Barbara Heller (photo by Olga Livshin)
Temple Sholom’s Dreamers and Builders gala is not only a time to celebrate, but to raise funds for the synagogue. In addition to honouring Jack Lutsky and Susan Mendelson, this year’s sold-out event on May 5 will include a silent art auction at the dinner and a raffle, the bidding for which has already started.
“We have art donations for the silent auction from members of the synagogue, Ian Penn and Ivan Gasoi, as well as from Dina Goldstein and Gordon Smith, and a tapestry by Barbara Heller for the raffle,” said Karen Gelmon, gala co-chair, in an interview with the Independent. “Barbara is a member of Temple Sholom and an internationally known tapestry artist. Her works are very valuable, unique and truly remarkable.”
Gelmon noted that the synagogue has several tapestries by Heller on its walls. “There are two magnificent pieces that are on either side of the ark at the front of the sanctuary,” she said. “They are wonderful and loved by the congregation. She has donated two other works that are in another room and are also very appreciated. All these pieces have been there for more than 20 years and are fixtures at the synagogue.”
The raffle features the tapestry “Stones 22 – Stonefall,” the 22nd in Heller’s Stonefall series.
“I have been weaving these tapestries of stone walls and stones on the ground every few years for decades, between more difficult pieces,” Heller told the Independent. “I love these stone walls, built by man without mortar or cutting the stones to fit. If these walls fell down, the stones would return to the earth and no one would be the wiser. Yet, I see the spirits of the people who built the walls. Their energy remains in the stones.”
Heller also likes that the tapestries are abstract. “I get to immerse myself in the act of weaving as I transform them from stone into wool,” she explained. “I play with the handspun and hand-dyed yarns, the textures and the colours, without worrying about the underlying message.”
“Stones 22” was woven in 2013. “It was based on the photos I took in Caesarea on the Mediterranean in Israel,” said Heller. “The site has been home to invader after invader for millennia. It has been an archeological dig since a farmer plowing the meagre soil first uncovered a large stone block and called the scientists. Here, there are definitely ghosts of the people who came before.”
About why she chose to offer one of her artworks for the raffle, she said, “When I was asked to donate a tapestry by Susan [Mendelson] and the organizing committee for Dreamers and Builders, I was happy to say yes. Susan and Jack have supported my art and own a few tapestries. Temple Sholom is my synagogue and has also supported me. It has several of my tapestries, some as donations and two on loan. The bimah is flanked by two of my tapestries that were commissioned at the time of my son’s bar mitzvah, and the library has a tapestry that my mother willed to the Temple on her death. Now, it was my turn to support them.”
The decision of which tapestry to donate was a practical one. “I felt it had to be mid-size, large enough to have a presence but not so large that it would not find a new home in a modern condo,” she said. “And the reference to Israel was also important to me.”
As an artist who makes a living by her art, Heller has given much thought over the years to the concept of donating work.
“It has been awhile since I donated artwork,” she shared. “There was a time a few years ago when art auctions were all the rage for fundraising, to the detriment of the artists. The fundraisers always stressed that the auctions would be good publicity for the artists, but I don’t think so. People always wanted a bargain when they bid at auctions, and I don’t think that the fundraisers were aware of the lost income for the artists.”
An artist must look at a donation as just that, said Heller, as a donation to raise funds for a charity they believe in. “I now do it only on occasion. I am reminded of what my friend, a pianist, does. When approached to play for free, she says, ‘You pay me what my normal fee would be, and then I will decide how much to give back to you as my donation.’ This makes the fundraisers aware of what they are actually asking.”
Gelmon and the organizing committee were well aware of what they were asking. “I think different artists may have different motivations to donate their art,” said Gelmon. “For Barbara, I think she saw this as a worthy cause. It is raising money for her synagogue, where she and her family have been members for years, and it probably gives her great pleasure to contribute.”
To take part in the raffle, visit templesholom.ca/dreamers-builders-2019-raffle.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].