Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Cutting Paper at Camp Newman

Detail from student work incorporating "Ragman,"
one of DC's first openly Jewish super heroes.
It comes and goes so quickly – my annual two weeks teaching papercutting workshops at URJ Camp Newman – but it looms so large in my rearview mirror. This summer — my 11th as faculty artist! — was no different, as I spent two hours a day, nearly every day for two weeks, working with 18 campers to teach them how to make "paper midrash" in the beautiful hills just outside Santa Rosa, around the corner from wine country. The work that these campers produce always sends me back to my studio full of inspiration and ready to get back to cutting paper.

The campers I work with are part of Hagigah, the arts track for 10th and 11th graders; these campers spend four weeks in total at Camp Newman, where they're exposed to many different forms of art, and encouraged to try them all out and learn new ways to express themselves. Among the other offerings this summer were mosaic, drama/screenwriting, dance, songleading, art journaling, tallit-making, screenprinting and Hebrew lettering.

This Thursday, July 13, is the annual Hagigah Peachy Levy Arts Festival; campers will display or perform the works they've created at camp, but not all of you out in interwebland can make it up there... so I'm pleased to share the papercut work here.

Once the campers get familiar with their knives and what they can do (including some basic safety lessons because KNIVES), our first project is a mizrach: an ornamental wall plaque used to indicate the direction of prayer (east) in Jewish homes. We brainstormed as a group to get some ideas going, but each student designed their own mizrach, and then backed it with comics.

Campers hard at work on their mizrach papercuts.
Once the papercut structure is built, it's time to start cutting up comic books!

The Hagigah art building is a peaceful and beautiful place to create art.
 It's always amazing to me that even though all of the campers start with the same project, and the same batch of ideas to incorporate into their design, each of the pieces is incredible and unique.

Allie included the Israeli flag and a rising sun.

Ben's mizrach includes a painter's palette to allude to Hagigah's focus on the arts.

Daniel included the Jewish super hero Ragman in the rising sun of his mizrach.

Eden included Hebrew and English lettering in her mizarch.

Ellie's vision of EAST is composed of tiny little (time-consuming) triangles.

Robin is front and center in the Jewish star of Ethan's mizrach.

Gia's vision of the eastern sky included sun, moon, and stars.

Jamie created a Western Wall with seven flames, representing the six days of work and Shabbat.

Max added handwritten ideas into his mizrach.

The Hebrew letters which spell out "mizrach" dance between sunbeams in Rachel's mizrach.

Sam's Jerusalem cityscape is backed with comic book text and images of a house of worship.

Sophie spelled "mizrach" in Hebrew across Jerusalem's Western Wall.

Tavi's sunrise is filled with energy and warmth.

Trasen's minimalist approach resulted in an intimate and elegant mizrach.

The second project is our BIG project: paper midrash. Each camper had to find a Jewish story or character or theme from our tradition which they wanted to explore and develop with the aid of knife and paper.

Hard at work cutting paper midrash.

Knife skills + Jewish ideas = beautiful, meaningful art!

Time to add the comics!

I bring lots of acid-free masking tape to camp.

Actual photographic evidence of me, at camp, with campers.

Some worked with Rabbi Dan Feder (Hagigah's rabbi for the first two weeks) to find fascinating little tidbits, others made up their own commentaries, and all of them created stunning work; there are some incredible pieces of comics in the backgrounds, often driving a lot of additional meaning.

Allie created a piece in tribute to her grandfather.

Ben's paper midrash explored the seven species written of in Parshat Eikev.

Daniel's paper midrash dealt with the story of Jonah and the "big fish."

Eden's tree grows in the garden that bears her name, from Bereshit.

Ellie's midrash papercut has a dove plucking peace from the receding waters of the flood.

Ethan explored the concept of a tree of life.

Gia worked with an angel story she found in Sefer HaAggadah.

The ten plagues of Parashat Vayera are the subject of Jamie's papercut.

Jonah was one of the Hagigah counselors; his papercut centers around his (Jewish) college fraternity.

Julia was a counselor who had cut paper with me as a camper; her beach scene reflects her experience.

Max's paper midrash is of Parashat Noach – ALL OF IT, from Babel to flood.

Natalie's parting of the Reed Sea emphasizes "freedom"
but also "the cloud and the darkness" she read about in Parashat Beshallach.

Rachel created midrash about her biblical namesake, changing the emphasis of the imagery of Joseph's dream for a new look at the mother of the children of Israel; zoom in to the moon to see the speech bubbles she found to tell her story.

Sam explored a verse which said that "every seed on earth has a constellation calling out to it to grow."

Sohpie connected two stories together: the burning bush in Shemot and the parting of the sea in Beshallach.

Tavi's coat of many colors tells Joseph's troubling story; zoom in to read speech bubbles above the coat.

Trasen's tight focus on the angel in his story creates drama.

I love working with these campers every summer – just like I enjoy working with people ALL OVER, teaching papercutting workshops and talking about art and comics and Judaism. In fact, it's a thing I do with my wife, Rabbi Shawna Brynjegard-Bialik. If you're interested in finding out what we can do with YOUR community — for a few hours or a few days — please visit our website at www.papermidrash.com.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Making a Tallit Mosaic at Camp Newman

This summer at URJ Camp Newman was my eleventh in a row as an artist with Hagigah, the arts track for 10th and 11th graders. As usual, I spent a few hours a day for two weeks cutting paper with them; after all, that’s what I do in my “real” life outside camp. But for the past three summers I’ve also spent that time making a mosaic with some of the Hagigah campers.

Step one is always the same: we start by studying text. This year we decided on a big piece focused on the idea of community, so I brought a few ideas to the kids to jumpstart their brains, and asked them what community in a camp context meant to them. They came up with a dozen or so great ideas, but when I asked them to vote on their favorites, the choice was unanimous: they wanted to represent the moment in Erev Shabbat services when their counselors hold up their tallitot up to bless the campers with the words of Hashkiveinu.

As with every project, this one started as page after page of sketches.

I sketched out a few ideas and found a way to express what they wanted to show, and then we got to work. In just six one-hour sessions, these 20 campers completed 24 square feet of mosaic.

The first tiles laid were the black outlines of the tallitot.

The campers have taken to calling the tile adhesive "cream cheese."

The mosaic was built in two pieces, on two separate tables – with 10 campers around each one.
We even had a "faculty art night" which was open to all of the rabbis, cantors, educators, artists, medical and office staff, etc. – always nice to open up the activity to more people when we can.
Way to go, Laura and Lindy!
They chose the colors; they chose to add a hamsa and a Jewish star and flowers on the tallitot; they picked the words we added to drive home the message of community (words we all shout during the tallit-waving). After a day of grouting, we were done – and the result was spectacular!
The campers designed the colorful tallit designs themselves.

Protective eyewear was provided AND REQUIRED for everyone while breaking tiles.
What really got to me, though, was how the mosaic-making process was a microcosm for the camp experience. Not everyone came to the table with the same experience or ability; not everyone had the same interest in every part of the process; but we all had to work together to get it done – and we did.
The design started to take shape and we began to get excited!

Everyone learned how to choose and break and combine tile to create an image, and the resulting mosaic was truly a group effort. It’s a representation of the community we choose, and the community we build – steeped in religious and cultural traditions, but constantly being remade and renewed by every single camper.

We'll be officially unveiling the mosaic at the 2017 Peachy Levy Hagigah Festival next week – so it'll be up in time for the 70th anniversary celebration, when my wife and I will be leading all of the hundreds of celebrants in making ANOTHER mosaic... we hope you'll join us!