The idea for a Judaica show at The Main Gallery grew from the interest of a group of people at the gallery who are Jewish, and who wanted to explore in an artistic form the importance of Jewish history, rituals and family. The title for the show, "A Mekhaye!" is a Yiddish phrase meaning "What a Joy!" There are some dark themes in the artwork, but artists Nina Koepcke, Elizabeth Noerdlinger, Jeannine Redon, Judith Serebrin and Susan Wolf are also looking at the joy and pleasure they derive from being Jewish and learning about Judaism. The work includes drawings, prints, paintings, clay sculpture, Jewish ritual items and chakas!
Nina Koepcke first explored the idea of Judaica when she began making ceramic menorahs for the annual Holiday show at The Main Gallery. For this show, Nina gained inspiration from the writings of her friend, the poet Esther Kamkar, who often includes images of elephants and pomegranates - leading to Nina’s use of those same images in her menorahs and spice boxes. While preparing for this show, Nina asked herself and her friends, “What does Judaica mean?” wondering whether she wanted to explore the dark side of Jewish history including the Holocaust and the Diaspora. “There are an enormous variety of cultures that influenced Jewish art because of the Diaspora. including not only northern and eastern Europe, but also North Africa, the Middle and the Far East, and interestingly enough, South and Central America,” Koepcke said. Nina is particularly interested in Ladinos, the Spanish Jews who migrated to South America, and her intent is to make monotype prints that explore some of the threads of Jewish culture expressed in recently published stories from that part of the world. Jewish folktales from various other cultures are another theme that interests her, especially stories about the Golem—a gigantic person made of clay and endowed with powerful properties for saving Jews during times of persecution. Nina uses a combination of underglaze and glaze on her pieces firing them numerous times to achieve a more painterly surface than is achieved in the usual two firing regime. She hand forms all the pieces employing mostly a coil and pinch technique with an occasional use of slab sections.
Elizabeth Noerdlinger is using her love of landscape painting in oils as a springboard for examining scenes from the Torah, or Old Testament, that involve cataclysmic or fantastic natural events—Noah’s flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Egyptian plagues. She finds herself drawing comparisons to present day wars, global warming and the resultant disasters. Exodus or Exile is a theme for a number of her paintings. “What the Israelites went through in the desert has continued through history with all the victims of genocide,” Noerdlinger said. “We even flee from ourselves, and I think of the exodus of commuters every day with all those cars on the highways.” Elizabeth also hopes to finish some portraits of her Jewish relatives and is enjoying looking at old photographs and finding familiar features among the faces. The portrait work is challenging, but the difficulty is softened by her love and discovery. “It feels like I am communing with my ancestors,” she said.
Jeannine Redon was intrigued by the idea of a Judaica show. She feels she comes from a slightly different angle, having been raised a French Catholic, and then converting to Judaism in Rome at the time of her marriage. The idea for the title of the show comes from Jeannine’s mother-in-law, who would pat her chest when she was delighted and say, "Guta mekhaye!" Jeannine is working with prisma color pencils and is focusing on Jewish cooking, kashrut and humorous possibilities. She did not want to be political or extra-religious in her consideration. She is including references to Florida in her drawings, “Florida will be present in my drawings. My husband’s family lives in Miami. I consider Florida to be part of Jewish culture.” Jeannine tries to define her drawings as much as possible first with black pencil, and then adds color, choosing the color depending on how she feels at the moment.
Judith Serebrin has a deep appreciation for “so many things about the Jewish culture,” and the rich history of crafts and symbolism associated with Jewish ritual. She feels it’s a pleasure to be able to participate in those traditions and to put her creative talents toward exploring her connection to Judaism and Jewish issues. She says, “It’s a continuous process of learning.” She is having fun making Hamsas, which are hand-like symbols. There are a lot of superstitions in the history of the Jews. “These are one of the superstitious items I like," Wolf said. Hamsas come from the Middle East, it is related to the number five in both Hebrew and Arabic languages. The number five, the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet - 'hay' is a visual way of representing God. Hamsas ward off the evil eye or bring good luck. Judith's Hamsas are made from carved porcelain, then stained, some glazed. She has been very influenced by stone and ceramic reliquaries and antiquities found in the Middle East. She is also making tiny traveling Shabbat candlestick boxes, mezuzahs and menorahs. She has a fondness for menorahs as Hanukkah is her favorite holiday. “It started off as a secular holiday and it’s a story of liberation,” she said. “I can connect to it.” She would like to make a Havdalah set which includes a candleholder, spice box and wine glass.
Judith is also making some figurative sculptures with Star-of-David heads. The figures are about family and relationships, and how anti-Semitism has affected some of the relationships and individuals in the family. Some of the figures will be decorated with colorful drawings that Judith does in acrylic paints and black ink.
Susan Wolf is fascinated with spice boxes that are a part of the ritual for the ending of the Sabbath. Spice boxes are used in “Havdalah” ceremonies, they are passed around to smell the sweetness of the Sabbath and to carry that into the week ahead. Susan’s grandmother had an elegant spice box made of silver that was about twelve inches high, and had a base like an ornate candlestick.“ It had a tall column, like a tower, and on top was a little house,” she said. “There was a door you could open on one side to put cinnamon and cloves in. It was a little fairytale fantasy – beautiful and distant.”
Susan works with porcelain and stoneware, and is planning to make some spice boxes, as well as candlesticks, mezzuzahs and menorahs. She is also inspired by the Masada, an historic Jewish fortress, and hopes to make some “gigantic menorahs” reminiscent of it. She has an image of these menorahs as “huge, bleak, dry, unapproachable, with little candles all clustered together on top.”