Artful textiles convey a sense of the spiritual

The sacred garment Marlene Adler created from a 1911 cloth bearing a Hebrew blessing.
The sacred garment Marlene Adler created from a 1911 cloth bearing a Hebrew blessing.

"Uncommon Threads" at Temple Judea Museum.

Posted: June 22, 2012

'Uncommon Threads" at Temple Judea Museum in Elkins Park is an event whose unity is atmospheric and spiritual rather than pictorial. Featuring contemporary works by 14 area artists and selections from the museum's collection of Judaic textiles, the show began as part of spring's "FiberPhiladelphia."

Marlene Adler tells the appealing tale of Cherished Memories: Threads of Prayers and Blessings - Past and Present, a Sacred Garment for a Woman. Asked to create a piece for this show, Adler immediately thought of beautiful fabric given to her by her husband's cousin. The 1911 linen cloth, a table cover cross-stitched with the Hebrew blessing over bread, had been made by his Russian grandmother, and Adler felt its history and use in a Jewish home echoed the traditional links she's tried to continue in her own home.

She wanted to retain its connection to Jewish prayer so its beauty and history could be enjoyed in a different way. So she made a new sacred garment representing the study a young woman engages in to become a bat mitzvah, a piece bestowing a sense of spirituality and elation when its wearer prays at home or in synagogue.

Another artist, Marguerite Shimmons, escaped her besieged home city of Leningrad as a young woman and has always felt compelled to make every minute count for someting. She learned lace-making in the United States, working from European patterns, and has become a leading figure in the lace-knitting movement.

The story evolves with each exhibitor. Rabbi Lance J. Sussman of Keneseth Israel, the museum's home, likewise declares thread to be "a big part of my life," and elaborates on it here in a family tale.

This truly remarkable and inspiring exhibition was meticulously curated by Rita Rosen Poley.

Temple Judea Museum, 8339 Old York Rd., Elkins Park. To July 14. Mon-Fri 9-5, Sun 9-1. Tue & Fri to 8. 215-887-2027.

Fire and ice

Those skeptical about climate change should visit two shows at the Gershman Y and prepare to be bowled over. The twin bill of "Turn Here: Artists Promoting Environmental Awareness" and "A History of the Future" struck me as convincing beyond a reasonable doubt. While both deal with recent and continuing environmental setbacks, they also feature initiatives that have begun turning some situations around.

"Turn Here," curated by Miriam Seidel, explores what three environmentally conscious artists have produced at scattered locations, along with a very large piece by a fourth artist, photographer Amie Potsic of Drexel Hill, newly named director of Main Line Art Center. Created especially for the show and quite an eyeful, Potsic's site-specific installation Endangered Seasons uses 200 feet of silk imprinted with color-rich imagery from the forest canopy throughout the seasons. Subtle, sensitive, yet majestic, this canopied work presides over the whole show with awesome dignity.

Keenly interested in reforestation, Xavier Cortada of Miami created installation and performance pieces at both the South and North Poles, and invites your comments on his detailed wall-chart. Helen Lessick has done amazing things in Los Angeles and Kenya to promote the importance of good soil by way of simple, staccato images and slogans. Tom Gaudreau of Portsmouth, N.H., likes signs too, but uses them in a tongue-in-cheek way to comment on everything from present-day consumer goods and trash to missing forests and endangered crabs.

The photo show "A History of the Future," by Canary Project collaborators Susannah Sayler and Edward Morris of Syracuse University, comprises eight large images of the jaw-dropping variety. Each shows ecosystems disrupted by climate change - fires caused by drought in China and Washington state, glacial, ice-cap, and permafrost melting in Peru and the Austrian Alps. Beauty is deceptive here.

The Gershman Y, 401 S. Broad St. To Aug. 12. Mon-Sun 9-5. 215-446-3021.

Resistance is futile

Half the visitors to Rodger LaPelle Gallery are tourists - understandable, as it's hard by the Betsy Ross House. Fortunate walk-ins during this summer's "Irresistible, and Made in America" show will see 71 mostly representational works by 30 regional painters, both regulars and newcomers.

Providing character, quality, and interest to this show are three who also have the longest associations with the gallery - Fred Danziger, Joe Naujokas, and Martin Poole, their 32-, 43- and 22-year ties, respectively, adding up to nearly a century.

Danziger is a favorite, especially for his neighborhood scenes shaped by the history and events of particular places. Naujokas is a keenly perceptive interpreter and translator of city maps, aided by training he gained at Boeing. And Poole has a way of capturing atmospheric interiors of gathering places.

Rachel Bess, Michael Schweigart, and Robert Waddington are others to watch. And Jimmy Bellew, a recent graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with a rapid brush, shows definite promise.

Rodger LaPelle Galleries, 122 N. Third St. To July 29. Wed-Sun 12-6. 215-592-0232.

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