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.
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).
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.
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.
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