What does Jewish Orange County represent to local artists? My Jewish OC – the Merage Jewish Community Center’s first juried art exhibit – invited artists, ages 16 and up, to submit visual artwork reflecting their vision and/or impression of Jewish life in Orange County.
The show, which opened at the Slutzky Gallery on August 1 and closes September 9, received more than 40 submissions. Seventeen pieces from thirteen artists were selected to be in the exhibit.
The art submitted was very diverse in nature – from mixed media to digital photography, sculpture and more. Each piece of art connected in its own way to the theme “My Jewish Orange County.”
A professional panel judged the pieces in two categories: amateur and professional. The winners were:
First place: Barbara Nagel Gallian, “The Righteous of the Shoah,” bronze sculpture
Second place: Alison Hyman, “The Dinner-West,” oil on canvas
Fist place: Leslye Prum, “Giant Gragger,” three-dimensional wooden sculpture
Second place: Sherry Marger, “Put Your Best Foot Forward” (For the New Year), acrylic on canvas
Gallian said, “The creation of art has been a constant in the changing landscape of my life. I have always felt that the creation of art for me was not an optional activity, but inevitable.”
Sixteen years ago she accepted this inevitability, abandoned architecture as her professional focus, and trained as a stone carver in Italy. Today her primary focus is bronze casting.
Gallian’s “The Righteous of the Shoah” was created to represent “an important conversation for us to have today here in Orange County, with the hope that the showing will inspire a permanent memorial to the Righteous of World War II.” She stated, “The sculpture is meant to applaud the righteous among us in telling the primary truth about genocide. The truth being that each life which has been saved from destruction, must be viewed through a prism of infinite unborn generations of potential saved as well.”
Believing that the Jewish community in Orange County is highly diverse, inclusive and essentially global in its expression of Judaism, Gallian intends for the sculpture to give a voice to the pivotal nature of women in our community. As she explained, “Symbolically, the righteous woman provides shelter for future generations within the cloak of humanity. In the sculpture, the women, a Jew and a Christian, are spiritually joined in the guardianship of the unborn.”
She quoted Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis in an excerpt from In God’s Mirror: Reflections and Essays: “Breathe spirit into the smoldering ashes of the cremated past that the sparks of decency may be fanned to light the candle of many wicks to enlighten the future. Bear witness to goodness that our hearts not fail.”
Hyman, who received her BA (hons) from Glasgow School of Art in Glasgow, Scotland, and earned a postgraduate teaching degree, has spent most of her life teaching art and design in high schools and colleges. She exhibited in many group shows in the UK. After moving to London in the early 80s, Hyman had her first solo show.
Hyman moved to the USA (Palm Springs) in 1997 and has continued with creating since then, exhibiting in many juried shows in Palm Springs and sharing a studio with a friend. She moved to Irvine in late 2004 to put her youngest daughter into Tarbut v’Torah.
“It took a couple of years to convert my garage into the perfect studio, and then after hearing about Laguna College I applied to the MFA program and graduated with an MFA in figurative painting in 2011,” she said. In the last few years her paintings have been accepted to many juried shows and at present there are some in Laguna Gallery 793 and in Palo Alto Pacific Art League, both juried shows.
“You could say that after my family and friends, my art is my life,” Hyman said. “My husband got an email about the exhibition, and I thought that it was so interesting that my whole exploration for the last few years has been family and faith. I had created a series of paintings of my friends and family at tables at Rosh Hashanah, Pesach and Shabbats, which seemed to fit exactly with the theme of the exhibition. These paintings are very personal, trying to recreate that sense of joy and plenty when you are sitting at a festival or Shabbat table, having eaten and drunk very good food and wine, where the conversation is flowing and moving around and across the table.”
She added, “My other love after family and painting is entertaining, and as friends and neighbors will attest, my kitchen is always at the ready.”
Leslye Prum said, “Art plays an intrinsic role in my life. Artistic seedlings tend to sprout in my sleep, and those creative ideas ignite others that expand and develop until ready to burst forth. If I want to get any serenity, I am compelled to release them into my art. There are times when I crave color or the multiplicity of images, and other times when I feel the passion of creating with fabric. I think that is why I work in so many artistic media. I enjoy the diversity of different avenues to express my varied ideas and passions, which I hope will bring together people and communities.”
Prum was raised in North Orange County from the time when the Jewish community was just beginning to arrive. Throughout her childhood, she grew up as one of the only Jewish children in La Habra.
“I know the importance of having a positive Jewish identity and community, so I actively advocate for Jewish affiliation,” Prum added. “Participation in the My Jewish OC exhibit combines my passions of art and Jewish identity by helping bring together people and communities, as well as promoting a growing awareness that there is an artistic Jewish presence in Orange County.”
“Art has always played a significant role in my life,” said Marger. “I have been drawing and painting ever since I was a young child and was always encouraged by my parents to continue.”
Marger studied art education in college and taught for a short period of time. She worked in the graphics field while raising her children. Several years ago, she was hired to coordinate an international art exhibition for the AIDS Services Foundation of Orange County.
“I’ve always known that community involvement in a cause is important, but that experience made me realize that the expressions of art can truly reach many people in different ways. When the information became available about My Jewish OC, I felt it was another avenue to challenge that idea. This is my first attempt to paint with a Judaic theme and I was inspired by celebrating Tashlich on the beach, which to me is the epitome of Jewish Orange County. So truly, it’s not how the role of art plays in my life, but how my life plays in my art.”
Of her artwork for the exhibit, Marger explained, “For several years we have attended “Tashlich” (the ritual of symbolically casting off the sins of the previous year by tossing pieces of bread or another food into a body of flowing water) at the beach through our synagogue, Temple Beth David of Westminster…It is always a different Jewish experience than we we’re used to in the confines of the Temple settings. Here we are in California, particularly in Huntington Beach, and what better way to be Jewish and sharing the holidays. It’s definitely, My Jewish Orange County.