Life Cycle

IMAGE OF THE WEEK

This is a very old linoleum block print that I carved and printed over thirty years ago.  I was feeling my first pangs of motherhood, wanting to find my place in the scheme of life.  My awareness of the food chain was also evolving as I began to study nutrition and medicinal herbs.  It fascinated me that nutrients could be passed from soil to plant, from plant to browsing deer, and from mother to nursing fawn.

The animals themselves were inspired by the stylized, silhouetted figures I saw on ancient Greek vases in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The Met was like my second home in my late teens and early twenties.  I loved ancient art of all kinds, and the storytelling images on those Greek vases were so intriguing – both primitive and sophisticated.  I did countless pencil sketches of these endearing creatures.  I might have even directly copied this pair of deer.

The intersection of an inspiring artistic form or technique with an idea waiting to be expressed is a common occurrence in my art.  I walk around with all kinds of ideas in my head, waiting to be brought into form.  Then something comes along – an uncanny suggestion, an unexpected approach, a serendipitous solution – that cross-fertilizes the idea.  At that point, a block of time (or in this case, a block of linoleum) miraculously presents itself, and the gestating image is born.  This has happened so many times over the years, I’ve learned to trust that something will come to me, eventually, to help bring each of my ideas into form.  Every work of art seems to have a destiny – a marriage of inner idea and outer influence.

A good week to all!

D Yael Bernhard
Author / Illustrator of
LOVE IS – a unique crossover book for all ages
THE LIFE OF AN OLIVEExplore the life of a 2000-year-old olive tree
JUST LIKE ME, CLIMBING A TREE: Exploring Trees Around the World
NEVER SAY A MEAN WORD AGAIN – A Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review;
winner of the Sydney Taylor Award and National Jewish Book Council Award
THE DREIDEL THAT WOULDN’T SPIN – A Toyshop Tale of Hanukkah
WHILE YOU ARE SLEEPING – A Children’s Book Council Notable Book
A RIDE ON MOTHER’S BACK – An American Bookseller Assoc. Pick of the List
– and more!
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The Lighting of the Candles

IMAGE OF THE WEEK
© Durga Yael Bernhard

It is said that the very first use of the word “sacred” (“kodesh” in Hebrew) was in reference to time.  Sacred time was set apart from ordinary time, and became the oldest holiday on earth that still exists today: the Sabbath.

The Book of Genesis begins with the six days of Creation, culminating in God’s day of rest: the seventh day, Shabbat.  Rituals involving the lighting of candles, the blessing of wine, and the breaking of bread mark the beginning of this holy day.  These simple traditions have held for millennia, even as they evolve from generation to generation and culture to culture.  Once upon a time, only the woman of the house could light the Sabbath candles; and before doing so, she would cover her head with a special cloth.  As the sun goes down, the lights of Shabbat come up, illuminating the woman’s hands from below as she covers her eyes in a moment of reflection – a moment of letting go into sacred time.

I did not grow up with these traditions, but discovered them as an adult.  I found this simple candle-lighting ritual so evocative, I decided to experiment with painting the candlelight.  Using grey paper as a starting point, I worked with colors that are much lighter and much darker than the paper, using the paper as a middle tone.  I decided to let the eyes show through the hands, as if they’re transparent.  The paper and paint were only good enough for a study – no subtle gradations were really possible.  It was a good start, for a study of light, and to give an impression of what it’s like to participate in the ancient tradition of sacred time.

Perhaps someday I’ll take this image beyond a study, and create a larger painting in oils or acrylics.

If you would like to learn more about the Sabbath, please see my award-winning picture book, Around the World in One Shabbat, which follows the cycle of one Sabbath, from sunset to sunset, in families and neighborhoods around the world.

A good week to all!

 

D Yael Bernhard
Author / Illustrator of
LOVE IS – a unique crossover book for all ages
THE LIFE OF AN OLIVEExplore the life of a 2000-year-old olive tree
JUST LIKE ME, CLIMBING A TREE: Exploring Trees Around the World
NEVER SAY A MEAN WORD AGAIN – A Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review;
winner of the Sydney Taylor Award and National Jewish Book Council Award
THE DREIDEL THAT WOULDN’T SPIN – A Toyshop Tale of Hanukkah
WHILE YOU ARE SLEEPING – A Children’s Book Council Notable Book
A RIDE ON MOTHER’S BACK – An American Bookseller Assoc. Pick of the List
– and more!

 

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Nana & Me

IMAGE OF THE WEEK
© DURGA YAEL BERNHARD

Here is a rather personal pencil drawing I did a few months ago – a self-portrait, from memory, of myself as a child with my maternal grandmother.

If you are familiar with my art, you have met Nana Jean before, as she appears in many of my paintings.  Regina Loewe, as she was named at birth, had a profound influence on me. The daughter of a successful tailor, she was born in Hungary and in 1912, emigrated to America alone at the age of 18.  She became a milliner, sewing hats for Lord & Taylor, and was a talented seamstress.

Raised as an orthodox Jew, Regina was the only person in her family who escaped Hungary before the Holocaust.  Everyone perished, presumably deported to Auschwitz, as so many Hungarian Jews were.  (According to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, over 550,000 Jews perished in Hungary alone.)  Regina never saw her parents, sisters, aunts, uncles or cousins again.  She also suffered the abandonment of her husband many years later, and raised her three children alone.

Apart from my parents, Nana Jean was my closest relative as a child.  She lived nearby, and I spent a great deal of time with her, often sleeping over at her house.  Nana cooked and baked with me, and sewed clothes for me and my dolls.  We did jigsaw puzzles together, and on New Year’s Eve, we watched Cinderella on TV.  I adored Nana, and I’m sure the feeling was mutual.

But I also sensed a deep well of grief in my grandmother.  She never talked about it, but I felt something mysterious in her, like a great, black pond.  Instinctively I knew I could not understand.  I also sensed that my presence was healing to her.  Perhaps the love of a grandchild was sufficiently different from all the other family relations she had lost.  Whatever the reason, I thrived on Nana Jean’s affection, and I felt like I helped her in return.  Every now and then, she even laughed.  But often she was lost in thought, placing her hand to her cheek and sighing.

Nana Jean was really nice to me.  She allowed me to climb on the back of her couch.  I remember lying there with one leg hanging down while she rubbed my back.  I was very ticklish as a child, and also starved for touch.  I wriggled restlessly until Nana Jean’s warm hand soothed me.  But when I looked up, I could see Nana Jean was far, far away in her thoughts, and her face was full of pain.  I imagined her memories emerging like birds from a tree, fluttering away.  Could I, with my childish devotion, make all Nana Jean’s bad memories fly away?  I secretly wished I could, even as I selfishly enjoyed the back rub.  In that moment, I experienced the complexity of mixed emotions, as past and present, pain and pleasure mingled together, crystallizing into this memory that has stayed with me ever since.

I did the drawing the day after her last yarzheit.  Regina Loewe Werner, of blessed memory, lived from 1894 to 1985.  I will never forget her.

Nana Jean in her 80s

 

 

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