Sunday, November 29, 2020

Delight and Surprise

I’ve written little this year, not for lack of thought, but perhaps because there are so many threads that I’ve been thinking about.  I wade through the tangle of ideas and realize that perhaps the most predominant is that this is a year of unexpected reinvention, in some seemingly frivolous, but also significant ways.

Suddenly we were largely confined to our homes and neighborhoods. My car feels unfamiliar when I get behind the wheel because most of my journeys are on foot. My auto pilot reactions still operate, but my trust in them has dwindled. I have often circled back to my house after departing to make sure I closed the garage door only to find that I have.  It is no longer a familiar ritual.


My initial challenges were figuring out how to get groceries delivered and what to do for an exercise routine with the gym closed.  There have been some byproducts of those challenges. We are eating meals at home with rare takeout on special occasions. That gives me greater control of my diet. No lunches out with friends, more planning about what I purchase.


Similarly, my workout routine has changed, but also gotten more consistent. When I roll out of bed and into my yoga pants, it is easier to think about a workout, whether it is a walk, an online class or my recumbent bike on those cold winter days. My husband got me an Apple watch and I find I like the routine that it encourages. I have nicknamed it “the little f***er” because it annoyingly tells me to stand up every hour. I dutifully jump up and do three laps around our kitchen and living room to earn my stand. As someone who can sit at my computer for hours at a time, engrossed in a genealogy project, I find that it actually helps my back to listen to this creature on my wrist.

Now, I am not an exercise junkie. Unlike my husband, I don’t bike the 34 mile roundtrip journey to our studio. I work out because I realize it affects my quality of life and I do a moderate amount each day. Much to my surprise the modifications to how I eat, consistent exercise  and the little f***er’s exhortations have resulted in a steady weight loss. I found myself pulling clothes out of my pile for Goodwill realizing that their fit had miraculously improved. Now many people have indicated the opposite result of the pandemic as they began to bake and do a bit of stress eating. For me, it has been a delightful side benefit.

Perhaps the greatest change has been the decision to let my hair go grey, well actually silver. Now I don’t know if this is a permanent decision or a pandemic based temporary exploration of identity. Every so often I used to ask Jeffrey, my hair stylist of 30+ years, if it would make me look older. “Yes,” he solemnly replied and that was the end of the conversation. Sometimes he would comment that he thought I might have a cool white streak in front like Susan Sontag as he noted the silver hiding beneath. I was curious about my hidden cool streak, but wasn't quite sure how to expose it. I was due for a visit to Jeffrey when the salons closed down.  By the time they re-opened, I was intrigued by the person who was emerging beneath the color. She looked kind of interesting and I wondered who this new person would be. I decided to let it grow through those awkward stages. Where did I have to go anyway?

Susan Weinberg-blogger

When I looked at a picture I had submitted months ago for an on-line conference presentation, it no longer looked like me. I took my first picture of me with silver grey hair and re-submitted it. Then I changed my Zoom picture. I was slowly stepping into this new identity. This new me. 

Billie Eilish

Oddly enough it didn’t make me feel older. Quite the opposite. I felt like a fifteen-year-old playing with her hair. I pulled out the pretty hair clips and hair ties that I used when my hair was long. I put it up on my head, pulled portions of it back and tried it with different earrings. I flashed back on times when that felt familiar, a time of playing with identity, deciding who I would be. Apparently I'm still deciding.


Just as the weather turned, my husband and I went out to a nearby sculpture garden to meet some friends from out of town. With wide paths it offered an easy way to gather in relative safety. I had used a clip to put my hair up with strands escaping around my face in my two- toned hairstyle. We sat spread out around a table at an outdoor cafĂ© when a woman approached and said, “I have to tell you I’ve been admiring your hair. I just love it. You're really rocking that  Billie Eilish look (an 18-year old singer-songwriter). “


I laughed in amusement at my new-found hipness, as I welcomed this new me with both delight and surprise.


Sunday, November 8, 2020

Absence and Presence: A New Appreciation

In these times of COVID, my husband and I have carved out a two-mile walk through nearby streets that has become part of our routine as we avoid the gym. It has become a well-worn path and over time I have identified landmarks that I check off mentally as we pass. I carry my phone and take pictures of our sightings of the albino squirrel and the reflections of golden leaves on water that conjure images of Klimt paintings. My favorite images warrant many photos, capturing them in a different light or a new angle. I have a new appreciation of Monet's studies of haystacks as the light changes.

With our spate of warm weather, I’ve been walking that route frequently, a chance to savor the sun’s warmth before we descend into winter. One of my favorite landmarks has been two trees juxtaposed that I named the sentinels. 

One was half dead with a hollow where once branches emerged. It wore a necklace of growths, perhaps fungal, but had an odd beauty in its irregularity that had first attracted my attention. I first discovered it in the spring and rediscovered it many times as the light and the seasonal changes drew my attention again and again. I have almost 20 images of it on my camera roll. Along the way I attempted a painting of it.

This week I set out on my route and suddenly stopped short when I approached the sentinels, those stalwart trees that stood guard. Did I have the right spot? Something was not right. Then it hit me like a gut punch. Where my necklaced tree had once stood in dialogue with its companion, there now was a stump. I was surprised to realize that what I was feeling was grief. Something was not right with the world, my world.

 It occurs to me that absence and presence is a theme that keeps knocking on my door. I first began to paint it when my mother passed away. Each morning she would create collages at the kitchen table. After her death I took a photo of her chair with its well-worn cushions and her sweater hanging over a neighboring chair as if she were going to return shortly. And I painted it. This time the idea of absence and presence had begun to enter my awareness as I realized how present she felt in her absence.

Every ten years the Minneapolis Institute of Art does the Foot in the Door show where artists are invited to enter an artwork with dimensions of one foot by one foot. Ten years ago, I waited in a long line streaming out the door during the winter to submit my entry.  I remember finally gaining entrance and slowly winding my way up the stairs. This year it was much simpler as a virtual show. The piece I entered was yet another one on absence and presence. It was part of an environmental series on the many ways our environment is changing. Remember when you used to capture fireflies in a jar as a child? They’d come out at night and the sky would be filled with them. This piece was dedicated to those fireflies that I now seldom see. Also, in the image is an elm tree that we had to take down this year because of Dutch Elm disease. I had seldom noticed it until it received its death sentence. My appreciation grew as I realized how it held our yard in an embrace, curving around the outskirts, defining its contours, once again in dialogue with its companions. It now feels quite barren in its absence.


I’ve been thinking a lot about absence and presence this week as our 46th president was selected. For much of my life I’ve taken democracy for granted. I failed to appreciate how it held our lives in its embrace, defining the contours of a world which we assumed was the norm, until it wasn’t. The past four years I have learned a lot about that democracy I never much noticed until it eroded. I think we all have.  Absence and presence. It relates to many things, people, insects, trees, even democracy. We take many things for granted, only deeply appreciating them in their absence. Sometimes we don’t get a second chance. Often we miss something in dialogue with something else. I always thought of my sentinel in conversation with its neighboring tree. When I saw the neighboring tree without its companion, that was the moment it struck me that something was missing. We too exist in conversation with each other. We are not isolated beings. We are all sentinels of our democracy, partnered with each other. This week I have felt particularly emotional because it is the beginning of a national conversation. I am not the only one who took democracy for granted and I am not the only one who reached out to grab onto it and hold on tight.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Safe Place

 Do you have a safe place?  That may be a silly question to ask when so many of us are largely quarantining, ordering our groceries, isolating with our spouse and family and seeing our friends over Zoom.  For most of us, home is our safe place, or at least our safest option. 

But I am not talking about physical safety. We also are in an environment of emotional threat. The country we have taken for granted for most of our life is under siege. In a world that reeks of corruption, lies and blatant power grabs, concepts like moral responsibility and fairness do seem rather quaint. I am surprised to realize how much I trusted in a shared understanding of fundamental rules that no longer seem to apply.

I woke up in the early morning hours filled with anxiety. I had been dreaming about the Supreme Court. It was not the first time I had that nightmare. No doubt this was induced by a discussion on Zoom that I attended the prior evening. Sleep was not going to return any time soon so I reached for my ipad. Soon I was immersed in an essay by Heather Cox Richardson, a historian who evaluates the history behind our politics and helps me to assess the threat level. One of the symptoms of feeling under threat is to constantly monitor the environment for where the next threat is coming from.  No one will be able to say that I wasn’t well informed if our democracy craters.


I wasn’t the only one awake. A message streamed across my screen inviting me to a word game. I felt strangely comforted by that. Like looking out the window and seeing another light on, a silent SOS from another troubled soul.


I’ve been thinking about what my safe place is. What do I retreat to in times like this? In many ways I am fortunate; no financial woes, no school-age children or parents to worry about. Merely a country to preserve while horrified at a significant portion of our population and government.  The world divides into friend or foe. We once would have spoken generously about acknowledging others' opinions. When the alternative is so reprehensible, there is no room for acceptance of the unacceptable.


Under normal circumstances, I have a number of pursuits that fall between two poles, creative or analytic. I paint, write and do genealogy work. Recently I spoke with an old friend. She asked me how these times have affected my creativity. In fact, my creative pursuits have been abandoned for long stretches. I have posted few blogs and completed few paintings over the past six months. Creativity requires me to get to a place of openness and receptivity and that’s hard to access when under threat. Instead I’ve gravitated to the analytic pole, absorbed in a search for answers to puzzles. Whether it is word games or genealogy puzzles, I need something that will absorb my focus for a time, because I can’t live in a state of threat continually.  Perhaps it is also a search for control in a world that feels out of control. 


It is a short window of time until we know if democracy will survive. I remain hopeful because it is all that I have. The Jewish Artists’ Lab that I participate in has a new theme this year. From brokenness to wholeness, a rich theme appropriate to these times. I only hope we are moving in the direction of wholeness. I stopped by the art store recently and replenished my paints, looking forward to renewing my efforts. It is time.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Finding the Tendrils of History

 I was first drawn into genealogy when the immigration records went on-line. There was something about imagining that journey that fascinated me. It can become pretty frustrating however, when you can find no trace of it, as if family miraculously appeared, leaving no tendrils of history trailing behind.

I’ve learned the key to solving puzzles is addressing the blind spots created by our assumptions. We can test our assumptions, but if we consider them to be givens, they block our path to the true story.  I’ve learned to approach every puzzle with skepticism, especially when evaluating what we think we know. 


Recently someone asked my help with an immigration dilemma. He gave me the name the family went by in Europe, Svirnofski, and the name of a well-known relative. He suspected that his family members might have come on the same boat as that relative. If we could find that manifest, we might find his family members or at least a likely trajectory to the United States. One of the common approaches in genealogy in breaking through brick walls is to look at cousins. That is easier when they are well-documented cousins. In this case his relative was David Sarnoff, a well-known figure in broadcasting who headed RCA and founded NBC. When I begin a search, I want enough information to verify that I am looking at the right family. Dates and names were often fluid so you don’t want to spend your time chasing the wrong person. I figured the biographical data should be available for a well-known figure like Sarnoff.


I looked him up on Wikipedia where I confirmed that his father was Abraham and his mother Leah. The same names showed up in his 1917 marriage record on He was born in 1891 and came over in 1900. I always search within a band of years, knowing that memories are often imprecise and even dates reported by the participants are often incorrect.


With that information, I did a search for a naturalization record which after 1906 would tell me the name he entered the country under, when he came and on which ship. The 1920 census said he was naturalized in 1915, but that record wasn’t coming up. Instead I found a good substitute, a passport filing gave me an arrival of July 1, 1900 from Liverpool and the ship’s name which appeared to be the SS Agentic. 


I started with, a website that provides a more efficient search engine. I did some preliminary searches looking for a name that “sounded like” the pre-Americanized version we believed it to be. I also did searches with the ship’s name. I wasn’t meeting with much success. Did a ship of that name even come to the United States? I knew I could find out.


Stevemorse has a ship lists search that pulls up the manifests if you input the dates and ship’s name. I put in the dates with a range around them and looked for a ship name that resembled what I had found on the passport file.  No such ship appeared. It occurred to me they may have come in through Canada, but was there something similar to the stevemorse search for Canadian ships? I don’t have to know everything, just how to find it. I googled “ships from Liverpool to Canada 1900” and it took me to a Government of Canada Library Archives Page with Passenger Lists from 1865-1922. My knowledge base had just expanded!  I went to “search database” and entered the information I was fairly sure of, Liverpool and 1900.  The page returned the names of ships and the dates of arrival. One of the ships was Lake Megantic, named after a body of water in Quebec.  I was pretty sure that was the ship as I weighed that name against the Agentic that he had recorded when applying for his passport. I could imagine him digging into his memory trying to surface that name that was just beneath the waterline. 



While the site had passenger lists, it is tedious work to go through a manifest line by line and there was a ship on June 1st and July 5th. I guessed that Ancestry would have it indexed if I could get to the right ship and they did. As I wasn’t sure how they spelled the name, I searched for David as the first name and S* for the last. I soon found David Swenowsky age 9 along with his brothers Mosche and Salomon coming to America with their mother Lena. Not exactly Szirnofski, but then neither is Sarnoff. Names were indeed fluid. So where was Abraham? Typically, the men came to America first, found work and a place to live and then sent for their wife and children. Often older children came first and the mother stayed with younger children until they were old enough to travel. The Swenowsky children were 6, 7 and 9. In fact they had been separated from Abraham for some time. A newspaper article noted that father Abraham had come six years earlier. Most families don't have the luxury of a bio in the New York Times. Abraham left Lena with a newborn and two toddlers. Travel would have been most challenging for her at that time.

We were curious about when the name change occurred. We traced David's father from his immigration, through the birth of two more children and up to his death in 1910. He died with his original name. By 1915, David Sarnoff had emerged in the 1915 census, reinvented as an American with a new streamlined name. His family had later followed suit.

I am always intrigued with the paths that lead to solutions and frequently retrace my steps to follow what is often intuitive logic. We have a tool kit that grows as we do research. Then we need to know what tool to use when and the interrelationships between them. And there is a sequential nature to solving a puzzle, so we need to understand that as well. When you can combine all of those elements, magic can happen.

In this case, we started with uncertainty about names and spellings and with the usual assumption that they came to New York. It wasn’t until I gathered more information on the date and ship, then tested whether that ship existed in the universe where we were looking, that another path presented itself. I learned something new when I googled the Canadian ships and discovered I could check the names. And I didn’t commit to one name option until I could see what presented itself, realizing that people’s names were especially fluid during this time. While we didn’t find the other family members, we now know that the Canadian path is likely to be the doorway for other family members.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Teasing Out the Story

My stepdaughter and her family are moving to California. In the twenty-five years my husband and I have been together she has always been here. Weddings, babies, homes and holiday celebrations  leave a trail of memories. Some years ago, her sister’s family left Minnesota for California and they have built a satisfying life there. My husband worries a bit as fathers do. I remind him that they are competent adults with family there to cushion the adjustment. We have learned that relationships change, but also deepen with moves. Longer visits create time for the casual, but often important conversations. 

And what does this mean for us? We no longer have parents or children anchoring us to Minnesota or the Midwest. Do we visit for extended stretches or pick up roots ourselves in time? For now, we’ll see how they like it and plan a more extended visit when the world is a safer place. 


My thoughts are colored by our experience with the pandemic. The world does feel more connected across distance. Despite months of isolating physically, I’ve remained connected with friends around the country and in my own city via Zoom. Would some of that continue if we were to move? For now, It is strange to say goodbye in the midst of a pandemic. How do you do that when socially distancing? It is an oddly dislocating experience. 


As a genealogist, I find myself considering the ways families once spread out around the country. Often it echoed the chain migration of our ancestors, the pioneers ventured out and were followed by others emboldened by the success of their adventurous family members. That began with coming to America, but it continued as they explored cities outside of New York. It is not too unlike my present-day experience, but without the instant communication we've become so accustomed to.


I’ve been deeply immersed in genealogy consulting this year and a case I am working on has given me new insight into how our ancestors moved from New York  to clusters of family within the country. We tend to think families used to always live nearby and the divisions of geography are new.  I’m not so sure it is. About seventy percent of immigrants entered through New York. Many of them remained there where they were often the first contact for subsequent immigrants from the family. Others dispersed across the country forming a nucleus around which others gathered over time. After one leaves one’s family behind, perhaps to never see them again, a second move may seem less daunting.


I’ve been studying records of the Industrial Removal Office, a service designed to move Jewish immigrants outside of New York in the early 1900s, assisting them with transportation and jobs. It is a rather odd name for the purpose. Companies contacted them with jobs to fill, individuals with pleas to help with the costs of sending family. In the 1907 records, I found my client’s great-grandfather born in the 1850s. He was sent to Minneapolis three months after his arrival in the United States. Accompanying him was his soon to be married daughter, already trying out her new name. One week after arrival she and her fiancĂ© got their marriage license and she remained in Minnesota where she had five sons. Her father returned to New York where we find him in the census, both 1910 and 1915. He died soon after and by 1920 his widow was in Minnesota living with one of her children and in 1930 with another. "What should we do with mom?" I could hear them debating.


I knew of the younger children who came over on the boat with their parents, but older siblings had come earlier. One of the ways that I often learn of the broader relationships is by tracing the person that a new immigrant goes to upon arrival. Often it is an uncle, a sibling or an adult child. I had begun exploring that ancestral couple I referenced earlier, the great-grandparents of my client. I was looking for a possible Lithuanian marriage or birth record that linked their two surnames, Katz and Jaffe. In the process, I stumbled across a young man whose parents shared the same two surnames. In following his path I discovered two young men traveling to America, each carrying one of those names. Who were they and was there a relationship? In fact, they were going to a common uncle who lived in New York and shared the maiden name of the great-grandmother in Minnesota, likely a brother. Now I needed to determine if there was a Minnesota connection. 


My starting point had been an immigration record, but vital records and tombstones helped solve the puzzle. Death and marriage records frequently have parents’ names, even maiden names. Jewish tombstones will frequently have the Hebrew name of the father as well as the Hebrew name of the decedent. These names often clue me in on the name they went by in Europe before they Americanized it. That's the name I search for when looking for immigration records.

In this case, I knew the name of the great-grandmother's father was Itzaak from her tombstone. Now I just needed similar information for her possible brother, the New York uncle to the two young men. I knew that, a very efficient search engine, was a good source for access to New York records. I also knew that, a free data source, typically listed parents’ names if available. Armed with this knowledge I went to the website and found the section on birth, death and marriage records that searched the database. At the top of the page, I could toggle between them as I tried each one, tracing people through their various life stages. When I found the death record for the uncle, his parents’ names did indeed match his sister's parents. Ultimately I was able to match two additional siblings by examining people who shared the same surname in New York and comparing their parents’ names. Soon I had confirmed the great-great grandparents and four of their children, not to mention those two young men in the next generation, one of whom moved to Minnesota while the other stayed in New York. Often I trace them through obituaries to validate the ties.


This is the part of genealogy that I find most fascinating. Teasing out relationships and connecting the information, reuniting families if only on paper.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

An Interrelated World

Sometimes the idea of starting a large painting feels a bit intimidating, especially because I often am not sure where I am going with it until I am well into it. There is frequently a lengthy process filled with "false" starts before I find my voice. In actuality there is no such thing as a false start as it is really just a necessary step in the process of finding our way.

I've been doing small paintings as a bit of an experiment, kind of like tackling an essay rather than a novel. I thought that I was telling a smaller story, but as I continued working I discovered that all of the stories are interconnected. I've been continuing to work with the theme of global warming and the environment which gives me a broad playing field. I am discovering that means just about everything is fair game.

I began with the two paintings above and wrote about them in Embracing the Risk of Loss.  When I walked with friends pre-pandemic, I frequently took pictures of what spoke to me visually and used them in collages. Now that we are in the midst of a pandemic, I've been doing even more walking and I find that I am much more aware and appreciative of the environment that surrounds me. And not just the environment, but the changes in it as winter moves into spring. I loved the skeletal structure of trees during the winter, their forms silhouetted against the sky and only grudgingly accepted the beauty of their budding branches.

The image in the upper left is based on water reflections and the idea of clean water as a necessity for our environment. The one beneath it has a bee and honeycomb hidden within it. and addresses the risks faced by the bee population. Whenever I paint a subject, I type into Google, "___ and global warming." Fill in the blank-- bees, fireflies, crows, mosquitoes, whatever you wish. Surprisingly something always comes up. It is through that process that I have learned of the projected demise of all of these creatures save mosquitoes who are expected to thrive.

Sometimes other concepts I have painted re-emerge in a different context. When I painted Presence and Absence about my mother, I was thinking about how absence makes a person much more present. Well that is true of trees too. When we had to take down an elm tree due to Dutch Elm disease, I felt like I was at its deathbed, taking pictures of it as if to remind myself of the space it occupied. It made an appearance in the firefly painting, perhaps both slated for extinction.

And tree rings!  I love tree rings, the witnesses and messengers of our climate changing over time. When I began to create a tree ring collage, I kept flashing on images of records and old-style telephones, all vehicles for conveying a message. It also reminded me of American Indian iconography and I began to picture arrows, albeit with the arc of tree rings. I half expected one to shoot into a tree with its tail quivering from the force of impact, accompanied by a message.

When my husband and I went to the Grand Canyon, we watched the sunrise each morning over the canyon. One morning I found a crow perched rather royally in the sunlight,  His black feathers glowed golden in the morning light. I decided to paint him just because I like images of crows, not because I associated him with global warming. Of course once I did my usual search, I learned that global warming will create a climate conducive to mosquitoes who spread West Nile virus. Crows are especially susceptible to it. That then called for a mosquito painting as well.

I tend to work in blues and oranges so my paintings all work well together. I began to group them into various groupings and arrived at the one atop this blog titled An Interrelated World. It is the concept that sums up global warming, but it could just as easily be applied to COVID-19. We are not isolated beings. We live in a broader world and what we do affects not only each other, but the environment that surrounds us. The loss of any element has a cascade of effects that threatens to set still other losses into motion.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

What Kind of Artist?

I’ve been thinking lately about what kind of artist I am. Every year we have a huge open studio event, Art a Whirl. This year of course it will be virtual beginning May 15, so I need to succinctly present what I do in video. It is much easier to have hundreds of people traipse through my studio for three long days and chat with them.  

I don’t think I am a typical artist, but of course there are many kinds of artists. By atypical I suppose I mean that I have many traits that are not associated with artists. I am analytical and “wordful.”  Yes, I know that is not a word. Lest I be unaware, Word underlines it in squiggly red, but I am full of words and I use them to explain and make sense of the world. To paint and experiment, I have to shut that part of me down temporarily and play. I was never very good at playing even when I was a child so it is work for me to play. I need to trick myself into the zone of free association by painting and repainting, by not thinking of anything I do as too precious to paint over again. I have learned to view the seemingly false starts as part of the story of my evolving painting. It is through that process that I discover things I could not find through an analytical process. But then, ah, but then. . .I dust off my words and my analytic side and make sense of what just happened. I write about it. I follow the thread of my process. I use all of me to complete a painting fully, just not simultaneously.

I am an artist who is intrigued with story. Story is just a way to make sense of the world. To take the things that happen to us and around us and view them through a different frame. My artwork is about story and ideas. I love when there is a idea that a story illuminates. Even better when the story is housed in a painting. One of my favorite examples was when I painted about transformation, Stepping into the Chrysalis. I learned about nature’s story of transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, first consuming itself to turn into caterpillar soup, then drawing on its imaginal discs (stem cells with a very apt name) which contain the wings of the future butterfly. Not too unlike us consuming ourselves with worry as we face change and then finding our wings within. Then I had to find visual imagery to quite literally frame that amazing and metaphorical story.

 When I think of the thread of my work, I realize I started with a puzzle. I began with a series on family history and the cornerstone was a self-portrait called Piercing the Veil. It was of me unveiling my family names with a paintbrush. Using art to tell the story of solving a puzzle. Of course, that’s what I do. It only took me twelve years from that painting to figure that out. 

I followed that series with a body of work called the Silence Speaks Loudly as I tried to make sense of how Lithuania dealt with the Holocaust. I connected stories I gathered and observed while in Lithuania. Again, making sense of this often inexplainable world.

My interest in genealogy is a quest of sorts too, to understand the lives of my ancestors, of people who lived in a different time, but contained within a body, mind and emotions much like our own. What would it be like to live in a different environment? How would it change who we are? How would we experience the tides of history as they lapped up against our life?  I have often wondered about the family members of mine who died in the Holocaust. Who were they as people? What was their day to day life like? What of them echoes in me? I began to explore that when I painted a Hole in Time, an exploration of the Jewish community in Radom, Poland.

Similarly, when I sought to make sense of my own Jewish identity, I interviewed Jewish elders. And after those interviews, I created artwork and then a book as I drilled down further into their stories to figure out how I fit within them.

When my mother lost memory and later when she died, I painted on memory, trying to find a way to make sense of first her loss of memory and then the loss of her. It was one long meditation on a wise woman who I carry within me. Absence and presence occupied me. Absence occupied me with her presence. 

For the past eight years I have participated in a Jewish Artists Lab that takes a topic to explore and then creates artwork on that theme. That has proven to be a powerful engine, introducing me to ideas I might otherwise not have discovered.  Through all of it I explored ideas that I translated into artwork. Memory palaces, transformation, imaginal discs, liminality, illuminating through parallel  stories, identity as a river finding its banks, wisdom of the mothers. 

I bring this lens to everything that I explore. Now I am working on the environment and I explore it through absence and presence, the idea of a 4700-year-old tree sounding the clarion call on global warming, arboreal ghost towns. It is a system where everything connects, a puzzle that we can solve if we can only focus on all of the pieces and each and every piece. And so, I wade into the immense puzzle of our world equipped with my paintbrush and my words.