Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Chance Encounters

This month we had Dog Days at our monthly open studios. Visitors were invited to bring their dogs. Dogs of every shape, size and color came through our doors. Small dogs were pushed in strollers, dogs the size of small ponies, dogs with bows, rich brindle coats, striped like tigers, all with a human at the end of their leash. There is something quite humanizing about dogs and it was a happy crowd. 

While not every open studio goes to the dogs, we do hold open studios every second Saturday. We open our doors and people are invited to wander through. Some are return visitors with whom we have an ongoing conversation about our developing work. Others are new visitors who I would otherwise be unlikely to meet. For me, this is the benefit of having a studio. I get to talk to people I don't know. 

I have friends who are very gregarious. They talk to people at neighboring tables in restaurants, to people on trains and public transportation. They cross personal space boundaries that I would never think to cross. I am insular and self-contained, a shy person still lurks at the core. There are certain settings; however, where I can discard that shyness and let my natural curiosity come to the forefront. Studio visits seem to free my gregarious self.

I frequently trade book recommendations with visitors. Often, we talk of loved ones who lost memory or of how one comes to terms with loss of loved ones. Many tell me of their genealogy searches, their personal heritage and their family stories. My paintings are stories that touch on human experiences and they draw stories from my visitors. Because I share my personal stories it gives them an opportunity to share theirs. There are often very real connections made without even an exchange of names. 

I never know if these contacts will lead to an ongoing connection, but I believe in the magic of the chance encounter. It is how many things happen. You go into it with an attitude of openness, open to possibility, but without expectation. You bring your curiosity and interest and along the way you learn about what others are doing that might touch what you are doing.

Two interesting connections arose at this open studio, both out of my Jewish Identity and Legacy Series. A little bit of background if you are new to this blog...in 2011 and 2012 I did a series of interviews with three groups of elders at Sholom Home. While my focus was on identity, I soon realized that immigration was a central theme. The first group grew up in early immigrant communities, typically their parents were immigrants. The second group were Holocaust survivors who immigrated in the 1940s and 50s and the third were immigrants from the former Soviet Union who came over in the 1970s through the 1990s. I then developed artwork and video on their stories and have been exhibiting the work and talking about it ever since. More recently I've been working on a book that combines both artwork and the oral histories. I hope to have it out by the end of the year. I have some of my favorite paintings from the series on my studio walls and have found that it's a topic that engages many people who come to my studio.

Local photographer Steve Ozone came through my studio and shared with me his work in interviewing Japanese Americans who were interned in the camps.  A while back I had heard Sally Sudo speak, one of his interviewees, and became intrigued with the parallels to the first steps of isolation and concentration that many Jews experienced prior to the Holocaust. I had begun to research the topic and wrote about it in a blog entry. One of the things I've been considering in relation to sharing my book is reaching out across groups. I’ve realized that there are echoes of similar experiences in different groups. Some of those experiences relate to isolation as the "other", or the common challenges most immigrants face. Steve and I talked about the interviewing process and some of the parallels in the experiences of our interviewees. We also shared the fact that neither of us had originally sought to use our artwork to explore our personal heritage, yet somehow fell into doing so. Here was a case of similar projects with different populations which shared some parallel experiences as well as parallels in the experience of the artists.

A second interesting connection came in relation to a painting in this series related to the story of the first Jewish grocery store in Minneapolis, Brochins. I had chatted at length with a woman, who like me, was intrigued with genealogy.  As we spoke, her friend was studying the painting. After the open studio concluded I came home to an email from her friend, Amanda Hughes, asking me the name of the store in the painting. It turned out Amanda writes historical fiction and had just written a story partially based in Minnesota. She had written about Brochins in her draft that she was just preparing to send off to her editor. I keep photographs of much of my research, so sent her an article I had found in the archives from the 1920s which painted a vivid picture of the store. I look forward to finding it captured in her book.

You never know who will walk in when you open your doors. 

Stop by at an open studio
California Building Studio 407/409
2205 California Street NE
Second Saturdays
or by appointment

And don't forget Art-a-Whirl
our big open studio event

Fri, May 19th    5:00pm-10:00pm
Sat, May 20th   Noon-8:00pm
Sun, May 21st  Noon-5:00pm

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