RABBI PAMELA GOTTFRIED‘S JEWISH ART MONTH ESSAY AWARDED FIRST PRIZE: Kishkes is a Yiddish—originally Russian—word for guts or intestines. My immigrant grandparents considered kishkes in a sausage-like form to be a delicacy that I never dared to taste. My father, who grew up speaking Yiddish to his parents and who taught me the few words and expressions that I know, often used kishkes in this phrase: “You have to feel it in your kishkes!” This was a kind of mantra from my childhood, a parental encouragement to try something new, to be deeply committed to goals and to work hard to accomplish them. If you want to succeed at something, you must be passionate about it and about your success. In my late thirties, I decided to try something new. I had a desire, emanating from deep inside, to express myself creatively. I had survived high school art classes, ashamed of my drawings which lacked perspective, knowing that visual-spatial perception was not my forté. Still, I had always wanted to try ceramics and found myself drawn to the pottery studio. I believed that getting dirt under my fingernails and hunkering down over a lump of clay could sooth the unarticulated stress burning in my kishkes. My years at the wheel have taught me patience and humility, and have confirmed for me some things I already knew about myself and about life itself. Achieving change, with regard to shaping the clay and determining one’s path, requires firm but gentle pressure. I use my whole body, channeling not just the strength in my hands and arms, but also my upper back and shoulders, lower back, legs, even my jaw, when I work at the potter’s wheel. It’s called “throwing,” and it demands all of me. To center the clay on the wheel, I extend my left arm to the clay, anchoring my elbow to my abdomen, grasping my left thumb with my right hand, applying steady pressure as I externalize the strength at my core, my center, my kishkes. To test whether I have succeeded, I must close my eyes and steady my breathing. Then I touch the outer edge of the clay as it spins, barely skimming it with the tips of my fingers. In a moment of utter silence and stillness, I listen by touching, I see by feeling. It is a spiritual moment, as an earnest prayer inhabits my heart. The clay is centered, and I am ready to create a beautiful vessel from a lump of dirt. Like God created humanity, breathing a passionate soul into the dust of the earth. I am the beautiful vessel; creativity spreads through my body and I feel it at the core. I feel it in my kishkes.
KARLA GUDEON‘S JEWISH ART MONTH ESSAY AWARDED FIRST PRIZE: As a child my parents asked me not to draw or color on the High Holidays. I was told that holding a writing instrument was considered work and work was not allowed. These holidays were days for rest & reflection. This rule confused me, for as long as I could remember, creating and drawing could never be “work.” To this day creating my work is when I feel the most spiritual. “Who or what influences this work, my Jewish Art?” Really, it all comes down to family. Almost everyone in my extended family line is a musician or a visual artist. Even as young children, my kids forbade me to sing. This lets you know that between music and art, I didn’t really have much of a choice which path I would take. My grandfather was a dentist who avidly painted in oils and fashioned lovely jewelry from the gold he used for fillings. My mother is a pianist. My dad, Arthur, a.k.a. “Pop Art”, is a podiatrist, yet my personal childhood memories of him are rich with images of him making whimsical clay sculptures, drawing humorous caricatures, and fashioning engaging mobiles. My brother is a children’s book author/illustrator and there are cousins, aunts, uncles, step-siblings all involved with the arts. While most of my childhood friends were encouraged to make careers in business, medicine, law etc, my parents surrounded me with beautiful and provocative artistic imagery and encouraged my living a creative life. So… during the holidays I would sneak into my room and draw. I drew through my youth, drew through my teens, and enrolled in Parsons School of Design at 17. At 21, with my Bachelors of Fine Arts Degree & optimism in hand, I unfortunately did not find work to match my enthusiasm or creative energy. So I taught for more than a dozen years before leaving to once again pursue a career in art. The muse for this career change arrived with the birth of my sons, Sam and Max. I wanted to be able to tell my sons that I did everything possible to pursue my dreams, as I wish for them to do in their lives. Once again, family as inspiration. In my paintings, I strive to portray metaphoric imagery of those I love, those who have resonance and meaning in my life, heroes of biblical proportions and personal heroes. Personal heroes like my Grandmas, Minnie and Ettie, whose Yiddish utterances I can hear in my creations. From “Hanging Shmattes” to “Yentes” to “The Great Gefilte” I hear their voices and this brings my grandmother’s to me in a way that defies earthly boundaries. My parent’s favorite artist is Leonard Baskin. My great-aunt and he were great friends and his grave, darkly expressive prints and sculptures were prominent in her home and ours. From his work I learned how art can affect change, foster critical thinking and garner visceral reactions. No one would garner from the joyous themes I choose to explore, that Baskin is an inspiration or that thinking him reminds me of my family. I currently have representation in the R.Michelson Gallery that also represents Leonard Baskin, the artist I have admired since childhood. I like to think this is beshert. For the past 15 years, the work I have created has led me down a circuitous road more exhilarating and gratifying than I could have ever anticipated. I never feel alone. My entire extended family is along for the ride.