Mitzvah Hero: Norma Jarrett, 87, is no museum piece. But after 34 years as the director of the Olitsky Gallery at Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen, she has decided to hang up the brushes in her longtime volunteer position, remaining as curator until year’s end.
What It’s All About: Jarrett’s use of the synagogue space as a medium for artists — from veterans to those taking their initial steps on the road to prominence — has drawn accolades from the art world.
“Many years ago, when I was just starting out as an artist and arts educator, I remember visiting the gallery at Beth Or," recalls Rita Rosen Poley. “I was always impressed by the quality of work displayed there and by Norma Jarrett's assured leadership."
Now, many years later, Poley says she always tries "to emulate Norma’s standard of excellence," in her role as director and curator of the Temple Judea Museum located at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park.
And those standards have always been high: “We audition the artists who wish to display at our space,” says Jarrett, acknowledging that she derives tremendous satisfaction from “giving an artist the opportunity to show his or her talents” in such a competitive field.
Not a One-Time Thing: The ongoing relationship this visual arts-oriented volunteer has with the arts community transcends local borders. Over the years, the Olitsky Gallery has given wall space to artists from around the world, including Israel.
Reaching out in this way “gives another dimension to what we are doing” at Beth Or, Jarrett says.
The shows help fill the temple’s coffers as well: Twenty percent of exhibition sales go to Beth Or.
Good for Her: “I get more out of showing the artists than the artists get being shown,” concedes Jarrett.
Becoming gallery director “came at a time when I lost my son, who was 24,” she recalls, welling up. “I stopped painting. I thought this, directing the gallery, would be a good way” to get back into the art world while giving back to the community, the Jenkintown resident says, adding that her daughters, Donna and Robin, supported her all the way.
And what will she be doing now, with another volunteer, Karen Liebman, stepping in as gallery director?
“I’ll make myself busy," she promises.