis Tennessee. In 1935 Philip Belz started a company that specialised in building inexpensive flats, which eventually grew into a major real estate company. And as he became more successful in business, Philip Belz's charities expanded to include schools, hospitals and medical research facilities, opera and concert foundations in Memphis and in Israel. His son Jack (1927- ) joined him in the business and continued to build Belz Enterprises.
Son Jack & Marilyn Hanover Belz, who were married in the elegant Peabody Hotel in 1948, learned the concept of community service from dad. Jack purchased the Peabody Hotel from his father in law, Isadore Hanover, in 1975. Rescuing the old city landmark from its aged condition, he re-opened it in 1981, and planned to revitalise the Central Business District with Peabody Place.
The Peabody Hotel was soon recorded on the National Register of Historic Places listings in Tennessee.
South Main Street in Memphis.
Note the old Melbourne tram gliding past.
In 1995 Jack Belz agreed to donate some of their collection to a temporary exhibition at the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis - it was a major science and historical museum that specialised in exhibits ranging from archaeology to chemistry. The Belz display was part of a complementary exhibit to the Wonders: Imperial Tombs of China exhibition taking place at the Cook Convention Centre.
By 1998 the Belz Foundation had been established and their museum was named Peabody Place Museum; it was located in South Main Street in Memphis, in three small rooms on the lower level of the Pembroke Square building. It featured hundreds of works of jade, tapestries, furniture, carvings and other art objects.
The museum was often referred to as The Jade Museum, since one of the main materials featured was sculptured jade. The main Asian collection featured artworks from the Qing Dynasty which ran from 1644-1911. Fortunately for art lovers, the Qing rulers were known for their love of beauty rather than conquest; many pieces were commissioned by royalty and adorned palaces, temples, and institutional buildings. At least until the Revolution of 1911 that over-threw China's last imperial dynasty.
Intricately carved jade boat with sails and connecting chains
Photo credit: I Love Memphis
The Imperial Retreat Gallery represented an emperor’s private space, complete with a rosewood lounging bed, meditation room and seating space for contemplation; on the walls were beautifully hand-crafted silk robes and accessories worn in the Qing era.
Over the years, the museum has expanded and now encompasses 24,000 square-feet of exhibition space and 1,400 objects. Theirs is now one of the largest private collections of Asian art in the USA, so more display rooms were needed.
In 2007, the Belz family opened a new section dedicated to Judaic art, so the institution was renamed: Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art. The Judaic Gallery contained 200+ works of art created by contemporary Jewish artists working and living in Israel. The works featured here were bronze relief panels and sculptures by Daniel Kafri and paintings by Ofra Friedland, both from Jerusalem. Kafri’s richly rendered panels and sculptures represented events from the Torah i.e the first five books of the Bible. Friedland’s large, vivid paintings included scenes from the Holocaust and the rebuilding of the nation of Israel.
Also in the Judaic section is an early 1900s violana virtuoso, a combination player piano and violin that plays superb Jewish Russian music.
Bronze relief work by Kafri
In taking on a role as an educational institution, most field trips were organised for local high-school students. But there are only c8,000 Jews in Memphis, so these field trips needed wider advertising. They got it! Most of the 10,000 visitors who toured the museum last year were not from Memphis. Special exhibits, brought in every six months, are increasingly part of the attraction.