by Shelley Werner
(AJNews) – At this time of year, when Passover is within view, our thoughts turn to the hope of spring, with the remembrance of journeys past. On March 15, 2023, 7:00 pm MST “Flight and Freedom” will be the next episode of Art and Scroll Studio, a zoom series that celebrates the makers and creators of Judaica art. Artist Ruth Weisberg and fibre artist Heather Stoltz will be the featured guests, in presentation and conversation, with work that features reflections on these themes.
It is always relevant to discuss the topic of migration, of an exodus that takes place somewhere in the world, or in our personal lives. Change is constant, and it is illuminating to consider what makes us move, what chases us, and what do we migrate toward? The idea of freedom is powerful as an impulse that can draw us to uncertain futures. The question remains, do we emerge from a journey to a new reality that is better than the one left behind, or does achieving a new freedom bring with it unanticipated chains?
Weisberg brings past-time into contemporary context through veils of washes and tones. Memory is a dominant point of departure in her works as her themes meld art forms. Other recurring themes include diaspora, and homecoming as well as rites of passage. Her depiction of grouped children as in “Together Again” are as evocative of memories of her own childhood in Chicago as they are to projections of those possibly lost in the Holocaust.
“My main pre-occupations have been time and memory. I’m very interested in the artist’s ability to travel through time”. She grew up with the knowledge that her family was part of a diaspora. She was conscious of her family’s Jewish heritage as tempered by her awareness of the previous generation’s tragic losses.
With her iconic work “Waterbourne” she joins both symbolic and literal reflections of light and a personal passage of impending motherhood and the emergence of woman. Her lithograph entitled “Harbor” engages reflections on personal history and the convergence of art history and cultural experience.
Weisberg’s art is driven by her sense of empathy towards a profound quest, for life’s redemptive meanings as the antidote for her glimpse of incomprehensible evil. Ruth has written “my work demonstrates an intense interest in the cycle of life, the continuity of generations and issues of survival and impermanence.”
Her Kindertransport series focuses on children who were sent to England in 1938 and 39. Hundreds of children were sent by their families to England from Germany and Poland and Czechoslovakia. “I think so many of the themes are relevant to today. You know, we’re living through a very hard time, and I hope that it will give people a kind of window on history that’s a little bit more personal and emotional.” It is her goal to give the images to her audience so that they can share her feelings and reactions both to the historical events, but to the events of today as well.
Heather Stoltz is a fibre artist who creates quilted wall hangings and fabric sculptures inspired by social justice issues, Jewish texts, and life as a mother. Stoltz, named as one of The Jewish Week’s “36 Under 36” for 2012, received a 2011 Manhattan Community Art Funds grant for “Temporary Shelter”, her installation piece about homeless New Yorkers.
Stoltz’s work considers the implications of freedom, and the impact of actions taken by a few that devastate many. Freedom is a valuable construct, enshrined by democracy, and yet cataclysmic events can make a mockery of idealist visions.
“On January 6, 2021, as rioters stormed the Capitol, any hope that I had in the future of this country was lost. In response, I started making a tattered patchwork flag with seams exposed and frayed,” says Stoltz. Later that month, when new leaders peacefully took the oath of office and immediately got to work, she allowed herself just a glimmer of hope that maybe there is a chance the country can survive the intensity of this last year. She started adding soft sculpture figures to stitch the flag back together and help give each other a hand. “The struggle is not over, but maybe we can start working together again toward a better future.”
Her work “Temporary Shelter” is reminiscent of a sukkah or hut used on the holiday of Sukkot. It tells the stories of homeless New Yorkers ages 4-75. The inside panels each represent one individual staying in NYC’s faith-based shelters and the outside walls are made from fiber art created by children in New York’s family shelters. More can be read about the stories in this piece in her book Temporary Shelter: An Art Installation about Homeless New Yorkers.
In her piece Ten Years Later Stoltz reflects on the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.
One person with a semi-automatic rifle ended the possibility of a bright future for twenty of his classmates and six of the adults trying to keep them safe. This tragic event highlights the dark side of freedom; the agency to be had by all individuals, both for good and for evil. “Those six- and seven-year-olds should be sixteen and seventeen today. Instead of driving and thinking about the future, they are forever frozen in the past, having never made it past the days of playing with toy cars.” In this piece, the twenty broken toy cars represent the twenty children killed that day and the six red lines represent the adults who died trying to protect them. There are 1,000 stitches that make up those six red lines – one for each of the 1,000 shootings on school grounds in the ten years since this horrific tragedy.
“Flight and Freedom” pairs two artists actively engaged in the dialogue of change. For Weisberg the works explore history in order to shine a light on the eternal desire for a new and hopeful future. For Stoltz and her sewn creations, it is social justice that is held up to the mirror of freedom and democracy.
Ruth Weisberg and Heather Stoltz will be the featured guests on March 15, 2023, 7:00 pm MST on Art and Scroll Studio: A zoom series that celebrates the makers and creators of Judaic art.
To see a short preview, click here https://bit.ly/WeisbergStoltzPreview
To register for the virtual and free program please click here: https://bit.ly/WeisbergStoltzFreeTickets
Shelley Werner is a designer and the moderator of Art and Scroll Studio. She is the curator and host of the Art and Scroll Studio YouTube channel (YouTube.com/@artandscrollstudio