Celebrate: Critiques and Book Construction

Karen Sanders reports: On Wednesday May 20, our Artist-in-Residence Laya Crust gave the final session of her year-long theme of Celebration. Initially she spoke about the concept of a critique. A critique is not a criticism. It is an analysis of what you can do to make your work better. The person giving the critique should be objective, starting and ending with something positive, sensitive about not destroying the ego of the person whose work is being critiqued. Next Laya spoke about book construction, giving examples of fabric books, then of folded paper books. She supplied paper, glue, scissors, and ribbon so that we could make accordion fold books. Her directions are included here. Thank you, Laya, for a year of celebrating ourselves, our work, and our textiles!

Meetings March and April

Anna Vandelman reports:

Meeting March 18th, 2015
Our Artist in Residence, Laya Crust, took us through an extensive review of Passover just as we entered the last few weeks of making our own Pesach.

She shared the artistic history of the Haggadah with a table full of beautiful examples. She showed us how the art in each Haggadah revealed local customs as well as social and political issues through elements such as clothing, furniture, buildings, symbols, and artistic style. The first printed map of Israel occurs in a Haggadah of 1526, the first etching of the Four Sons in a Haggadah of 1695, and the political aspirations of the Jewish Brigade are expressed in its Haggadah of 1943. And, we see how marketing gimmicks promote the use of particular Haggadot: Once coffee was available kosher for Passover, Maxwell House capitalized on that by providing a Haggadah with the purchase of a jar of coffee. We can see in the variety of Haggadot that its themes are continually reinterpreted, in text, but especially in art.

Members then examined Passover artifacts brought in by other Guild members. And we all started working on a hands-on activity of designing a Passover apron: to wear for getting the kitchen clean, making the chicken soup or gefilte fish, or engaging younger members in the family in the process. Thank you Leah for an exciting programme.

Meeting April 15th 2015
Our April meeting was an exciting co-presentation by the Pomegranate Guild and Darchei Noam synagogue, at Darchei Noam. The lecture and exhibit of her art by Dr. Myriam Nafte blew us all away!

Myriam Nafte discussing her work

Myriam Nafte discussing her work

Sara Petroff, Chair of the Art Committee at Darchei Noam welcomed us all and introduced Pomegranate Guild president Karen Chisvin. As this evening was the eve of Yom HaShoah, Karen commemorated the event with remarks that honoured the martyrs, survivors and resistance fighters, the Hagvurah and then introduced the artist/speaker Dr. Myriam Nafte.

Dr. Myriam Nafte is a woman for all seasons, involved in medicine, anthropology, mathematics, mysticism, forensics, science and Judaica (and, oh yes, art). She began as a textile artist doing aleph bet paintings on silk: a tapestry of Jewish thought, words of wisdom, words of praise. She uses text as powerful imagery. After many years of examining anatomical and other scientific texts for their drawings, Myriam spent a period of time learning Hebrew calligraphy from her sofer/artist father. This brought her back to those same scientific texts with the discovery that Hebrew was a significant scientific language, not just a language of ritual and religion. In the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the early Enlightenment, Jews were involved in science, math, and cosmography. They invented navigational instruments, and other tools and techniques – so many rich contributions hidden and lost. Myriam’s work recovers and re-situates Hebrew text for us as a language of art.

After the inspiring lecture we toured the hall to view incredible paintings by both Myriam and her father.

Celebrate: the holidays with Laya Crust

Anna Vandelman reports on our January and February meetings:

JANUARY: If you were lucky enough to come out to our meeting on Wednesday January 21st, you would feel well prepared to devote your artistry to Passover.

Laya Crust, our talented, amazingly creative Artist-in-Residence took us through a review of the experience of the Exodus, showing us along the way how the themes and rituals of the story inspire creative responses. Slavery and freedom, burning bushes, plagues, sacrifices and matzah can all be interpreted – in art in general and textile art in particular. Haggadot through the ages have added and altered the text and illustrations to speak to contemporary communities.

Since the Seder is a family and community meal, table linens, cushions, matzah and afikoman covers can all be part of an artful celebration. Guild members shared some of their special preparations and programs. Susan Rosenstein includes a map of the exodus in the middle of the table, Anna Vandelman’s guests have played Passover Jeopardy, and Marilyn Levy has made special plague memory aids to help everyone participate.

Laya’s resource notes are available to members on the Members’ page of this website.

FEBRUARY: Bad weather (at least on Pomegranate Guild Wednesdays) has been a theme for us this season! Once again on a dark and dismal Wednesday evening February 18th, Guild Artist-in-Residence Laya Crust helped warm and brighten the night for us. Using her very special megillah as a specific example, Laya led us through a discussion of key aspects to fulfilling a commission.

In the first part of the evening, we talked about the need to merge creative ideas with business sense to successfully complete a commission. We discussed the usefulness of logbooks and spreadsheets to record time and materials. We also talked about the intangible costs and benefits related to working for close friends and relatives, demanding clients, working in new (for us) media. And we found that successful work often comes of establishing a good relationship with a client.

In the second part of the program, Laya took us through the specific process of creating a commissioned illuminated Megilat Esther. She sourced materials and techniques, sketched and practiced, and then scribed and illuminated a ten and a half foot scroll. It contains 32 lavish illustrations rendered in 16th C. Persian style. The original piece is written on parchment using historically authentic tools and painted in gouache. The Megillah has been reproduced in a limited edition series.

What an illuminating evening!

Celebrate: with Artist-in-Residence Laya Crust

Laya portraitThe Pomegranate Guild is excited to start our work up close and personal with Artist in Residence, Laya Crust, for four programs in 2015. Over these programs we will be exploring the creative process as we examine how we can create textile work to enhance our holiday celebrations. On January 21st we’ll start “at the very beginning.” See our calendar page for more details.

Laya is an accomplished artist and generous teacher. You can read more by and about her at her website and her blog.

Members have already met Laya at earlier meetings, and some have had a chance and talk to her about their personal work. Come early to the meetings and talk to her about your work!

Before the meeting think about:
What do you love about Pesach and the seders?
What do you find challenging about Pesach and the seders?
Is there something you’d like to change about the seder or the haggadah?

And, bring examples of Pesach art to talk about, too.

Celebrate: Saving a Textile Legacy


Celebrate: Saving a Textile Legacy – October 22, 2014
Anna VanDelman reports:


shila desaiShila Desai introduced us to a world of cultural heritage, pride of artisanship and survival, glorious colour and renewal. We were taken into this incredible, kaleidoscopic world of magical colours, and their near loss in Gujarati communities. After a long period during which traditional skills were passed from generation to generation, dyeing skills, block-printing skills, and stitching skills have been threatened with extinction.

In some communities, the important ground water levels have a dropped and the water has become contaminated: new and improper technologies, industrialization in general, a younger generation attracted to more leisure time, and the disruption of trade patterns following the 1947 partition of Pakistan and India have all contributed to the erosion of this precious legacy. Six hundred years of this art was about to be lost. Now, how to protect and revive this legacy so crucial to women’s dowries and local economies? In some cases, it is WOMEN TO THE RESCUE! NGOs directed by women philanthropists get together to preserve traditional crafts while bringing them into the 21st century. Success leads to success and now over 100 villages and 22,000 women are benefitting.


See more by following the video links. And, experience heritage textiles for yourself by joining Shila on of her tours to India, Tanzania, North India and Sri Lanka. “BON VOYAGE.”

Here are links to videos that Shila shared with us:
A New Beginning in Ajrakhpur
Women Empowering Women


Photos by Janis Katz
Textile samples courtesy Shila Desai


Celebrate: Wax and Weave

Celebrate Wax and Weave – September 10, 2014
Anna VanDelman reports

What a wonderful opening meeting in September! Over thirty members of the Guild came together at Karma Creative art studio – home away from home for our president, Karen Chisvin and member Maggie Doswell who are partners at the studio, and now Bruria Cooperman (who is pursuing her art there).

Bruria led the evening, introducing us to the new for us, but very old, medium of encaustic. It dates back over two thousand years, and its modern form is largely due to its revival by artist Jasper Johns.

One takes a support – cloth, wood, paper, etc. – and rubs, paints or dips it over with hot melted beeswax. The wax cools quickly on its own. A heat gun, torch, or other heat tool may be used to fuse the wax, layer by layer. Pigment, oil sticks, oil paints and other appropriate media can be used to add colour to or on the wax. The wax can be manipulated in a variety of ways such as scraping to create smooth layers or interesting textures, or handling paper and cloth to make three dimensional forms.

Members were excited to experiment, some worked in teams and some individually. Assistance was available from our talented presenters.

Squeals of excitement could be heard as members experienced the transformation of their chosen materials into newly evolved creations, using ancient techniques and making them new. We touched each others’ work: a true hands on experience. We were all encausticated!

Source for encaustic instruction – classes and workshops
Karma Creative art studio, karma-creative.ca

Sources for materials
Aboveground Art, Curry’s, Deserres, Gwartzmans

Selected sources of inspiration
Deborah Howard http://www.deborahhowardart.com
Sherrie Posternak http://www.sherrieposternak.com/portfolio/
Raé Miller http://raemiller.com/gallery-2-



Anna VanDelman reports

Our April 2014 meeting was brought to you by Judith Leitner – Director of Visual Arts and a founder of The Toronto Heschel School – and by the letter Shin “ ש” (with apologies to Sesame Street).
Judith teaches in an arts-based integrated curriculum with a strong environmental ethos impelled by ethical behaviour. She develops the visual arts programme and wrote a Judaic Arts Compendium (see http://www.torontoheschel.org).
Judith led us through a series of activities that helped us see how letters can be expressive. What does the word Sh’ma “שמע” mean? The letter form has three branches. The dot makes it a ‘shin’ or a sin, depending on its placement. Are the three arms of the letter equal or not? What happens when we change their size? We looked at the essential elements of design: Line, shape, direction, size, and texture. We used big arm gesture drawing to create a “shameless Shin”. Is it straight? Lying down? Upside down? And then we made a “shy shin.” Is it small? Is it hiding? We continued with more variations on the theme of “Shin” (for example, “Shin” in shock).
And then we were invited to think about our personal connection to the “Shin.” We shared feelings about the letter, most of us relating to the Sh’ma and other words that begin with the same sound, “Sh”. As texture plays an important role in art, we concluded the evening by selecting or designing a “Shin” and interpreting it in textiles. President Karen Chisvin thanked our guest for leading us in an interesting workshop that opened a new window of discovery on a Jewish theme.


Torah Stitch by Stitch: 9 months later

Anna VanDelman reports:

Our March meeting was a wonderful overview of the Torah Stitch by Stitch project, and its status to date. Honey Mitchell introduced our presenter, Temma Gentles, founding member of the Guild and award-winning textile artist.

Kristina - panel detail

Kristina – panel detail

Temma explained her unique project “Torah Stitch by Stitch”, a call to action by the morning prayer, “Awake to the Torah”. The project currently has over 700 volunteer stitchers involved from all around the world, including  Guatamala, Zimbabwe and Viet Nam.

For Temma the project began to form conceptually when she and her husband Paul were in Israel on sabbatical at Ein Hod. She was inspired by the work of a number of Orthodox Jewish artists. Temma shared a sampling of this work with us, including the paper-cut work of artist Jacqueline Nicholls which uses traditional art forms to show the anger of women who are not able to participate in religious activities. We also saw a kittel for a woman – usually a man’s garment – which resembled a straight-jacket. Artist Andi Arnowitz used a variety of artistic media to express ironic and angry messages and included a coat for an agunah made of cut up Ketubot and worry beads the size of baseballs.

A self-described “fontophiliac,” Temma then gave examples of her letter-form inspirations. She showed fonts from Ben Shahn‘s book, The Alphabet of Creation, explained the sofer’s guidelines of STAM: Sefer Torah, Tefillin, mezuzah. She shared the work of amazing calligrapher and sofer stam Izzy Pludwinski in his book Mastering Hebrew Calligraphy and his contributions to the Saint Johns Bible (SaintJohnsbible.org).

Kristina detail 2

Kristina detail 2

Temma showed us sources for cross-stitching text and for large collective projects. We saw samplers cross-stitched onto aida cloth which were used to teach very young girls and women to sew and to read. These young women then went on to stitch quotations and family genealogies, which then became family records.The Quilt of Belonging had its inaugural exhibition in 2005. Assembled it is 36 m long and includes representation from 263 nationalities in Canada.

All of these influences have contributed to the project that will see the Torah cross-stitched in 4-verse segments by 1463 stitchers. It will far exceed 36 m! Each stitcher who registers receives a kit with the base square of aida cloth, black embroidery floss with pointers about stitching, and the stitcher’s four verses graphed as a guideline.

Temma showed completed pieces by a number of participants along with comments about the work. She pointed out that nearly every stitcher has a personal story that emerged from participating in the project. Then Guild members Brenda Conway and Kristina Landstrom-Jaffe showed their newly submitted panels (not yet proof-read or blocked), and Karen Chisvin showed her completed log. Brenda’s panel embellishment is a cross-stitched representation of one of her husband’s – artist Jerry Conway – landscape paintings. Kristina’s was an interpretation of the discovery of Moses in the bulrushes using Egyptian inspired motifs for papyrus and holy water birds.

Kristina - panel

Kristina – panel

Temma concluded with the exhibit concept by stage designer Philip Silver. It will literally be a walk through the Torah. The completed Torah will be 8 feet high and as long as a football field containing 1463 portions. It will be configured for viewers to walk into, along, and out of the assembled piece. The scope of the project is just emerging. At this point in time the grant request process is about to begin and more organizational infrastructure put into place.

Brenda's panel

Brenda – panel

President Karen Chisvin thanked Temma for this unique and amazing presentation. We all wished Temma a “Yascher Kochechah” on her work with this project: “Temma we are used to your doing innovative and unbelievable projects.  This will be your crowning glory. So keep on jumping Temma, jump higher and higher. We all hope you grow wings before you hit the ground and may you continue to share your unique and awesome talent with the entire world well into the future.”

All images courtesy of artists and Torah Stitch by Stitch project


Fabulous Felting Fun in February

rainbow fleeceAnna reports: With illness overtaking our scheduled guest artist, our own Melanie Siegel, artist and Exhibits Chairperson, stepped in on a moment’s notice to provide an exciting programme for the evening. And what fun it was!

Melanie introduced us to a technique of felting bracelets and then demonstrated the process. She created a basic form with neutral fleece, by wrapping it around her hand and securing the wrap with wool yarn. Then, layers and layers of exotic colours of our choice wrapped round and round the form.

All members got busy immediately, wrapping and wrapping and wrapping. Then we dipped our hands in water and mild soap. We rolled the bracelet between our hands, feeling it firm up as the felting process proceeded. What quick workers Guild members are: in an hour we completed what is often a 3-hour process. We set our bracelets aside to dry and imagined the embellishment we might later do with beading.

Once the drying started, Melanie also taught us how to felt beads out of the fleece wool. Then, by rolling the fleece in a bamboo mat, she demonstrated how we could make snake-like shapes –  to add a Rastafarian look to our hairdos? Finally, Melanie shared with us her love of her new felting machine.

How lucky we are to have such a talented, creative and imaginative member as Melanie in our group! She is truly a Pomegranate treasure. Thank you, Mel.