Tag Archives: repairing the world

Flowerchild: Then and Now

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I walk daily on a path through a virgin prairie near where I live.  The blooms change week by week, and I photographed some of them, to preserve their image before they withered and stepped aside for the next wave of blossoms.

I was listening to the sound track of “Forrest Gump”, which has songs from the late 60’s and early 70’s, the music of my childhood and teen years.  “Volunteers” by Jefferson Airplane was playing:

“Come on now we’re marching to the sea
got a revolution got to revolution… ”

I thought about the flower children of the 60’s, calling for revolution, and the  reference to “marching to the sea”, which calls up Sherman’s march to the sea, from the Civil War.  I am currently reading Sick From Freedom:  African American Illness and Suffering During The Civil War and Reconstruction by Jim Downs.  Mr. Downs revises the glossy view of the emancipation of the African slaves in the United States, and documents the catastrophic wave of privation and disease which met the newly emancipated bondsmen and women, because of medical ignorance and administrative incapacity.  Thousands upon thousands of former slaves died of exposure, starvation and disease following emancipation.  Which is obviously not to say that they were better off in slavery; in fact, the fear of that argument kept the grim facts from coming to light for generations.  It is important that this story is finally being told.

It may seem odd to make a jump from beautiful wildflowers to catastrophic demographic displacement, while in the midst of a gorgeous meadow on a summer day, but that’s how my mind runs.  Tearing down, I thought,  is quick and easy; building up is slow and torturous.  As I listened to the song calling for political change, I felt glad that the cultural revolution of my youth did not escalate to a violent overthrow of the U.S. government.  This sounds simplistic; but as I watch social/political upheavals around the world, and see our country use “shock and awe” as a “defense” policy, I worry.  Change is essential; people are suffering under cruel dictatorships, but as with the prairie, the return of life following a scorched-earth policy takes generations; the cost is terrible and the results are always mixed.

My little photographic record (which led to this line of thought) began with seeing a flower I’d never seen before, a few days earlier.  Since I didn’t have my cellphone/camera that day, I took a mental photo and did a little sketch in watercolor while I was at my teaching job at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Fay, an avid gardener in my class, didn’t recognize it, either, and suggested that I take it to Plant Information, where they were able to identify it for me:    Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea Purpurea).  The description in the book said it requires a “rich, well-developed environment.”  In other words, it only grows where generations of untouched prairie plants have been able to flourish and propogate and create the right conditions; it’s not just going to pop up on a foreclosed subdivision where people stopped mowing the grass for a year or two.  Which explains why I’ve never seen it before; it doesn’t grow just anywhere.
The custodians of Gallery Park, the beautiful jewel which contains patches of untouched prairie, utilize controlled burns to maintain the natural cycle of destruction and rebirth that allows the prairie to flourish.  How do we replicate a “controlled” burn in the world of politics and nation building?  Now, there’s the challenge.
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“Knittivists” Repairing The World

There is a wonderful project called “Tikkun Tree”, which is organizing fiber artists to contribute knitted, crocheted, embroidered and sewn leaves and doves to a fiber olive tree.  The tree will be a symbol of peace and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.  It is inspired by  “the courageous and remarkable efforts of Jewish and Palestinian citizens and activists in Israel and Diaspora who have been working toward peaceful coexistence” and also by “the many recent knittivist community needlework projects, including the pink tank, knitnotwar 1,0o0 Project , Knit a River, and the Red Sweater Project“.

I can embroider and sew, I think it will be fun to foliate!  If you want to participate, send your leaves to:

The TikkunTree Project
P.O. Box 2088
Philadelphia, PA 19103

I love to paint olive trees.  Here are some works which include olive trees from my portfolio:

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Miles of Letters; Years of Love

Rabbi Frederick Wenger (l.) and Rochelle Wenger, holding their ketubah from 1973, at the wedding of their daughter, Miriam, to Daniel Landis, in 2010. (Photo by Amy Little Photography)

In the photo above, my artistic life is graphically bookmarked.  On the left is Rabbi Fred Wenger with his lovely bride, Rochelle.  At the age of 17, I made the ketubah for their wedding (which they are holding).  It was Fred’s idea:  he’s the kind of guy who recognizes a spark of potential in a person and nags them until they blossom.

It came about because I was an arty kid, and I mentioned to Fred that I had discovered a Jewish folk art I hadn’t seen before:  the decorative ketubah.  Fred’s response was, “You know, I’m getting married this summer.  Why don’t you make my ketubah?”  To which I answered in typical teenage fashion, “I don’t know how.  It’s too hard.  I wouldn’t know where to begin.”  Fred coached me.  He knew that I had enough Hebrew and artistic background to pull it off, and to say he lit a fire in me is an under-statement.
The last time I saw Fred and Rochelle in person was sometime in the 80’s, when they were still living in the Chicago area.  They later moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, where Fred was the rabbi at Cong. Kol Ami until he recently retired.  They raised their two children, Haim and Miriam, and when Miriam announced her engagement, they called me to say that they wanted to commission me to make her ketubah as their wedding gift to her.  I told them that they’d have to come up with something else to give Miriam and her fiance, Daniel, because this one’s on me.
The amazing thing is:  Miriam and Daniel have my first second-generation ketubah, and their parents have the first one I ever made.  It was truly beshert (destined):  I had another couple in line to be the first second-generation couple, but they changed their mind.  The universe intended for this milestone to be in the hands of the Wenger-Landis family.
Perhaps it seems grandiose to say that the universe put it’s big hand into this little arrangement.  But, when I look at the photo: at the primitive, shaky, faded work done by a kid who didn’t know about archival materials, yet expressed the exuberance of discovery; contrasted with a ketubah that reflects my life’s work (so far) of making ketubot, it moves me.  What also moves me is seeing the faces of my dear friends, who were shy, coltish, crazy-in-love kids when I made their ketubah in 1973, and how well life has turned out for them.  They are beloved in their community, have years of good works that have helped many, and have raised two wonderful and successful adult children– now they have Daniel in the family, too!
We move through our lives, as my dad says when I ask him how he’s doing:  “Just plodding along.”  We seldom get the opportunity to take stock of where we came from, and where we’ve arrived.  This photo does that for me.  I feel very blessed to have met Fred and Rochelle, and for the tremendous impact Fred made in my life by simply saying, “Why don’t you make my ketubah?”  It reminds me that we all can have this impact, if we pay attention, and put our energies towards positive things, for ourselves and in encouraging others.  Being a free-lance artist isn’t an easy life; it is constantly challenging and frustrating at times, but this is more than offset by the joy I experience in making ketubot as a collaborative art form.
If you’d like to see Miriam and Daniel’s ketubah close-up, and some more, too, click here.