Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Hole in Time

I've added one additional painting (see bottom) to my series on Radom and reworked the top painting.  In setting them on top of each other I've also noticed that the top two paintings seem to have lines that connect quite unintentionally.  I may keep that in mind as I develop other paintings and perhaps have them assume a more precise rather than random assemblage.

The new image that I've added appealed to me because it seemed so classic.  There are always some young men who want to get into the picture and these two, particularly the one bending into the camera, seemed to fit that profile. I've got similar pictures that I've taken in foreign countries where a group of young men vied for the camera's attention.

I've been working with medium and carving into it to pull out the profiles and details of a face.  The wood paneling behind these two makes use of the grain of the wood itself.

As you may recall I am trying to use the motif of a pinhole camera in my imagery with the edges slightly darkened. My working title had been "A Point in Time", but I am now thinking of it as "A Hole in Time". It seems to fit with the theme I've been reading as of late on time travel.  Recently I cleared out some books from my bookshelves to make room for my genealogy materials that have taken up residence on my floor. In doing so I stumbled across a copy of From Time to Time by Jack Finney.  In the 1970 novel, the protagonist goes back in time to the late 1800s.  Finney's focus on the details of another time spoke to the researcher in me that seeks to go beyond dry facts to truly imagine another time.  I also loved Finney's short stories in About Time: 12 Short Stories and his sequel Time and Again.

It seemed to me that these glimpses of the once vibrant community of Radom truly provided a hole in time, allowing me  to step into and imagine a world that is no more.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Artist Under the Influence

I used to wonder what I was going to paint next, but I’ve learned to relax and ideas just come.  It often seems rather magical to me the way they arise, but I’ve learned that other interests often serve as an engine.

I am working on a new series on Radom, the town my grandfather came from.  I’ve begun two so far so I believe that meets the definition of a series.  I plan to do many more.  I’ve written about the 1937 film of the Jewish community of Radom that I received from a fellow researcher.  It captures a happy time and a cross-section of the Jewish community just five years before the Holocaust destroyed it.I’ve pulled many stills from it for the Shtetlink site that I created.  In doing so I found some images that really spoke to me.  When I put the page out on the Shtetlink I had three columns of images and I liked the juxtaposition of disparate images.  That was my impetus to create a series of small images that worked as a whole.

My second influence… I went to an open studio last week and stopped in a studio where the artist was painting on wood. Now I often paint on masonite, but she was using wood panels and I really liked her work and particularly the surface.  I liked the ability to use the grain or sand it so decided to try it as a material.  Unlike masonite the panels have sides so don’t need to be framed.  For someone who likes instant gratification, being able to hang a work immediately has a lot of appeal.

My third influence…My next decision was what size to paint.  As I wanted to create a larger image out of many smaller images I opted for 12” x 12”.  Earlier this year I had done several paintings in that size for the Foot in the Door Show that the Minneapolis Institute of Arts does every ten years.  They only accept paintings of those dimensions.  Normally I don’t work that small, but I found that I really liked the work that I did for that show so decided to explore those dimensions further.

And my final influence…Last weekend I went on a long bike trip with my husband and between pedaling managed to make use of the camera that I bought for our Eastern Europe trip.  I discovered quite by accident, as I tend not to read manuals, that it had a pinhole camera setting.  Now this worked beautifully for landscape shots.  Colors are slightly muted and a grayish edge surrounds the
center image. I soon was wondering if I could get that effect in my painting series.  My working title is A Point in Time and a pinhole image seemed to fit well within that.

So four influences drove my topic, material, size and style. Amazing where a camera on the wrong setting can lead.  This is how art happens.

If you're interested in the camera with the pinhole setting here's the link.  It also has a 12X zoom in a very compact camera, a high quality Leica lens and the wonderful additional feature of GPS.  It picks up where you are and links it to the picture.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Finding My British Family - Take 2

Today I received another thread in my continuing search for my relatives in the United Kingdom.  As you may recall (see entry: Finding My British Family 11/28/2009) I have been following the history of Louis Kodish and Annie Singer.  Louis Kodish was born in London around 1900, immigrated to the US in 1929 with his wife Katherine and returned to Glasgow in 1934.  He came to his cousin Abraham Singer who was also my grandmother’s cousin and returned with his wife Katherine to his father Marks Kodish in Glasgow.  This much I had learned from immigration records to and from the US.   

As his relationship was to my relatives from Dunilovichi, I am operating under the assumption that his father was also from Dunilovichi and have hopes of linking yet another family to mine.  I know that there were Hedeshes from Dunilovichi in the Dunilovichi cemetery and names spelled Khodis or Khodos in the 1834 and 1850 Revision Lists for the town.  No linkages yet, but I remain hopeful that a puzzle piece will click into sharper focus.

In February of this year I sent for the visa records of both Louis and Annie from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  Two months later I received Annie’s record and today, six months later I received the record for Louis. This is relatively fast compared to the year or more it used to take before they started charging for their services.

The file for Louis was interesting, but didn’t provide anything new for me to pursue.  Included in the visa file was a photo that was clearly the same person who sent a photo to one of my father’s cousins signed “your cousin, Louis Kodish”.  The application provides his address and that of his father.  His mother was deceased by 1929 when he was submitting this record.  His father’s name was given as Marks.  Most of this I already knew from immigration records. The one new piece of data came from a copy of his birth certificate which gave his mother’s name as Kate Epstein.  The last name of Kodish was spelled Cordis. Back to the cemetery where I found no Epsteins.  Quite possibly his mother was not from Dunilovichi..

Annie’s file also showed a photograph of a young woman in her 20s. She was born in London in 1907 and lived in Jerusalem from 1923 to 1928 when the visa was issued.  I did the math and found that she went there at age 16.  Her mother Sarah was indicated as deceased and her father Meyer was no longer in London, but back in Diniavolitshe, Poland, presumably Dunilovichi.   Perhaps he returned after his wife’s death and his daughter decided to venture into Palestine rather than return home with dad.  Now in 1929, tiny Annie, at 5’1 ½ “ was leaving Palestine to go to Brooklyn to stay with her uncle Abraham Singer, my grandmother’s cousin. I am struck with the sheer adventurousness of her journey.

Her birth record indicated that her mother Sarah Singer was also formerly a Singer.  Communities were small and marriages to cousins were common.  In addition to the birth record there was a certificate showing that she was free of trachoma and a Certificate of Character from the Department of Police and Prisons.

So from the visa files, I now have a little piece of additional information for both Louis and Annie on their mother’s names.  I can continue to search for Louis and his father Marks in Glasgow.  Annie’s trail in London seems to have grown cold with her departure and her father’s return to Dunilovichi.  I may see if I can find a record of her original immigration to Palestine and some further trace of her father in Dunilovichi.  She appears to have vanished in America, no doubt marrying and changing her name, the curse of genealogists.

And while on the subject of my Dunilovichi relatives, I did have one ah-ha moment recently concerning the timing of my great-grandfather’s immigration.  I knew that my great-grandfather came to the US in 1904.  What else happened in that year?  It dawned on me that my great-great grandfather died in 1904 in Dunilovichi, a fact I learned upon my visit.   No doubt there was  a relationship between those dates. To test that theory I checked the month in which my great-great grandfather died against the month in which my great-grandfather immigrated.  Sure enough, my great-grandfather waited until his father’s death to immigrate leaving just a month or two after his death.  Somehow that is a humanizing detail.  Now I picture a son waiting for his father to die before he felt free to leave, perhaps waiting out an illness to be at his father’s deathbed. It is in these dribbles and drabs of information that we begin to piece together a story, a narrative about our ancestors’ lives that reminds us that they really lived with all the human emotions and drama that can accompany our own journey.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Paintings Redux: Version Two

 Between genealogy research and conferences I’ve been finding some time to work on paintings for my London show.  As you’ll recall, I’ve taken several paintings that I’ve done on board and repainted them on canvas for easier shipping.  It has been an interesting experience to take a painting that I considered done and begin anew.  I’ve always thought that I didn’t have the patience for repeated versions of the same image.  I can't read the same book twice or see the same movie. While Monet’s multiple waterlilies, haystacks and cathedral windows are inspiring, I thought I needed something new to sustain my energies.  Now with a reason to do that exploration, I’ve had a few discoveries worth learning. I've found that there are many levels within an image to explore.

It is very difficult to take a serviceable painting and paint out portions to rework them.  There is always the fear of destroying what already exists and yet it is the paintings I destroy that give birth to my favorite paintings..  Still a blank canvas is a second chance to take what I liked and emphasize it while eliminating what I was less satisfied with.  Sometimes I found it impossible to recreate some effects.  Instead I could let go of what I had done and do something new and unique.  Often that second effort has qualities lacking in the first.

The challenge that hung over my head was to take my painting “Gedenken” which is24” X 72” and recreate it in two paintings of 24” X36”.  I further added to the challenge by deciding I wanted the paintings to be able to stand on their own as well as combine into one image.There were two changes I wanted to make from my original “Gedenken”.  I wanted to create a larger base of darker color at the bottom to balance it and I wanted to put bands of sideways letters between each band that spelled “gedenken”.  Here’s what I arrived at, both separately and together.

 The other painting that I’ve been working on is “What is Left”. This was a very simple painting of the doors of the Torah ark that remained from the synagogue from 1438.  The synagogue was damaged in the war and destroyed by the Soviets after the war.  As I studied the image of the doors more thoroughly, I discovered some details that I omitted in the original.  The lock to the doors is inserted into a star of David, now captured in version two. What looks simple is deceptively difficult.  The doors are of hammered metal and create dappled areas of light and shadow.  The hammered forms and the variations of light presented some challenges to capture.This is definitely an image that needs to be viewed at a distance to see the elements come together. 
You can find the original paintings on my art website under Lithuanian Artwork on the right.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How They Lived

Working on the Shtetlinks (websites on ancestral town) has the added advantage of putting me in the middle of the information that swirls around the towns I am researching. As I do both research and artwork around family and cultural history, new information often feeds one of those engines.

 I’ve written of the 1937 film I obtained of the town of Radom, Poland.  I recently put about 80 stills from the film on the Radom Shtetlink, a rather laborious process.  As stills the images spoke to me in a way that they didn’t when watching the film. Many are striking imagery, always good source material
for an artist and they will resurface in a different form in these pages. What I took particular note of was the diversity of the Jewish community.  While the stereotypic religious elder can certainly be found in the film, many within the Jewish community looked no different than my grandparents and parents would have at that time in New York. The stereotype of the shtetl Jew told through the stories of Sholom Aleichem and the camera of Roman Vishniac fails to tell the story of many in the Jewish community of Eastern Europe.  That was particularly true of a fairly large city like Radom where one could find merchants, teachers, doctors and lawyers.

Recently I was connected by a fellow Radom researcher to an author whose work is quite evocative of life in those times.  Bernard Gotfryd is a former Radom resident and a survivor.  He worked for Newsweek as a photographer for 30 years and brought his photographer’s eye to his stories. 

Gotfryd sent me a copy of his most recent book I Can See Them in My Dreams, published in Poland.  Stories in Polish and English introduced me to personalities in Radom and told their stories.  One of the things that I seek to learn in my research is what the lives of my family members were like.  With the Holocaust as the end point of their lives, it is easy to focus on their deaths rather than their lives.  Between the film imagery and Gotfryd’s words, I have begun to get a sense of what their world was like.

Intrigued by his recent book, I tracked down a copy of his earlier book Anton the Dove Fancier which similarly paints vignettes of Radom and subsequent events during the Holocaust.  The book won the PEN/Martha Albrand Special Citation for Nonfiction as well as several additional awards.  Gotfryd captures the complexity of human interactions.  It is not a black and white world, but one populated with people thrust into impossible situations, trying to find their way through them while preserving their sense of humanity.