Faces of Friends:
Children of Today Meet Children of the Holocaust
Portraits of Holocaust Children
I propose to develop my “souls” painting series, portraits of children who lost their lives in the Holocaust, into an engaging and universal illustrated book about the experience of memorializing departed friends.
As an artist, I am looking with loving eyes at faces, with the intention of rediscovering their beauty and originality, and ultimately coming to meet their living souls, one at a time. My task is, through the ritual of memorial, the faith in eternity, and the power of friendship itself, to build a bridge over the vast, immobilizing sea of horror, denial, and grief that paralyzes us in the face of violence – of racism and genocide. I hope this bridge will allow us to move toward the joy and love we naturally feel for all of creation, and for young creatures in particular.
I see this book as an artist’s invitation to young readers to step outside of themselves and their times and make friends with a new face in an old photograph. I want to offer young readers (along with their families and reading partners of all ages) “access” to the genesis of a portrait, to the sacred, historic, and powerful act of memorialization. Portraits are living memorials. My thesis is: with enough love and an enormous, terrifying leap of faith, in the eternal realm of spirit, nothing has been lost. It’s true: we can’t bring these little souls back their lives. But we can make friends with a face.
When I look at each painting now, after studying a face for an intensive period while striving for a likeness, I feel I am seeing a lifelong friend; this is the healing experience I want to share. Inasmuch I have sometimes been compelled to give “gifts” to these friends; some pieces are narrated with text from various sources: pan-cultural scripture, poetry, secular nature writing, journal entries, letters. In the spontaneous sharing that happens between friends, I have sometimes incorporated images of fellow animate beings - the buzzing, tweeting, singing divinity so concentrated in nature and its creatures. When we meet a new and true friend, we offer part of ourselves to the other’s soul and thus to the universe at large. This enriches and enlarges us in return. When a loved one dies, the ritual of creating a living memorial, in any form we invent, can be integrating, progressive, and healing.
Children’s inner lives are rich and complex; children can apprehend loss, a heartbreaking but inevitable part of life, and even evil, if balanced with an intimate experience of the goodness of the soul that endures. Children’s minds are big and brave and unprejudiced. They can synthesize and interpret grey areas. They accept this world in all its complexity at face value. Our children’s cultural lives are more complex and multifarious than were ours, their horizons wider. As Dostoevsky wrote in The Idiot, “Nothing should be concealed from children on the pretext that they are little and that it is too early for them to understand. What a miserable and unfortunate idea.” Children are smart and deep and open. I revere their intelligence. A book is held in a child's hands, opened and studied with intention and a developing consciousness. A book is a living experience in a child's life. I take that seriously.
Each page of Faces of Friends will pair a full color reproduction of a portrait with short writings by contemporary children in response. The guiding mission of the book is to teach about Memorial – how we all can make memorials and how whole we feel when we do – and Eternity – about how, once we make a friend, we are changed and our friend lives and grows within us forever. The writings might take the form of prose or poetry: a letter, a question, a prayer, a speculation, a fantasy, - a child’s thoughtful, soulful musing about the face in the photograph, imagining this child as his or her friend.
A universal and visually compelling book about art, spirituality, and friendship, Faces of Friends will naturally also fall into the non-fiction categories of sociology, history, Judaism, and Holocaust. Though directed ostensibly to a young readership, the book will easily find its way to educators, parents, extended family, and caregivers too, and will thus be produced with the mission of being accessible to all ages and all backgrounds. I foresee an appendix in which thumbnail reproductions of the paintings are annotated with historical data about each subject, contributed by a historian to assure scrupulous documentation.
I have been painting nature and children’s portraits, as well as making children’s books, for many years now. Viewing nature as a gate to the spiritual realm is a thesis running through all my work. I have frequently explored Eternity and Memorial as a healing medium for grief. I began the “souls” series, awarded fellowships in 1998 and 1999 from the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, in 1997 as a personal ritual of mourning, springing initially from a place of loss. Over the years the early products of the simple and painful exercise of bearing witness (the most I could offer initially) slowly began maturing, becoming, ultimately, glorifications of the eternal force of energy and love which is a soul, which is growth itself. Which cannot be lost. My work is an awkward passion. I am drawn to these children who have suffered. As I paint their faces, I love them dearly. The exercise of painting these portraits serves to organize, clarify, and sanctify my own consternation, raises me out of despair. If I’m giving all I have to give, I feel I’m participating as a citizen, being a working part. It is not about me; I disappear joyfully into the process.
I have shown my work in a wide variety of spaces over the years: commercial galleries, museums, schools, hospitals, libraries, non-profits, and community spaces. I have donated many “soul” portraits to non-profit organizations including Yeshiva University Museum in NYC, where I exhibited them in 1998, the Dora Teitelboim Yiddish Center in Miami, Family Service Greater Boston, Dorchester House, as well as many other non-sectarian social service and cultural organizations. I have published two children’s books (Love Me Later, 2005, and I Only Like What I Like, 2003) both of which were named Notable Children’s Books of Jewish Content by the Association of Jewish Libraries.