Whether it be a finely cooked meal, a well decorated table-setting, or a work of art, I believe the urge to create is innate in every woman. Woman, after all, is the ultimate creation of the supreme creator – Hashem. Hashem created a majestic, magnificent world, perfectly composed with vibrant colors, vivid foliage, and multi-colored flora, aesthetically pleasing to the eye and we, who were created in His image, are endowed with the unique soul of the artist, with the desire to create beauty.
There has been a real renaissance of artistic creativity in our community, and we are blessed with many talented artistic women. Our community women have artwork displayed in a large number of locales – our own Sephardic Community Center, local restaurants, JCC galleries throughout New Jersey, small galleries in small towns, large galleries in Manhattan, the prestigious Art Expo in NYC and even Art Basel, a yearly multi-day event in Miami, Florida. Our artists teach classes for women and children, privately, and in our schools. Our equally talented interior decorators are commissioning work from our community artists to enhance the beauty of the homes of their clients.
The Drive to Create
I had the wonderful opportunity to converse with many of these women, to gain an understanding of their craft and what drives them to create. I found kindred spirits who have a passion for creativity, who find joy in the artistic endeavor, and a delight in sharing with others.
Many of the artists I spoke with attributed their love of art to being exposed to it at a very young age by their mothers. Lesley Kassin recalls that her interest in art “began when I was a young girl and my mom took me to painting classes. I knew that I really enjoyed being creative and working with my hands.” Sisters Grace Azar and Irene Cohen were both exposed to art at a young age “when our mother started taking us to museums.” Renee Beyda says, “My mother encouraged me to create art, especially in our dentist’s waiting room where he had crayons and large sheets of very special paper with rounded edges.” Jill Levy recalls that most of her toddler pictures show her with a crayon in her hand! The encouragement of an adult and the excitement of youth enabled these women to discover hidden talents and passion. Pablo Picasso believed that “every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
One retains the ability to remain an artist and continue to create by virtue of inspiration
from a muse, anything that inspires your imagination toward creativity. A muse can come in a variety of ways, but should make you think, want to act, or want or create. A box of vibrant colorful pastel sticks urges me to create in the same way that a new recipe calls to a consummate chef. But the inspiration that answers the question: “What should I paint?” for me comes from my observation of nature – a radiant sunrise, a thundering waterfall, fiery red trees, or the patterns of shadow on snow. I spend much of my time collecting inspiration in the form of photographs. Inevitably, when I review the hundreds I have snapped on any given day, one calls to me and begs to be painted. Those paintings are always my favorites and are the most popular ones with my audience.
Artistic inspiration allows us to continue to create. Author Neil Gaiman expresses it most aptly when he said: “The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.” Yet the creating is just part of the endeavor, for at the soul of every artist is the desire to share that creation with others. Ilana Greenberg, owner of the Ilana Greenberg Gallery on Union Street in Brooklyn, recently hosted the FAB, (Female Artists of Brooklyn) show, which featured the art of eight of our female community artists. FAB was founded completely organically when these eight women gathered together to share their experience as artists. “Artists are very isolated while they work and having a community to share your work and your ideas is so essential to your artistic development. Artists are also terrible at promoting themselves, so we are hoping to create a platform that will make it easier to showcase the work of female artists who are working in our beloved borough of Brooklyn,” Ilana explained. “FAB is a community of women, who are there to encourage one another and help strengthen each other’s artistic pursuits – female artists supporting female artists.”
As our commitment to our family as wives, daughters, mothers, and grandmothers, supersedes all else, many female artists struggle to find the time to devote to their artistic endeavors. “Because of the many commitments in my life, I do not have enough time to create my own artworks, sometimes only a few paintings in a few months. My demonstrations for my classes will often result in completed paintings. I always wish I had more time to paint,” says Irene Cohen. Irene teaches pastel classes to women three days a week in Brooklyn, and in Deal in the summer. I owe her a huge hakarat hatov as she encouraged me to pick up pastels. Rhonda Tawil only manages to paint about one to two days per week “but would love to do more,” she says. I am blessed to be able to paint daily. Many times, I will paint with my granddaughters, which allows me to fuse two vital and pleasurable parts of my life.
Art as a Hobby and Career
Even after years of training and creating, some women still consider their art a hobby, while others found their hobby taking on a life of its own and becoming a career. Jeannette Cohen, whose artwork can be found @everythingseurope on Instagram shares: “When mosaics became an obsessive hobby, a very special friend, who is a successful interior designer, encouraged and literally pushed me into the mosaic business! I have so much appreciation for her! She gave me the shots of confidence I needed to take the leap. Fast forward many years later – my acrylic painting, collage, and mixed media, which also began as a hobby, have blossomed into a career.”
Renee Beyda says, “When I’m delving deeply into creating and preparing for shows, I consider art a career. In the past eight months or so I’ve been focusing my time on my job, where I do a lot of writing, so art has become a secondary career.” Rhonda Tawil, who majored in fine arts in college and has been painting most of her life, considers art her career and she continues to pursue avenues to show and sell her paintings. Lesley Kassin, who has a teaching degree from NYU, has parlayed her art hobby into an art teaching career. “I have done all types of art – including scrapbooking, pottery, and painting. Presently I am focusing on a type of pen and ink drawing called Zentangle and I actually obtained a certification to teach it. This art entails repetitive patterns of simple shapes, culminating in stunning, complex creations (see photo below). I am teaching this drawing style in a Product Design class at Yeshiva of Flatbush High School and it has become a very popular course.” Jill Levy also found her love of art transformed into a satisfying career. “Art was strictly a hobby and passion until I turned 28 and needed to provide for myself. I like to say my job is work that I love that feels like play. I’m fortunate that my job of teaching others doesn’t feel like work. Giving over my knowledge to others feels wonderful.”
I too have begun to teach art classes and there is such a sense of fulfillment one gets when a student unlocks their creative spirit and soars. To be able to do what we love and inspire others as well is truly a blessing and a legacy from Hashem, the ultimate Creator.
This article by no means covers all the artistic women in our community – only the ones I was able to interview. There are many talented women teaching and creating and they all deserve our support and encouragement. And you may even have a little artist at home – just waiting for that little inspiration and that big box of 64 Crayola crayons!
How Does Inspiration Call?
Jill Levy – “I am so inspired by my students. I work with people who have never held a brush in their lives. When I see the pride they feel for their work I am truly grateful to be a part of their emerging talents and abilities.”
Gracie Azar – “While on a trip to Chicago, I started to notice the different patterns of sewer covers and the wonderful patterns created by the architecture of Chicago. I began to photograph these patterns, and since then I have not been able to put my camera down. I love the simplicity of lines and the sense of order they create.”
Rhonda Tawil – “Seeing beautiful art, whether in museums and galleries, or done by colleagues, inspires and ignites my creative process.”