Saturday, September 11, 2010

Story Gathering

Several years ago I began a series of artwork on family history.  That series has been the source of many offshoots in artwork about family, community and cultural history.  Earlier this year I contacted Sholom Home, a Jewish elder facility about showing my family history artwork there.  As we spoke it occurred to me that my artwork often elicits others’ family stories and what better place to do so than an elder facility.  My initial phone call quickly morphed into a project in which I am now engaged.  My partner in this project is a local storyteller, Carla Vogel, who in addition to storytelling also does legacy work at a local hospice.  We had spoken for several years about possibly partnering and she seemed like the perfect partner for this project.

 Together we are interviewing residents of Sholom Home and recording their stories.  We are especially interested in legacy elements and how individual stories within the same community can begin to tell the story of a community.  I will then develop artwork around the stories, similar to what I’ve done on my own family history.

Along the way we’ve connected with the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest who frequently does oral history projects.   I’ve done genealogy and collage workshops for them in the past.  They are providing guidance in how to approach oral histories and will be a repository for the stories when we are finished.  The artwork will reside at Sholom Home when it is not being exhibited elsewhere.

We’ve done one interview and I’ve begun the first painting.  The woman we interviewed is in her
Detail of Painting
mid-90s.  Against the backdrop of nursing home chatter and frequent beeps from residents, she told us of her life and her experience teaching young children. Behind her is an image of her as a young woman reading a book that had special significance in her history. During our first interview she sang her favorite Yiddish song for us, also one of mine. Oyfn Pripetchik (At the Fireplace) is a song about a teacher, a rabbi, who is teaching young children the Yiddish alphabet. You can find the song at this link.  Teaching children the alphabet seemed especially applicable given our interviewee’s history.  She attends a regular Yiddish class and spoke of how much she likes the power and fire of the language, offering her latest words to stump her teacher.  In the painting I wanted to include Yiddish, especially some words from the song that related to children learning the Aleph Bes (alphabet). I’m not sure if I’ve finished this yet as I am still experimenting with how I want to represent these stories, but this is what I have thus far.

I am also continuing with my Radom Hole in Time series.  One of the things that I loved in the 1937 film of Radom was the way people walked almost into the camera creating a sense of immediacy in the viewer.  I wanted to do an image that would capture that sense.  The image on the right is the result of that effort.

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