The Stories Behind the Pictures 5778


The Jewish Eye 5778/2018 Calendar of Art

The Stories Behind the Pictures

TJE 5778 cover
I’m pleased to present this year’s JEWISH EYE Calendar of Art.  This beautifully printed wall calendar measures 11″x17″ (open), and covers all of the Hebrew year 5778 and all of 2018, with half pages for the last three months.  Order your calendars here!

Interested in buying original art?  Many of these paintings are for sale.  Please inquire for prices: durga.yael@gmail.com.

Each image has a caption in the printed calendar which is separate from these stories.

All images are available as cards and posters.

All artwork © Durga Yael Bernhard.  Please do not use without written permission.

Shana Tova u’metukah – Wishing you a good and sweet new year!

_____________

SEPTEMBER 2017

 

The Book of Life

oil on canvas – 24″x 24″
completed November 2016

I never feel so alone, and yet so together with others, as I do on Yom Kippur.  The polarity of individual versus communal experience is heightened on this day.  The High Holiday liturgy brings us face to face with our deepest selves: the weaknesses and regrets, aspirations and sorrows which each person must come to terms with.  Yet we do this in a group setting, with the largest turnout of the year gathered under the tent.  Surrounded by others, we meditate in solitude, everyone flawed, everyone hungry, everyone striving to return to their true intentions.  Many people, including myself, are in the grip of personal concerns.  This individual accounting is unknown to those around you, yet never more vivid as the text of the machzor (high holiday prayer book) brings us back to face it again and again.

Especially moving to me is the Unetanah Tokef, the ancient liturgical poem that reminds us of our mortality and the many paths our fate may take.  I decided to incorporate some of these verses into this painting of the Book of Life, woven into a colorful patchwork of people standing together in prayer, each person alone within togetherness.  How shall each of us be inscribed for the coming year?

To be inscribed at all carried a different meaning in ancient times, for writing was rare and privileged,  an act that etched into reality a name, a transaction, a declaration or an edict.  The mythic Sefer Chayim (“Book of the Living”) is imagined as a place where our destiny is first inscribed and then sealed. We begin the new year humble in the face of the unknown.

This original painting is for sale; please inquire if you’re interested.  All images are available as cards and posters.


ALL ARTWORK © DURGA YAEL BERNHARD.
DO NOT USE WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

 

OCTOBER 2017

 

The Birth of Cain and Abel

acrylic & ink on handmade watercolor paper
32″x 24″ – completed February 2017

Throughout Jewish history, artists have illustrated the great stories of B’reishit – the Book of Genesis.  From the seven days of Creation to the Garden of Eden, from Abraham’s journey to Jacob’s flocks, evocative images abound.  The first time I read the Torah week by week, I made sketches of the entire book.

Adam and Eve are the mythic progenitors not only of all humans, but seemingly of human behavior, too.  From their loins issues the most primal division among people: sibling rivalry, which continues throughout B’reishit and throughout the entire Torah, progressing through the narrative from murderous to conniving relationships between brothers, to forgiving and finally to peaceful relations between the last two: Aaron and Moses.

I found some exquisite handmade watercolor paper at my local art supply store, and bought their entire stock – enough to illustrate all of B’reishit.  The paper is textured almost like white Jerusalem stone, and calls for acrylics rather than oils.  I also used brown ink to lay out the most structural lines of the painting.

This original painting is for sale; please inquire if you’re interested.  All images are available as cards and posters.

ALL ARTWORK © DURGA YAEL BERNHARD.
DO NOT USE WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

 

NOVEMBER 2017

 

Jacob’s Lentils

acrylic & ink on handmade watercolor paper
16″x 20″ – completed March 2017

I used to jokingly refer to B’reishit (Genesis) as the Book of Siblings with my third and fourth-grade Judaica students.  They could relate to the many disputes between brothers (oddly, there are fewer between sisters).  Again and again arch-rivalry arises, bringing with it lots of trouble – and many tales of how not to be.  Cain murders Abel.  Abraham and Lot part ways.  Isaac displaces Ishmael from the house of his father.  Dina’s brothers slay numerous men in their over-zealous defense of their sister.

Most resonant for me is the relationship between Jacob and Esau, as I relate to both brothers:  as a child, I was like Jacob, intellectual and artistic, and in some ways stole attention from my sister.  As an adult, I was like Esau, as my sister became an urban businesswoman, and I took on a rural lifestyle.  Like Esau, I lived off the earth, growing my own food and even bowhunting for wild game in my younger years.  I still sleep with deer and bear pelts on my bed.  When Jacob dons his brother’s furs, I can relate.  Most of all, my sister and I still grapple with the dynamics that have drawn us together and driven us apart all our lives.  As with Jacob and Esau, there are intense highs and lows, peaks and valleys of love and loathing.  My painting strives to express this evolution between siblings – the joy and the agony of shared genes.

All images are available as cards and posters.

ALL ARTWORK © DURGA YAEL BERNHARD.
DO NOT USE WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

 

DECEMBER 2017

 

Jacob’s Gift

acrylic & ink on handmade watercolor paper
16″x 20″ – completed February 2017

Continuing with my series of paintings of B’reishit – the Book of Genesis – here is my version of the coat of many colors that Jacob gives to Joseph.  Like the other works in this series, this is painted in acrylics on special handmade watercolor paper.  I used quick brushwork, allowing some of the paper to show through.

Joseph is the child of Jacob’s heart and firstborn of his beloved Rachel.  What I wanted most of all was to depict the moment Jacob gives this special gift to his son, and Joseph’s childish delight in receiving it.  The coat of many colors represents Jacob’s fatherly love and protection, which he lavishes on his son with pleasure.  Few are the sons who receive such devotion, then and now.  And Joseph thrives, and carries that love within him, and is sustained by unshakable faith when the going gets rough – for Joseph’s special place as the favored son comes with a heavy price.  Yet his father’s endowment is like sunshine in a dark dungeon.  Joseph emerges alive and victorious, ascending from doom to great fortune.

In this story, God’s favor acts in alignment with a father’s love.  As with the story of Noah, it is a rainbow of colors that represents hope, and the promise of a better future.  What better subject for an artist?  No wonder B’reishit has been so richly illustrated over the ages.  I am honored to join the line.

All images are available as cards and posters.

ALL ARTWORK © DURGA YAEL BERNHARD.
DO NOT USE WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

 

JANUARY 2018

 

Roman Ruins, Tzippori

oil on grey linen canvas – 24″x 18″
completed March 2017

I visited Tzippori, Israel in 2011.  Adjacent to the national park that is home to the Roman ruins shown here, there is a large moshav – a collective like a kibbutz, with modified private ownership.  Like many moshavim, Tzippori is partly agricultural, with melon fields, greenhouses full of tomatoes grown for seed, olive groves, and even its own small olive press.  My purpose in visiting Tzippori was to see all this, and to meet the olive grower – a friendly woman named Raquel who hailed from Wales, of all places.  This was part of my research for The Life of an Olive (published in November 2016 by Heliotween Books).

Raquel showed us around, invited my friends and I to taste the olives, and patiently answered my questions.  I took photos and scribbled notes.  Then she showed us a place where we could enter the national park near the ruins, without having to drive several kilometers to go through the main entrance.  Behind the moshav’s greenhouses, the archeological excavation was partly unenclosed.  We climbed over some rubble and found our way to the Roman ruins.

Within seconds we went back in time two millennia, from paved roads and modern farm equipment to crumbling pillars and foundations built two thousand years ago.  I found myself walking on the remains of a street, long ruts in the white cobblestone gouged by heavy metal wheels so long ago.  My mind struggled to grasp the span of time revealed before me – a common occurrence, in Israel.

This is my first oil painting done on gray linen canvas.  What a pleasure, to articulate light Jerusalem stone on a medium-tone surface.  Working from dark to light is a new experience in oils.  I can’t wait to paint on grey linen again!

This original painting is for sale; please inquire if you’re interested.  All images are available as cards and posters.

ALL ARTWORK © DURGA YAEL BERNHARD.
DO NOT USE WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

 

FEBRUARY 2018

 

Olive Grove, Gezer

oil on canvas – 30″x 20″
completed March 2017

The year after I visited Tzippori, research for The Life of an Olive drew me back to Israel for the third time.  This time, my 10-year-old daughter and I visited Kibbutz Gezer, in between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, where we joined an olive-picking crew for a week and participated in the harvest.  There I did numerous sketches, quick studies in gouache, and took hundreds of photos.

Dani Livney was the olive grower, and an important mentor to me in shaping the book.  He took this photo of the olive grove last spring, and sent it to me when he received the first copies of the book.  I spent many hours among these trees, picking olives, picnicking with the harvest crew, drawing and painting.  Normally I can’t paint a landscape exclusively from a photo, but since I’ve walked the earth here and felt the contour of the land, I was able to pull it off.  I remember well the lacy shadows and light under the trees that gestured toward each other, like ballroom dancers caught in a frozen moment.  So shapely, those trees.  My love of olive trees grew well beyond the needs of the book, and the friendships I made at Gezer have lasted.  I hope to be back there for the harvest again – who knows, maybe even this fall.

This original painting is for sale; please inquire if you’re interested.
All images are available as cards and posters.

ALL ARTWORK © DURGA YAEL BERNHARD.
DO NOT USE WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

 

MARCH 2018

 

The Pieceworker

oil on canvas – 24″x 20″
completed April 2017

This painting grew out of a trip to Ellis Island and Manhattan’s Lower East Side two years ago.  It was just before my daughter’s bat mitzvah, and the purpose of the trip was to research her “mitzvah project”.  Sage was doing the mitzvah (in this context, a good deed that incorporates  Jewish learning) of exploring her ancestry, by visiting where her great-grandmother had been 103 years earlier when she arrived in New York in 1912.   The end result of my daughter’s hard work was a beautiful hardcover book about her great-grandmother’s journey from Hungary to America, along with thousands of other hopeful immigrants.  We printed enough copies of Journey of Hope, so that everyone related to her great grandmother who was still alive would receive one.

I helped my daughter with many aspects of the project, and as the book took shape, so did this painting in my mind.  Growing up, my grandmother was my closest relative.  After she died, and as I began to explore my Jewish heritage, she became the subject of numerous paintings.  This one almost resembles an illustration, with its small narrative vignettes.  It’s a cross between a window and a quilt, and speaks not only of my grandmother’s life, but that of all milliners, tailors, and pieceworkers who burned the kerosene late at night in their Lower East Side tenements.  I strive to imagine the lives they endured – and somehow, find beauty and meaning in the hardship of those who came before me.

This original painting is for sale; please inquire if you’re interested.  All images are available as cards and posters.

ALL ARTWORK © DURGA YAEL BERNHARD.
DO NOT USE WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

 

APRIL 2018

 

View from Yad Vashem
(From Darkness to Light)

acrylic on canvas – 41″x 31″ framed
completed March 2011

The second place I visited on my first trip to Jerusalem was Yad Vashem.  I immediately loved this side of the city, with its spacious valleys and sunlit, patchy hills.  What a contrast to step into the dark, angular world of Yad Vashem, in the heart of the modern nation that was formed as a result of that tragedy.  This painting strives to express this duality of darkness and light.

Passing from one exhaustively documented, meticulously presented exhibit to the next, one is quickly overwhelmed in this Holocaust memorial museum.  The sheer volume of numbers to be grasped is staggering.  At the end of all this is the massive Hall of Names, with its high cylindrical atrium bearing photos of many thousands who perished in the Shoah (Holocaust).  The archives below the photos silently commemorate 3.9 million Jews.  Three million more have yet to be identified.  Wiping my tears, I stopped at the office to ask for a form with which I would add the names of my Hungarian great-aunts and great-grandparents, who I never met and my grandmother never saw again once she arrived in America, to the database.

Every person depicted in this painting is based on a real photograph in the Hall of Names, which I was able to view up close on the museum’s website.

At the end of the museum’s dark passage, I felt as if I had been digested somehow by this canal of human suffering.  All previous conceptions of the Holocaust were broken down, and the particles of new information were sinking in at a cellular level.  I was glad to see the light at the end of the dark tunnel, where dazed visitors exit the building via an open air balcony that overlooks the forested hills of Jerusalem.  One emerges from the convulsive sorrow of the Shoah into the spacious, sunny relief of being in Israel.  Tov l’hiyot ba’aretz – it is good to be on the land.  And it is easy to imagine the souls of all those faces escaping their papery confines and floating beyond the building to rest in the trees, to soak into the earth from whence their ancestors came so long ago.  The roots of Jewish ancestry are everywhere in Israel, and they continue to fertilize the soil from which the nation grows.

This original painting is for sale; please inquire if you’re interested.  All images are available as cards and posters.

ALL ARTWORK © DURGA YAEL BERNHARD.
DO NOT USE WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

 

MAY 2018

Arriving in Jerusalem

acrylic & collage on canvas – 20″x 10″
completed March 2011

I’ve always loved making collages.  As a teenager, I built a huge one on my bedroom wall, which (much to my parents’ dismay) slowly tilted out of alignment with the walls and floor, slanting inexorably as it grew.  In high school, where I learned mechanical drawing (with special permission from the principal, as girls did not usually take this class), I built collages on compressed cardboard, fitting together precisely-cut shapes.  I discovered the joy of structure, and the art of crafting a frame for content.

In my twenties, I used collage to lay down a painting surface, and to recycle precious scraps of rice papers collected in a drawer; or strips of birchbark found in the forest, carefully peeled and flattened with glue and a heavy book.

In this piece, collage and paint are combined as equals to create a landscape with found paper objects.  The paint is the background – textured and receding – and the collage makes up the content.  Each artifact shown here – tickets and pieces of pamphlets and such – carries a memory of a place I visited in Israel.  This was my first trip, and embedded in these memories is the freshness of new eyes on an unknown place.  In Israel, history is alive in the enduring landscape, for it stretches all the way back, and is still unfolding.  I’ll never forget my first Egged bus ride, walking and painting at Ne’ot Kedumim, visiting the Biblical zoo, or the exquisite cantorial music I heard at the Jerusalem theater (see blue ticket stub with the Hebrew letter shin shaped like a lyre that reads Shir HaLevi’im – Song of the Levites).  I’m eternally grateful to the friend who made this trip possible.

The drive to Jerusalem from Ben Gurion airport takes an hour.  As the road begins to climb into the Jerusalem hills, long, winding curves snake along vast ravines and wadis, each turn yielding a new and magnificent view.  In addition to the memories embedded in the collage, I wanted a panorama to convey a sense of this zany, uplifting ride to the ancient city of white stone.  The Mediterranean landscape is my favorite, with its sparse vegetation and dark cypress that punctuate the gently curving land like the plume of a hat.  I was in heaven, and about to arrive in Jerusalem.

This original painting is for sale; please inquire if you’re interested.  All images are available as cards and posters.

ALL ARTWORK © DURGA YAEL BERNHARD.
DO NOT USE WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

 

JUNE 2018

Olive Tree, 1570

watercolor pencil & acrylic on watercolor paper – approx. 22″x 16″
completed April 2016

This is my favorite illustration from The Life of an Olive, the picture book I wrote about a 2000-year-old olive tree, and the history that unfolds in its valley over the course of its lifespan.  In the year 1570, the tree is approximately 1500 years old (having sprouted from a pit as the Second Temple fell).  It took a long time to articulate that aged, wrinkling bark.  A great deal of research went into this book – a labor of love for me which took a seven years before the book finally came to fruition last fall.  I spent ten days in Jerusalem visiting historical sites, and explored the ruins at Tzippori that date back to the first centuries of the Common Era.  I walked the land and painted the wild figs and olives in the northern Galilee.  I visited the area of Tzfat and Ein Zeitim; and slept in Kaditah for two nights – where the book is placed – at the shrine of Rabbi Tarfon, where in reality a giant oak stands with massive, outstretched boughs creating an oasis of shade for pilgrims – for that is what I felt like, visiting the place.  The ancient oak is lovingly named “The Tree of Mercy”.

To bring the Inquisition alive, I read The Last Jew by Noah Gordon and The Source by James Michener.  The exodus of over 350,000 Jews from Sepharad (Spain) had a tidal wave ripple effect on Israel, then under the rule of the Ottomans, who more or less tolerated Jews.  Some nations, such as Turkey and Greece, even welcomed them, and they went on to thrive in cities like Salonika and Istanbul – for a time.  In the Galilee, Kabbalah was infused with the vision and faith of those who had survived the brutal murder machine of that terrible time.  Centuries later, the area again became refuge to Jews, many fleeing Czarist Russia.  It was a place of new hope, and in that place, my fictitious olive tree saw it all.  In Hebrew, the word “ein” also means “source” or “eye of”.  So Ein Zeitim means both “source of olives” and “eye of olives” – a perfect place for my tree that stands witness to two millennia of history.  I placed my fact-based fiction story there on the map – but used the site of Tarfon’s grave as a model for the setting.

I tried to imagine my characters’ newfound sense of peace.  Just to sit quietly and complete a task  would be a relief for these children, who are at the end of a long and arduous journey into exile.  But they won’t feel out of place for long, for this family knows olive trees well, and this ancient tree will give them sustenance in many more ways than just olive oil (read the book to learn more!).   Jewish people have always looked forward and built new lives wherever they’re led.  Ester’s fuel cakes would be fragrant with freshly-pressed olive mash – a familiar harvest smell, to a girl from Sepharad.  Ezra’s scroll would have the thick texture of goatskin – something from the old country which he can bring to the sages in Tzfat with whom he will study.  These are the fundamentals of the life that lay ahead for these lucky children: nature, food, and learning.

This original illustration is for sale; please inquire if you’re interested.  All images are available as cards and posters.

ALL ARTWORK © DURGA YAEL BERNHARD.
DO NOT USE WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

 

JULY 2018

Ein Gedi

acrylic on handmade watercolor paper
12″x 16″ – completed December 2016

Ein Gedi National Park in Israel’s Judean Desert is one of my favorite places on earth.  I first went there in 2009.  The magic of this desert oasis, with its lush waterfalls and mineral-blue pools, is almost indescribable.  I loved hiking up the ravine, ascending by steps along the trickling water, under clefts of rock, past the cool shade of a bullrush where sleepy hyraxes (a woodchuck-like creature) stared at us from a natural shelf between two boulders.  I’ll never forget my first dip in those waterfalls!  It felt like an immersion in a stream of blessing.

Thus it makes sense to symbolize Ein Gedi with a stream that emits from the eye of the Creator, centered in the palm of a hamsa – a hand-shaped talisman with an eye in the palm, popular all over the Middle East.   I carried this image in my mind for many months until one day, I came upon a handmade watercolor paper on sale at my local art supply store.  With its rough, organic texture, it was the perfect surface for painting the rocks of Ein Gedi and the white foam of a waterfall.  Concept and paper came together, and the painting was born.  I love when an idea and an incident coincide and cross-fertilize each other!  Synchronicity abounds.

This original painting is for sale; please inquire if you’re interested.  All images are available as cards and posters.

ALL ARTWORK © DURGA YAEL BERNHARD.
DO NOT USE WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

 

AUGUST 2018

Valley of the Cross

acrylic on canvas – 24″x 12″
completed October 2010

Oh what a dry and scratchy place!  That is my first association with Emeq Hamatzlevah – the Valley of the Cross – for I had nothing to sit on and could not get comfortable on the rough and rocky ground as I furiously sketched the landscape.  Thorny dry weeds poked into my side, and the September sun was scorchingly hot.  I had only a few hours left before I had to leave for the airport.

Walking home from the Israel Museum, my friend and I had found our way into the Valley of the Cross, where women pushed babies in strollers and runners jogged along the path.  It wasn’t long before I found what I was looking for: a view through something near of something further away.  Better yet, the close-up object was none other than an olive tree, its shapely branches reaching out like the arms of a ballerina.  And in the distance, another olive tree, with the overlapping shapes of buildings rising up the hill of a west Jerusalem neighborhood.  An ideal combination of nature and architecture, near and far – I loved it.

Contrasting scales (viewing the far through something near) is a common theme in my landscapes.  Olive trees were my preferred subject on that trip, as I was there to research my picture book in progress, The Life of an Olive,.  I also had another purpose: to sketch the ground-level flora of the land.  The texture of the soil, the appearance of pebbles and rocks, the common weeds are almost impossible to research over the internet.  I did several sketches, and depicted the ground in a simplified way in this painting’s foreground.  That which photographers do not bother to capture is what is most ordinary under my characters’ feet as they live out their lives.  If I want to convey a sense of place, I have to get down on the ground and get dirty – and in this case, a little bit scratched.

All images are available as cards and posters.

ALL ARTWORK © DURGA YAEL BERNHARD.
DO NOT USE WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

 

SEPTEMBER 2018

Machane Yehudah

gouache painting on watercolor paper
16″ wide – completed 2010

Machane Yehudah is an open-air covered market in west Jerusalem.  The most well-known and beloved shuk in the city, it’s a lively, crowded place, with a dizzying array of foods: fresh produce; olives of many colors; crocks of  loose spices, each with a price tag in the shape of a hamsa stuck on top; Israeli wines; spiced goat cheese; a Judaica shop piled with stacks of colorful kippot and shiny chanukiyot; not to mention humus, halvah, bourekas, felafel, shwarma, and many other delicious Israeli foods.

What better place for the opening spread of my picture book, Around the World in One Shabbat? The story begins on a Friday morning, with two children shopping  for the Sabbath with their Savta.  I walked around the shuk with my camera, taking pictures of diverse people and foods for illustration reference.  The result is this colorful panoply, a parade of humanity (and stray cats) for a child’s eye.

As the 25-hour cycle of Shabbat continues through the book, the reader travels from family to family and country to country, from lighting the candles to blessing the wine and bread, from singing zemirot (songs for the Sabbath) to reading the weekly Torah portion, from eating the Sabbath lunch to the special rest of menuchah – all are known in different ways and to varying degrees by Jews around the world.  For all of humanity, the Sabbath is a time for rejuvenation and replenishment as we cycle through a day of holy time.  Thus each illustration is designed in the shape of an oval – to create a sense of separation or enclosure that is cyclical in nature.

All images are available as cards and posters.

ALL ARTWORK © DURGA YAEL BERNHARD.
DO NOT USE WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

 

OCTOBER 2018

The Road to Masada

acrylic on canvas – 18″x 36″
completed April 2011

This is the only landscape I’ve ever painted entirely from memory.  There was no way to take a night photo as we drove along the base of these cliffs in Israel’s Judean Desert.  We had little over an hour till dawn, and were racing the sunrise, eager to climb the “snake path” to the top of Masada in time to watch the sun rise over the Dead Sea.

We left Jerusalem around 3am on a hot August night, and quickly made our way east and south toward Qumran, near the northern tip of the Dead Sea.  From there the road borders the sea, following the base of a succession of towering mesas.  The road is visible at the bottom of the painting as a narrow purplish ribbon – a two-lane highway which indicates the scale of the land.

My friend drove, while I opened my window, put my seat back and gazed upward at the giant sentinels that towered above me, many stories high, appearing to slide past as if we were on a ship passing great icebergs in the night.  I struggled to grasp the idea that Abraham is believed to have traveled here on foot over three millennia before our rented car came chugging along; that David sought refuge here before he was king; that the shepherds of Qumran grazed their sheep in this desert and drank this night air.  I gazed upward as we drove, and took it all in.  For the painting I knew would take shape, I memorized to the best of my ability every color, every shape, the immense silence, the unfathomable passage of time that manifests in this desert.

At 4:30am it was still dark as we pulled into the Masada national monument parking lot.  The temperature was already over 90 degrees (Fahrenheit).  We made it to the top just as the sun rose over the hills of  Jordan on the far side of the Dead Sea.

This original painting is for sale; please inquire if you’re interested.  All images are available as cards and posters.

ALL ARTWORK © DURGA YAEL BERNHARD.
DO NOT USE WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

 

NOVEMBER 2018

Jacob’s Ladder

acrylic & ink on handmade watercolor paper
14″x 24″ – completed March 2017

Two years ago I had the pleasure of tutoring a very special girl for her bat mitzvah.  Her special day fell on the reading of parshah Vayeitzi – the Torah portion that includes the tale of Jacob’s ladder.  As a student of modern dance, Sophia loved the image of angels going up and down a mythic ladder to heaven.  As a girl living in Woodstock, NY, she was also intrigued to learn that Jacob named the place Beit El – Bethel, or house of God – the name of the town where the Woodstock festival took place in 1969 (about an hour’s drive from Woodstock proper).  Sophia composed and performed a dance of Jacob and the angels which was performed as part of her bat mitzvah ceremony.  Sophia donned a beard and played Jacob, accompanied by four girls dressed as angels – all of whom delighted the congregation.

I was very intrigued by this story when I first read it, too, and have long wanted to depict it in a painting.  Brainstorming with Sophia about the ladder for her dance performance, and watching the movements choreographed for the angels, I began to think about my prospective painting in a more focused way.  The vertical format was fairly obvious.  I realized it would have to be large – perhaps taller than any painting I’ve done.  The ladder became fluid and curved in my mind’s eye, and the angels like the moving silhouettes of birds, waving their wings as if swimming up a stream – not a stream of water, but of God’s energy – for Jacob was blessed with God’s presence, protection, and promise of a future for his people.

The time and resources needed to paint such a large, tall canvas have yet to show up since then.  I’m sure I’ll get to it someday, b’ezrat Hashem (God willing).  In the meantime, I did a small, quick color study to anchor the image, working in the same style as the other paintings of Jacob shown  in this calendar.

This original painting is for sale; please inquire if you’re interested.  All images are available as cards and posters.

ALL ARTWORK © DURGA YAEL BERNHARD.
DO NOT USE WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

 

DECEMBER 2018

Hannah’s Prayer

gouache painting on watercolor paper
5.5″x 8.5″ – completed 2008

For over twenty years, I have worked for several Christian publishers that distribute to the United Church of Christ, a progressive denomination that is all over the U.S.  This illustration was one such assignment.  I was commissioned to illustrate the passage from the Book of Samuel in which Hannah prays fervently for a child.   Her yearning is so great, she gives birth not only to a son, but seemingly to prayer itself, as Hannah’s priest is first puzzled and then amazed by her emotional outpouring.  In ancient times, ritual and sacrifice were the most common expressions of piety.  Eventually, new ways of practicing devotion were introduced by the likes of Hannah: study, learning, meditation and prayer.  As an intellectual act infused with emotion, prayer was a powerful new way for the individual to connect to God.

I could relate to Hannah’s longing for motherhood, and accepted the assignment eagerly.  For nine years I yearned for a child with every cell in my body, until finally my son was born.  Dozens of images of fertility, pregnancy, and birth grew out of those years, resulting in my large collection of mother and child art.  This illustration job was effortless, for it came from my own experience.  My own pregnancy had progressed through the seasons from winter to spring to summer (and almost back to winter).  Rather than literally depicting Hannah’s unborn child, the progression of the seasons seemed like a good symbol for the fruition of her prayers.

Every year, as the reading of this passage comes up in the Christian liturgy, I receive messages from churches around the country – priests and pastors from parishes large and small, rural and urban.  They wish to license Hannah’s Prayer for use in their printed literature.  Or somebody writes from the parish to comment on the image, or just to thank me for painting it.  I’m delighted and amazed by the response to this painting from Jews and Christians alike.

All images are available as cards and posters.

ALL ARTWORK © DURGA YAEL BERNHARD.
DO NOT USE WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

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Jacob’s Gift

Introducing

The Jewish Eye 5778/2018 Calendar of Art

Jacob's Gift© Durga Yael Bernhard

TJE 5778 coverMy new calendar just went to press!  THE JEWISH EYE 5778/2018 Calendar of Art will be available by mid-July.  Featured this week is the cover image, Jacob’s Gift.  Many of you will know what this is without any caption: it is the story of Joseph’s coat of many colors.

In B’reishit, the book of Genesis, Jacob’s favorite among twelve sons and a daughter is the firstborn of his beloved Rachel.  Jacob adores Joseph, and gives him a coat of many colors.  Colored dye was rare in ancient times, and Joseph’s special garment really stood out.  This invokes the jealousy and wrath of his brothers, who throw Joseph into a pit and then sell him to slave traders bound for Egypt.  But Joseph’s endowment of fatherly love goes with him and sustains him through the darkest times.  He seems magically blessed by God’s favor, and patiently waits for his fortunes to turn.  Never losing faith, Joseph rises from an imprisoned slave in a dungeon to a high position in Pharoah’s court.  Joseph becomes a leader, and years later, saves his own brothers from the famine that drives them to Egypt in search of food.  Joseph’s life is a tale of extraordinary faith and remarkable turns of events.

I painted this image on a piece of handmade watercolor paper that I found at my local art supply store.  The paper’s surface reminds me of white Jerusalem stone, and appealed to me so much that I left some of it showing.  It is one of several images that I hope will become part of a much larger series: illustrations of the whole book of Genesis.

I taught Judaic studies to children for three years at two different synagogues, and often used a nickname for Genesis: The Book of Siblings.  Sibling rivalry abounds in the family relations of our ancestors, just as it does today.  The Torah gives us stories of how to be, and how not to be.  More about sibling relationships in future posts.

Happy Summer and a good week to all!

D. Yael

Yael

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Paternal Web

IMAGE OF THE WEEK

Paternal Web 72dpi

In honor of Father’s Day, here is a painting I did many years ago of the father-son relationship.  Spanning three generations, the image was inspired by my studies, at the time, of Inuit art.  I had xeroxed and spiral bound an entire book on the subject which I found in the library.  The book was out of print, and I simply had to have it, so I copied the entire book.  Its influence fed me in my quest for simplicity.  Both traditional and contemporary Inuit art gave me geometric ways of expressing human nature.

I grew up without brothers, so when I became the mother of a son, it was not only new to have a child, but to watch a boy grow up.  Watching Jonah’s relationship with his father develop was fascinating.  The connection that grew between them drew its threads – some of them sinister – from the grandfather as well, and beyond to my [ex]husband’s ancestors.  My father, though my son never knew him well before he died, mysteriously emerged in his grandson’s body language.  Even my uncle’s traits showed up in my son’s personality.  And as I sat with the mothers of other little boys while our children played, I heard stories of paternal webs equally intricate, equally long-reaching in their impact.

How much choice does a young man have in what he truly inherits?  Whatever is handed down from the father and grandfather will be handed down to his own son and grandson.  Both complex and subtle, all these strands form a powerful web.  Watching my son grow up, it was almost too much for words.  So, I painted a picture!

Happy Father’s Day!

dyb

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