Sacred art is not a new concept; it’s part of the foundation of art history, in fact. Look at the Egyptians’ etchings of hieroglyphics in the pyramids, or the Mayans’ careful creation of architecture through temples, roof combs and mask panels, or Italians like Michelangelo, who painted religious scriptures on the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel. They all capture tradition and cultural effects of religion as a primary focus of life during various centuries. As part of the fifth annual Wilmington Jewish Film Festival, downtown gallery Art in Bloom is celebrating religious expression in “Jewish Art: Diverse Cultures,” which opens on Thursday.
While the film festival is centered on Judaism as its primary source of inspiration, Art in Bloom gallery owner Amy Grant is hoping the various media provides a universal language to connect all people. Grant curated the event to encourage and especially evolve the understanding of Jewish culture and art; however, she accepted works of art representing a bevy of belief systems. The 23 works were chosen on composition, technique and presentation.
“I am fortunate to be from a family with many artists through the generations, and with orthodox, conservative, reform, secular, and other interpretations of being Jewish,” Grant says. “I believe a spark was ignited in my imagination when the Beth Israel Synagogue in Fayetteville, NC, staged a wonderful exhibit by Israeli artists and local artists. I was about 8 years old and remember the exhibit like it was yesterday. I remember seeing so much variety and interpretation of subject matter. People expressed different opinions about the art and shared their ideas.”
She applied the same discovery and excitement to catalog the gallery’s exhibit, with proceeds benefiting the film festival. Grant’s end goal is to generate dialogue. Viewers will find abstracts by Francisca Dekker and Joan McLoughlin, charcoal drawings by Janette Hopper, photography by David Klinger, collage and mixed-media by Elizabeth Darrow, and Judith Yael Cohen, lithography by Robyn Gahr, handmade paper by Susan Sharpe, and so much more. All art will complement the variety of films shown at the festival (read here).
With feedback from festival spearheads, Grant selected Carole Osman’s pastel piece, “Temple of Israel—Jewish House of Prayer Since 1876,” as it magnifies the affect of Jewish culture in Wilmington. The temple has been the center of worship for locals for 142 years.
“It closely resembles the style of the Jewish Temple in Kaiserslautern, Germany, which was built in the Moorish-Byzantine style in 1886,” according to Osman.
At the time, National Socialism reigned over government, and the Kaiserslautern temple was destroyed. A virtual museum is in its place now.
“On my daily walks, I could visit strategically placed view finders to see the original museum as if it were still in place,” Osman says of time spent in Germany. “This virtual museum was dedicated to the Jewish victims in Kaiserslautern during that period.”
She was able to study the temple plus the houses and places of business nearby in her neighborhood. Many were “appropriated” during the Nazi regime, including the home she was staying in.
“My experience was deeply moving and I felt a connection to the people who inhabited my villa, and the surrounding houses and businesses, now long gone,” Osman tells. “When I arrived in Wilmington [in 1992] and saw Temple Israel, which, again, is not far from my home here in downtown, I was amazed at the architectural similarity to Kaiserslautern.”
The coincidences fell into line even more since the Wilmington temple was built during the same year as Kaiserslautern. Naturally, the style remains similar; however, one still stands, whereas the other does not.
“The power of this temple is a symbol of connectedness and reaffirmation of the continuity of values, faith and acceptance—bright, strong and in place,” Osman continues. “It exists. It makes me happy to know that here, in Wilmington, the temple found its place . . . I wanted [to show] the towers to reach up to God, and the domes carry the light from within and without.”
Debra Bucci’s “Poppies,” an oil on canvas, is vibrant and bright with imagination. Known for her florals, (“Sunflower Mania” also appears in the show), Bucci uplifts and envelops viewers in rich hues. “[The poppies] rise high off the canvas,” she describes, “each flower with its own unique personality. Although, I have never been to Israel, I would like to think the poppies stand for the people of the land—standing tall as individuals with infinite power from unity.”
The serenity of hushed blues and enigmatic sunset colors illuminate Barbara Bear Jamison’s “Orange Cloud” (featured photo of article). Jamison painted it while visiting Okracoke Island with a group of artists. She was inspired by the light moving away from the sun, when the scripture Exodus 13:21-22 washed over her. “It’s a reminder how God is still guiding and protecting us,” she explains.
“And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.”
“Being Jewish creates in its people a kindness and a loving nature,” Jamison adds. “I hope my art shows that same hope and love.”
Art work will be on display at Art in Bloom, with pop-up shows on Sundays and Mondays at Thalian Hall as part of the Wilmington Jewish Film Festival, taking place over the next three weekends.