As a guidance counselor for the School District of Philadelphia, Linda Dubin Garfield always taught her students to follow their dreams. But it wasn't until she retired in 2002 that she actually practiced what she preached when it came to her life.
From the age of 8, Garfield was interested in art, but "never felt good enough at it." So in college, she majored in English and worked for 38 years as a teacher and a guidance counselor. During that time, she dabbled in art on the side – usually favoring print-making – but really never took her abilities seriously.
Upon retirement, Garfield inherited some money and decided to "do something I wouldn't normally do" with it, so she signed up for an art workshop being given in New Mexico.
"While there I said, 'When I get back, I'm going to make a room in my house into a studio and I'm going to be an artist,' " recalled the Wynnewood resident. "It takes a lot of guts to say you are an artist."
Soon after returning from her trip, she was asked to show her prints in Espresso Cafe & Sushi Bar, a kosher restaurant in the Northeast. She said that she got great feedback, and from that first show was able to sell a number of pieces.
But as an emerging artist, the 62-year-old realized there were so many questions she had that really could only be understood by other artists – like how to get art pieces into a joint show or how to perform certain art-related tasks. Of primary importance, she didn't have a place to seek emotional support.
So late last year, Garfield and another friend started ARTsisters, a nonprofit support group for emerging women artists. The 16-member group now meets once a month at the Borders in Wynnewood, and displays work on a rotating basis in a meeting-room-turned-art-gallery on top of the Curves health club in Manayunk.
The group of artists – some sculptors, some painters, some print-makers – aims to unite, support, encourage, critique and inspire one another. Garfield also said that about 35 artists are on an e-mail list that posts questions and answers that arise over the month between meetings.
The group is growing so rapidly, she said, that the members are thinking of limiting the number of new additions or forming smaller groups – based on the medium the artists work in – to keep the sessions intimate.
Garfield said that her work – prints usually of plants, landscapes, Judaica or more abstract designs – is inspired by her love of color and nature.
"Color is a gift," stated this wife, mother of two and grandmother of six. "The world could be the same without it, only not as visually pleasing."
'Art, Children and Israel'
Besides setting up the support group, the modern Orthodox Garfield, a member of both Congregation Beth Hamedrosh in Wynnewood and Lower Merion Synagogue in Bala Cynwyd, had even deeper intentions for her new profession.
From the first time she started displaying and selling her pieces, Garfield – the co-president of the Philadelphia council of AMIT – decided to donate all of her proceeds to the 80-year-old organization. For 30 years, Garfield has been involved with the group, which raises money for disadvantaged children in Israel. She has served as president of the Main Line chapter, which she helped form, and as regional vice president on the national board in New York.
As part of her involvement, she's traveled to Israel several times – bringing various members of her family along with her – to see the organization's work firsthand.
"It's a great cause – and I'm not going to make enough money to pay my rent anyway," she said. "It's a way for me to connect all the things I love: art, children and Israel."