Sunday, April 14, 2013

Art and Legacy

I have an event coming up that arose unbidden, the best kind!  It began to unfold when I was contacted by the Minnesota Jewish Theatre.

The Minnesota Jewish Theatre is a wonderful gem in my community.  I was introduced to it by friends and have been very impressed with the quality of its productions. One of their tag lines is "Telling Stories of Our Common Search for Identity", a theme that resonates deeply with me.  Given this history I was especially pleased when they contacted me in connection with their current play, "Handle With Care".

After a visit to my studio they asked if I would be willing to participate in a program to complement the play, an exhibit of my work and a talk about the blending of art and legacy.  They spoke with Mt Zion in St Paul who agreed to host the show and event.  That felt particularly fitting because one of my interviewees spoke so glowingly of the community he found at Mt Zion.   Now I'm trying to figure out how to talk about this project as it is the first time I have focused solely on this work without my prior series also being exhibited.

Fortunately the work itself helps me as it has story embedded within it.  I also have videos from the project so am busy creating video excerpts to share the stories that were my inspiration.  When I develop new artwork, I also need to find new ways of talking about it, pulling out salient themes.  As legacy is central to what I do, I've been thinking about what it is and how we experience it.

We talk about legacy as what we pass on to subsequent generations, but I think many of us would be hard pressed to state our legacy, some because we may not have yet found it, others because it seems like a rather grand concept to apply to our everyday lives.  Even though legacy was the focus of my interviews, I often discovered it through circuitous routes.

For many of my interviewees it was story itself, for others it was shared through food and song, passed down through generations. Sometimes artifacts such as Sabbath candlesticks. represented the rituals that were continued from one generation to the next.  A few of my interviewees wrote books that shared their stories.  Two of my interviewees took in new immigrants, exposing their children to a broader world and embracing these new children as their own.

Personal attributes also were shared and often absorbed through children and grandchildren.  A toughness and carry on attitude from Hana who lost her family and was on her own at 16.  A shrewdness from Sam who traded bricks to the Poles in exchange for bread and knew to lie about his age to save his life.  An appreciation of the world and ability to move within it with ease from Harold and Dorothy.  From Walter,  a gentle demeanor inviting others to find common ground. From Fannie,  a deep commitment to and involvement in the Jewish community. From Shirley the ability to use her imagination.

So many of my interviewees were extraordinary storytellers who taught me a thing or two about how to tell a story.  I found myself hanging on their words eager to know where they would take me.

I have realized that legacy need not be grand.  Few of us will invent a new vaccine, create a world renowned work of art or discover new frontiers.  Fortunately for us, legacy can be embedded in the everyday world in which we live, in food, in song, in how we interact with our children and with the world around us. One of the most important things we can do is to value, preserve and share our stories, never knowing who they will touch or how they will shape the future, but trusting that somehow they will.

For those in the Twin Cities, please stop by for the reception and talk on April 30th 6:30 PM at Mount Zion, 1300 Summit Avenue in St Paul. The show will open midday on April 29 and come down on May 3rd.

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