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Queen for a Day? Esther Celebrated by Artists

March 5, 2009 By:
Rita Rosen Poley, JE Feature
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Joan Myerson Shrager's "Book of Esther" is primed for Purim.

For artists looking for inspiration, Purim is a welcome holiday on the Jewish calendar. It involves a Jewish "queen," Esther; her gallant uncle, Mordechai; an evil force, Haman; and a king, Ahashuerus. All this is the stuff that fairy tales -- in this case, Jewish fairy tales -- are made of.

Local artist Karen Shain Schloss incorporates the story of Purim into her paper-cutting calligraphy. Most well known for her ketubot (Jewish marriage contracts), Shain Schloss also finds inspiration in historic Jewish names, and has created a series, "The Names Project," that includes Esther and Mordechai. (Sorry, don't ask for Haman or Ahashuerus!)

"The Names Project" celebrates the birth of a new baby. For each name, she customizes the image according to its meaning or significance.

Another Purim connection is found in this artist's paper-cut "Celebrations" ketubah, in which the holidays of the Jewish calendar are depicted. Most recently, she executed a customized Bat Mitzvah invitation for which the party theme is the celebration of Purim.

Local artist Joan Myerson Shrager takes yet another approach to telling the Purim story, interpreting the undercurrent of themes running through the megillah. Feminism, oppression and freedom rub up against the often raucous celebration of the holiday in prints she composes directly on the computer, using photo images, hand-coloring and digital manipulation techniques.

Two works by Shrager on Purim themes, "Purim Masque" and "Book of Esther," are displayed at an exhibition of contemporary Purim art that can be seen now at the Old City Jewish Art Center.

Tri-cornered Hats Off!

In the artist's own words, "I was inspired by the festive and raucous nature of Purim -- with masks and masques. I drew inspiration from Rembrandt, Chagall and even Betty Friedan!"

The upside-down celebration of Haman's fate is in the prints, too.

Viewers of the exhibition might find the following in this artist's personal remembrance of Purim: Hebrew lettering from the Megillah; tomb markings in Persian from Esther's mausoleum; Rembrandt's painting of Esther; groggers (Purim noisemakers), including one made by Chagall; other megillot, masks and images of Haman and hamantashen. Some are drawn freehand and some are from images gathered on the Web. The works are both hand-colored and manipulated on the computer using a bright palette. The images are realized as limited edition archival digital prints on fine art paper.

This group exhibition, titled "Planet Purim Art and More," runs from this Friday to March 26 at 119 N. 3rd St.

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