New art exhibition brings together three generations of women – | Candle Made Easy

In July 2021, mosaic artist Mia Schon and her grandmother Nancy Schon, the latter known for her sculptures including the iconic Make Way for Ducklings in the Boston Public Garden, considered hosting a family exhibition with a Jewish focus. Mia, who grew up in Newton and now lives in Israel, understood that Israel’s seven species, as described at Deuteronomy 8:8, were “a land of wheat and barley and vines and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey” – was full of meaning for her family. With the exception of pomegranates, every staple food is native to Israel and used in the celebrations of Sukkot and Shavuot.

Mia and Nancy applied to CJP’s Arts and Culture Community Impact Grant Fund to fund their Seven Species, Three Generations exhibit. Sophie Krentzman, director of arts and culture at CJP, told JewishBoston that the exhibition is a “conversation between the generations.” She explained, “The project focuses on the seven species and how the virtues of each plant or fruit embody the interconnected growth in her family of Jewish artists.”

The Kniznick Gallery at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute (HBI) in Waltham, home to women’s feminist interpretations of the seven species from July 29 to September 15, is the perfect venue. Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, director of HBI, said in an email, “I am delighted to host this show, which is rich in meaning, beautiful and engaging for all the senses. The mission of the HBI and of Jewish Studies at Brandeis more broadly is to produce and share new knowledge about Jewish life, traditions and texts. This show is a wonderful example of this, using the framework of gender, family relationships and art to give new meanings to these ritual foods and objects.”

On a recent morning, I met the Schön/Schon family (each woman uses a different spelling of her last name) via Zoom to learn more about their art work and the Seven Species exhibition, and to discuss their experiences working on a project for the first time together. As Mia shared the screen to show the seven artworks in the exhibit, she mentioned that she and Nancy randomly matched the species to their relatives.

Ellen Schön, one of Nancy’s daughters, applied her skills as a ceramist to create her piece, Family, which consists of figs designed using open source modeling software, then 3D printed, glazed and fired in an electric kiln . Ellen lives in Newton and teaches ceramics at Lesley University. Her novel approach to the task involved using 3D printed clay, which she explained “is an extruded paste or clay that’s computer controlled.” Ellen also noted that the trait associated with figs is endurance. Schön’s figs are purple-blue with light green wisps. Seven larger figs are arranged around five smaller ones. “I interpreted the figs as family,” she said. “When researching, I found out that they can be different colors, so I settled on blue ones. I tried to make my version look sun kissed. I’m also interested in fertility totems and figures, and figs being so thick and luscious are reminiscent of pregnant figs.”

The youngest artist in the family, Charlie Dov Schön Guterman, is a recent college grad who describes herself as a “textile-based found object artist”. For her track “Harvest,” her species was wheat, which she pointed out means kindness. Charlie created a mid-length wheat coat draped in tulle that she quilted. The play also reflects her double degree in arts and environmental sciences in college. The cloak brought their expertise together and inspired them to pair kindness as a necessary act and word. “The presence of a body in the mantle changes and expands the definition of what this mantle of hay and wheat looks like,” she added.

Charlie’s mother, Susan Schön, is also a textile designer who has created art from silk and objects she found in nature. Susan’s species was barley, and she simulated it for a tapestry, Barley Is Strength, made from cattails and other natural things she found on her morning runs in Andover. “I was interested in taking individual pieces that appear fragile and delicate but are really different,” she remarked. Eventually, Susan bought a 72-inch loom and weaved a fabric containing cattails and individual pieces of barley. Her fascination with bird nests came into play when she mimicked the way birds build their nests by weaving her newfangled textile piece by piece. She also included in her piece a particularly meaningful piece of driftwood, which she found 25 years ago while the family was celebrating her late father’s birthday in Gloucester. “I held this driftwood in my hands for a long time and found it to be the perfect piece to mount to the wall,” she said.

The three Schön sisters – Nancy’s granddaughters Jackie, Mia and Hannah – took up the challenge of interpreting fruits such as grapes, pomegranates and dates in a feminist light. Jackie said that painting grapes allowed her to experiment with color. “There are purple and green grapes,” she said. “Purple has different kinds of colors and it is a royal color. I also wanted to include gold. It was liberating for me because I hadn’t painted for a long time.”

Jackie founded and co-owns The Paint Bar in Newton and has taught painting and drawing there for the past 12 years. In Gilded Grapes, she portrayed her rendition of grapes attached to intertwined vines, symbolizing how her family is held together. She also used the number seven to paint seven bunches of grapes and paid tribute to three generations of artists in her family by dividing her painting into three panels.

Mia, a mosaic artist commissioned over the years to create mosaics for synagogues, private homes, and public art in Israel, incorporated the biology and Jewish symbolism of pomegranates into her I Followed the Pomegranate Seed mosaic. For this piece, Mia experimented with laser-cut acrylic mirror pomegranate shapes to hang in front of her mosaic. As she worked on her piece, she recalled that in Jewish tradition, pomegranates are said to have 613 seeds, a representation of the 613 mitzvah, or commandments, in the Torah. She also learned that pomegranate trees reproduce faster in close proximity. “They populate based on how close they are, and I felt like that’s how our family is and the art evolved for us,” she said. “The more artists there are, the more artists we will have for a fourth generation to continue this tradition.”

Hannah, the youngest sibling, is the only non-visual artist in the group. As a dancer, photographer and filmmaker from Austin, Texas, she took a different path. “While researching for my documentary, I found that California’s Coachella Valley is the largest North American exporter of dates,” she said. Hannah met Sam Cobb, the only black date farmer, or as he calls himself, an agricultural engineer in the country. “The film is documentary storytelling meets dance,” she explained. “Producing the documentary has opened my eyes and allowed me to see food through a different lens and how I incorporate dance and movement into it. My project has become an amalgamation of everything that happens in my artistic work. And I discovered that dates grow in increments of three in seven-year cycles. Those are important numbers in Sam’s farming practice.” Hannah’s video installation, The Deglet Noor, is named for the dates Cobb grows. The video will be shown in a muslin-covered corner of the Kniznick Gallery. The intent is to immerse viewers in a natural setting that Hannah has reinvented, an earthbound environment “infused with colors drawn from the vast skies of Joshua Tree and the date grove.”

Nancy Schön jokes that she’s the matriarch of this lovely artist clan. To that end, she describes her powerful piece, Generational Unity, “as a summary of the seven species with an emphasis on olives. Olives are a symbol of Israel, so it seemed natural to make a menorah sculpture that refers to the seven of us.” Nancy’s sculpture brings together versions of the seven species that her daughters and granddaughters dreamed up and brought to life. Mixed media in Nancy’s sculpture include brooms representing barley and handmade pieces of grapes and dates made of plastic, clay and paper. Additionally, Nancy incorporates real pomegranates into the piece, and although her depiction of olives and figs is made of wax, her creations are close to the real thing. “You see I have embraced the entire menorah with olive branches as if my arms would enclose my entire family,” she said. “This picture represents my story.”

Seven Species, Three Generations will open with a reception on Thursday, July 28 at 5:00 p.m. The exhibition will be on view at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute’s Kniznick Gallery through September 15.

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