REFLECTIONS - VOL. VIII (ARTIST ISSUE), WINTER, 2018
For our Fall 2017 Soul Space Retreat, we invited artists from the three Abrahamic faith communities to share their work. We had a wonderful afternoon viewing the artwork displayed, listening to spiritual connections each artist expresses with her art form, watching an awe-inspiring Ebru Art demonstration, hearing a story that reflects on a secret garden that gave a little girl hope in spite of poverty and despair, and hearing a powerful voice singing a rendition of "I Know I've Been Changed." Please enjoy this gallery of visual, audio and literary art and let it inspire you. We welcome your comments.
Director, Soul Space Interfaith Women's Group
Sevim Surucu began her career as a landscape designer in Turkey after earning her bachelor’s degree in the field from Istanbul University. After moving to the United States, she began studying Ebru, the art of paper marbling, as a means of combining the design skills she learned in school with her love of nature. She uses traditional floral forms and contemporary designs, as well as her own designs. She has held demonstrations of her work in numerous U.S. cities. More recently, Sevim, who is married and has three children, has started studying Tezhip, the art of illumination, “as part of my dream to introduce the various traditional Turkish art forms in the United States.” Those include calligraphy, earthenware (cini) and miniature painting (minyatur.)
Kathleen Wetstein is a spiritual director, who helps others purposefully examine who they are and who God is for them. An avid quilter and embroiderer since her childhood in Boise, she began painting only after moving to Chicago five years ago. Kathleen says she uses her art as prayer. Her work, which she calls visual contemplative art, allows her to “play and pray.” Using mostly acrylic paint, spray paint and found objects in collage, her works contain many layers and evolve over time. A retired Catholic school teacher as well as a mother and grandmother, Kathleen has studied at the Spirituality Center of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and holds certificates from the John Paul II Center for New Evangelization, Archdiocese of Denver; and the Claret Center and Bishop Anderson House, both in Chicago. She currently practices as a spiritual director at St. John Berchmans, in Logan Square, where she and her husband are parishioners.
Metalsmith and jeweler Jane Weintraub focuses her work on ritual and mythology. Her pieces, both functional and non-functional, “look at ceremony and spirituality and reinterpret it with contemporary and sometimes non-traditional materials,” she says. Her functional objects relate to Jewish practice and tradition and reference Jewish mysticism. She also creates small sculptures of “ambiguous narratives” that have used such diverse cultural allusions as Southeast Asian ceremonial structures, Shamanism and Oceanic mythology. Jane holds a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Wisconsin. She recently retired from the art department of Northeastern Illinois University, where she taught metalsmithing and jewelry, to devote full time to her art.
Sarwat Khan has been a professional artist for 12 years, creating work in a range of styles, including impressionist, expressionist, minimalist, modern and geometric abstract in addition to religious art, and using a variety of media, including sculpture, ceramics, drawing and photography. A Chicago-based commission artist who studied fine arts, Sarwat says her work and her intention have “changed drastically in recent years,” becoming more religious as she did. Many of her works describe her Muslim faith, using verses from Quran, the names of Allah and other religious content. “I intend to create work that is a source of calling people towards Allah, toward the religion, to bring blessing in their lives, their home, their being,” she says.
Leslie Connie has been singing since she was a child, when she trained in Chicago church choirs under recognized choral director the Rev. Theodore McEwing. Leslie’s favorite music is gospel, although she also loves jazz and rhythm and blues. As a special-education teacher at Evanston Township High School for 28 years, as well as a driver’s education instructor, she has had little time to showcase her art, although she attends and occasionally performs at Morton Grove Community Church. Leslie considers her two sons and a daughter, all of whom sing, her "greatest accomplishment and reward!”
Judith Joseph's penchant for art was influenced at an early age by her love of books and illustration. Her immersion in Jewish culture also began as a child, and after learning to read and write Hebrew, she combined her interests by teaching herself Hebrew calligraphy as a teenager. As an art major at the University of Wisconsin, she was already creating ketubahs (hand-written and illustrated Jewish marriage contracts), which remain a staple of her work as well as her passion. She also does calligraphy and painting. In creating art, she says, “I am mimicking the holy act of Creation…When my work includes Hebrew or Jewish content, I feel the added benefit of exploring and transmitting my cultural heritage."
Nancy Labiak recognized her talent for story telling in 1991, when she returned to the convent where she had studied for four years, to visit a former mentor on her deathbed. The dying nun whispered, “Nancy, tell me one of your stories,” and Nancy provided “my last gift to her.” Nancy, who entered the convent at 16, later became an airline stewardess, and she also holds a master’s degree in divinity, which she earned at Loyola University of Chicago in 1998. A Roman Catholic, she practices her art by leading retreats and prayer services, where she tells stories that “hopefully capture and attest to my core belief in a God who walks with us, opening doors.” She considers story-telling “painting pictures with words,” and believes written stories are a very different art. The story here is a written version of the one she told at the fall SoulSpace retreat. “As I have been asked to recreate the story in the written word, I can only hope that the tale does not lose too much in the transition,” she says. Click on the title below to read Nancy's story.
Dina Rehab studied Tezhip (تذهيب), the art of illumination, for three years in Istanbul and Chicago under various renowned artists, including Nebahat Pektas and Gülbün Mesara, but still considers herself at the beginning of her journey of creating “this beautiful traditional art that has been refined over the centuries through the brushstrokes of masters.” Tezhip, derived from the Arabic word ذهب or gold, literally means "to make gold," and is traditionally used to decorate pages from the Holy Quran, holy verses and important manuscripts.
Jerri Zbiral has made, taught, written about, sold and appraised artwork for the past 40 years. Much of Jerri’s career has been devoted to photography—her own and others. She founded and directed community photography programs for the Public Arts Workshop and the Community Arts Center of the Uptown Hull House in Chicago. A recent project, Following the Box, an international art effort based on found photographs made in India at the end of World War II, has taken her and her husband Alan Teller, to India, where, under a Fulbright-Nehru Senior Scholar Award grant, they have worked with Indian artists to reinterpret the photos and create a visual dialogue through art. The artwork she presented at our fall retreat uses an array of materials, from gems to fabric, and depicts her journey from her birth in Prague to a Catholic mother who survived Nazi concentration camps, to her marriage and eventual conversion to Judaism. Through art, she says, she is “able to work through issues…to face and sometimes expel demons.”