Art Exhibit Presents Fabrics From Jewish Tradition

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A burning bush, Elijah’s cup and the Red Nile — all made of mosaic — decorate clay pillows in a piece for the upcoming exhibit, The Needle’s Trail, at the Temple Judea Museum.

Pillows for a Passover Seder by Ricki Lent | Photos provided

Ricki Lent, the artist behind Pillows for a Passover Seder, said museum curator Rita Rosen Poley invited her to reinterpret the idea of fabric for a piece in the exhibit. The exhibit focuses on fabric, but Lent took it in a different direction.

“The idea was to embroider some pillows with mosaic,” Lent said. “It was just sort of a fun idea to make the clay and the mosaic, which is a very hard substance, look soft, look pillowy. The theme was that at Passover, one reclines on pillows. The idea for the pillows were symbols from the Exodus story or the Passover story.”

The Needle’s Trail will run at the museum at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel from Jan. 19 to March 23. The exhibit will showcase about 100 pieces, including textiles from the museum’s collection and artwork from members of the Temple Judea Museum Artists’ Collaborative and the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework’s local chapter.

The exhibit’s purpose is to show off the museum’s collection. At least once a year, the museum puts on such an exhibition, but with different angles each time. Next year, for example, the museum will put on an exhibition that features its photography.

Poley said she hopes viewers think about the stories behind the pieces in the exhibit.

“I gave it the title The Needle’s Trail to try and make the viewers to the exhibition connect to the fact that these fabrics were made by people,” Poley said. “The Needle’s Trail is to make people think of whose hand held the needle.”

One particular piece Poley hopes viewers reflect on is a tallit katan sent from a woman in Europe to her grandson in the United States just before the Holocaust.

“She would never meet her grandson, she would never see him,” Poley said. “I want people to think about those stories in the fabric, in the object. I want them to connect that Jewish ritual is all about people connecting and community and celebrating, generation to generation.”

Jewelry Set From Reworked Torah Mantle by Naomi Godel

When Poley invited members of the Temple Judea Museum Artists’ Collaborative to participate, she showed them fabrics that the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles had gifted to the museum 15 years ago. Some artists chose to remake these materials for this exhibit, such as Naomi Godel, who turned parts of Torah mantles into a jewelry set.

Godel is a beader who has restored vintage beaded purses and designed new purses on vintage frames for 20 years. More recently, she has expanded into jewelry. She said she was taken by the Torah mantles from the Skirball Cultural Center.

“They were all originally hand-embroidered, hand-sewn, and they’re just hidden away because they can’t be used,” she said. “A lot of them are falling apart.”

She took some home to mull over and had the idea of turning a crown from one of the mantles into a breastplate. She also created Victorian-style earrings and a cuff out of other parts of the mantles.

Grandmother Stitches by Paula Mandel

Godel has another piece in the exhibit as well — a wimpel — that was not created for this particular exhibit.

“Reusing sacred items, even not for their original intent, it keeps the pieces alive,” she said.

Other artists from the collaborative, such as Lent, went in a different direction in creating pieces for The Needle’s Trail.

“Some of our artists are not fabric artists, so I tried to make it as open as possible,” Poley said. “I told our artists that they could interpret the idea of fabric in a different medium.”

Lent, who has been a member of the collaborative since Poley commissioned her for a mosaic piece at Keneseth Israel, said she hopes Pillows for a Passover Seder brings back fond memories of past seders to viewers.

“It brought back lots of memories,” Lent said. “It was just a fun play on reclining on pillows.”  

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