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Narrative Art Quilts in Public Spaces

By Flora Rosefsky How can a work of art express the joyful expressions of the calendar of Jewish festivals and holidays all at once and have the viewer feel a sense of pride about their connection to Jewish tradition? The opportunity for me to design a large community art quilt for The Jewish Community Center of Binghamton, New York in 1990, showed me how visual art could enrich the life of those who worked on this kind of project, but also for the hundreds of children, teens and adults who saw this work of art installed in a JCC public space. Calling the work Threads of Tradition, many of those who sewed my applique designs were brought back to their Jewish roots. Working with fabric cutouts, and piecing them together as a group, meeting once a week over a period of several months proved to be a way to reconnect with Judaism, especially for one particular participant who had retrenched from the her synagogue, yet came back to feeling good about Judaism again because of the JCC quilt project.  For those more familiar with Judaism as well as non-Jewish people – seeing the art quilt with many holidays visualized in one place, was a step to deeper understanding and appreciation for the Jewish religion and our traditions. The Roberson Center for the Arts & Sciences in Binghamton borrowed the quilt to be on view before it was more permanently installed at the JCC. When moving to Atlanta, I brought the concept of a community working together on a quilt to The Jewish Family & Career Services, The Breman Museum, and The William Breman Jewish Home. In each project, just as what happened in Binghamton, those who worked on these quilts often ended up feeling closer to their Jewish roots, while those who saw these quilts in a board meeting room, a lobby or museum gallery public space area, came to further appreciate the beauty of Judaism and Jewish life. With artist/friend and colleague – Anne Mandel, we recently designed an art quilt where many members of The Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework – Peach State Stitchers, Atlanta Chapter did the sewing and fabrication.  The work titled, Justice, We Shall Pursue was recently donated to the new Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. The Jewish value of appreciating diverse cultures, world religions and human rights for all is inherent in the quilt’s vision to highlight those who made a difference while inspiring new generations to build an even brighter future. As visitors come to the CCHR, one can see them stopping to take in the quilt’s powerful messages – and perhaps feeling the ethic to love thy neighbor as thy self. Being a part of these narrative art quilts that are installed in public spaces has personally been fulfilling, especially when I see how their visual impact has touched so many lives. To view more of Flora’s Art, visit her page here. This essay was a submission for the 2015 Jewish Arts Month Essay Competition in which members were invited to: “Identify and discuss how your Judaic art has influenced or impacted the viewer’s feeling about Judaism.”

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How Jewish Art Touches the Heart and Soul

by Shoshannah Brombacher, Ph.D. – Brooklyn, NY Artists define what kind of art they make and art viewers define what they want to see in a work. And what they take home. It’s a dialogue. I learned a lot from questions my viewers ask. I was born in Amsterdam. My parents were children during the holocaust. I taught Jewish studies in Berlin. The holocaust casts its shadows far into the 21st century. It influences my thinking. At every European seder and at some in New York, as well, murdered relatives and friends are missed and mentioned, or there is a booming silence. But growing up in Europe pushed my art exactly in the opposite direction of what many of my American viewers ask about and expect, i.e. “Holocaust Art”. Much of my oeuvre is dedicated to the rich Chassidic world of pre-war Eastern Europe. I am not from a Chassidic family myself, I found Chassidic stories at a young age in my extremely assimilated family’s bookcase. It inspired me to become a baal teshuvah and make a tribute to life, to a living and vibrant world and not to death and destruction. Of course I appreciate any memorial tribute, a yad vashem, to victims and survivors, but my path is different. I deflect my viewers’ thoughts from destruction. Many associate Jews with the war, but our heritage is so much more. Many viewers expect Chassidic art to be a bit kitschy, like a sugary violinist with peyos. My art shows them a different perspective. Viewers are not only confronted visually, they are forced to think about the stories and philosophy behind the images. My “Breslover Tikkun” has inspired and strengthened many who are searching. I am a maggidah, I tell stories, both orally and with a brush in my hand, on paper and canvas. I pass on the light from the early Chassidim. My art drew several people closer to Judaism, gave them hope, inspired them. This can best be explained by my own favorite story about the Kotzker Rebbe. Once, he listened to a chassidic story teller in the street. It attracted him to Chassidism, he became a Rebbe, and he explained: “The story-teller told what he wanted, and I heard what I needed.” That is how many people view my art. That is how I intend my art. To view more of Shoshannah’s Art, visit her page here. This essay was a submission for the 2015 Jewish Arts Month Essay Competition in which members were invited to: “Identify and discuss how your Judaic art has influenced or impacted the viewer’s feeling about Judaism.”  

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My “AH – HA” Moments

By Bonnie Cohen I can think of two examples in my career that defined what being a Judaic artist is all about. These special moments were more valuable to me than a great commission, a prestigious award or monetary gain. These “AH- HA” moments were personal experiences that showed me how Jewish Art can inspire a Divine spark and connection with another person. They were simple and precious moments that inspire me every day. The first example occurred when I completed a mosaic ark wall titled “Pillar of Light” for a new chapel. I took a close friend for a “sneak peek” of my artwork before the new building was open to the public. The sun was streaming in through the skylight above the 25 ft.ark wall making the luminous mosaic tiles shimmer. The entire room glowed. My friend looked around the chapel, quietly taking in very detail, and said,” Being in this room makes me want to be a better person.” Wow! I never expected a comment like that nor did I envision that my artwork would illicit such a personal response. I knew I had put my heart and soul into the mosaic artwork and I had hoped that people would be moved by the simple, uplifting design, but I am always amazed by how perceptive people can be. To think that my artwork could inspire someone to be a better person was overwhelming. I could not have imagined a more perfect complement for a Judaic artist. The second example took place while I was teaching a Judaic Art class at a local Hebrew high school. The theme of the class was Hebrew Calligraphy and it was often a challenge to keep the teenagers engaged. To set the mood for the class, I started each session by dimming the lights, lighting candles and saying the prayer for scribes.” Praised be He who has taught my hand to scribe the letters”. In one particular class, the students worked very diligently and I was really impressed. At the end of that class, I stopped everyone at the door and said “you should all be really proud of the beautiful work you did today!” One boy looked at me and said “It was the prayer Mrs. Cohen!” Another amazing moment! I was always thrilled when the kids told me they enjoyed a class, but this was beyond all my expectations. This teenager had made a Divine connection between the prayer and his artwork and that made me stop in my tracks and appreciate that extraordinary moment. These two examples made me realize that Jewish Art can touch people in profoundly spiritual ways. These moments were unexpected and spontaneous and they happened many years apart, but I continue to have faith that I’ll be lucky enough to experience more of these “AH-HA” moments as I continue to try new ways to find inspiration and meaning through my art. To view more of Bonnie’s Art, visit her page here. To view pictures of her ark wall mosaic go to http://bonniecohen.com/gallery/commission/ This essay was a submission for the 2015 Jewish Arts Month Essay Competition in which members were invited to: “Identify and discuss how your Judaic art has influenced or impacted the viewer’s feeling about Judaism.”

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Beit T’shuvah Tzedakah Box Project

by Paul Rovin Beit T’shuvah is a long term addiction rehab program that provides the recovery needs of alcoholics, drug abusers, gambling addiction and other treatments. Its credo is “to change lifestyle that is destructive and to rediscover passion for life and purpose.” We use the Torah as well as twelve-step programs to achieve these goals. I run an art program that also helps facilitate residents getting out of their heads and finding some outlets through the arts. One of our most recent programs involves building and decorating tzedakah boxes. I created the initial design for the boxes and assemble them, while residents design them using markers, colored pencils and paint. The project was the brainchild of an ex-resident’s mother who challenged the community to buy a box (they are a bargain at $25.00) and to bring the collection from their homes to a larger tzedakah box found on the Beit T’Shuvah campus. You can help support the cause of rehabilitation of addicts by contacting me at Paulrovin@gmail.com and purchasing a tzedakah box. I will provide photographs of the boxes we have available, and you will be able to select one of your choosing. A shipping charge will be added. For more information on Beit T’shuvah, visit http://www.beittshuvah.org/ Note: Although the American Guild of Judaic Art is not affiliated in any way with the Beit T’shuvah program, we are proud to spread the word about this program that facilitates recovery and serves as an outlet to express oneself through the healing nature of art and are fulfilling the commandment of Hiddur Mitzvah.

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2015 Winning Jewish Arts Month Essay

Congratulations/Mazel Tov to member Larry Schloss – this year’s Jewish Arts Month Essay Winner! Jewish Arts Month 2015 Essay Competition Juror Suzi Brozman selected member Larry Schloss’s essay. Larry will receive the book, “The Jewish World: 100 Treasures of Art and Culture” – Skira-Rizzoli publications. Juror’s statement, by Suzi Brozman: I read each essay several times. At first, I was touched by the references to family, Judaism, and the artistic process expressed in each piece. But one essay stuck in my mind, and each time I read all of them, one kept standing out in its expressiveness. That essay is the one by Lawrence Schloss. His language spoke to the creative artisan in me, reminding me of my own struggles with materials, history and emotion as well as the topics I chose to try to portray. I especially felt moved by the artist’s knowledge that he cannot reach inside a viewer’s mind, but has to rely on his own feelings, hoping they can convey his meaning. In a world where anti-Semitism and internal struggle are paramount, Mr. Schloss understands the conflict in seeing, feeling and creating. Even without ever having seen his works, I feel as though I can learn from his sculptures. All of our essayists feel deeply about Judaism and its effects on their art. This essay expresses those feelings most superbly. Identify and discuss how your Judaic art has influenced or impacted the viewer’s feeling about Judaism.  by Lawrence Schloss, Scuptor  I am unable to enter the mind of the viewer, hence my observations regarding how my sculptures have impacted the viewing audience’s feelings about Judaism are strictly subjective. Having established this fact, I will proceed to explain how I would hope my work effects those who choose to visit my Judaic sculptures. My Judaic sculptures do not celebrate the warm and loving memories of growing up Jewish. They are devoid of the wonderful food, smells, sounds and joy of Jewish life in 1950’s Middle America.  Instead, my Judaic sculptures are created in the wake of living in a predominantly Christian culture which more or less tolerated Jews.  In some cases, my sculptures are outright statements of rebellion, lashing out at inherent anti-Semitism which I felt daily from secondary school to college. STAR OF DAVID is a tall, powerful Mogen David which erupts from solid stone and stands proudly despite all the blood shed on its behalf. I would hope the viewer sees the contorted lines; the marks left by history’s persecution of the Jewish people. It is not a happy star, it is a star which has survived. It is a star once yellow, now black and bold. SHTETL is a solid rock sculpture honoring Jews who were forced to live in tiny spaces because no one wanted them around. The tall, winding rock walls protected as well as imprisioned its inhabitants. This is not a nice place to live. It is hell, in fact. But it is home, nonetheless. DANCING RABBIS is my interpretation of the joy expressed by Jews who dance in circles at various holidays and special occasions. I am told it is a beautiful piece which captures energy of the moment. Fine with me. However, the expenditure of such joy must be counter balanced by the horrific history of the Jewish people; and herein lies the irony of the piece.  Perhaps the dancers should be mourning, instead.  Perhaps they should be preparing for the next onslaught of hatred, rather than dancing in circles. Judaic art is a complex endeavor. Most of my sculptures are twisted and contorted, presenting the knottiness of my Jewish identity. Perhaps the viewer sees this in my works. Perhaps not.  

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