If you’re planning to visit some of the 800 artist studios during “Nordeast” Minneapolis’ 24th annual Art-A-Whirl from May 17-19, you’ll certainly want to be sure to support the Jewish artists who are participating in it. There are too many to feature here, but if you go to the event’s website, and scroll through the many names (and faces), you’re sure to find a minyan’s worth of Jewfolk there!
TCJ: In a nutshell, what’s been the artistic journey that brought you to Art-A-Whirl?
I studied design at the University of Minnesota, where I learned about color theory and principles. As far back as I can remember, I’ve loved to create, and a few years ago, I began to feel an underlying tug that there was a path I should be pursuing. Over the past few years, I’ve been on a journey of exploration rich with self-discovery. I came to realize that what I was looking so hard to find had been right in front of me all along. By letting go of the looking, and doing what I loved most, I discovered what I had been searching for. The creative piece of my life that had been my joy for so many years was urging me to play, and I realized I needed to do what made me come alive.
Brenda Litman: After graduating from college, I married, raised two sons with my husband, Ted, volunteered, and made art. When our youngest was 16, I embarked on an exciting journey returning to the University of Minnesota. to pursue art seriously, earning a BFA and an MFA. Subsequently, I found a studio in the California Building, northeast Minneapolis, and participated in the very first Art-A-Whirl. I have participated in many since then.
TCJ: Are there any local artists that have been influential in your work?
Wendy Shragg: While I am inspired by many, I can’t credit any one artist with being influential to my work. I’m an active observer of life. I tend to see the world with the curiosity of a child, always exploring, always thinking, always wondering. I notice everyday objects through my own unique lens, and I allow my imagination to run free.
Brenda Litman: I am influenced by the Minneapolis art community and the artists in my building, However, the major influences on my abstract paintings are 1. the forces of nature which surround, nurture and sometimes circumscribe our journey through life and 2. the gestural stroke of ancient Asian calligraphy in the looser modes. I feel the calligraphic stroke, the gestural stroke, and the handwritten word are all natural means of human communication. With the stroke, I indicate we are an integral part of nature.
TJC: How has being Jewish influenced your life and your artistic output?
Wendy Shragg: At our core, each of us has a divine spark; an energy that is uniquely our own. This is referred to as our neshama (soul). Working in an intuitive artistic style, I surrender to that inner power. I create intentional space for my art, get in tune with my neshama, and allow the creative process to flow.
Brenda Litman: My Jewish heritage provides a framework for my art. The journeys and persecutions Jews endured through the centuries from ancient Egypt to the Holocaust and beyond, form our collective memory. I feel for the displaced peoples in the world today especially those at our southern border.
In my Immigration series, I use the metaphor of nature’s garden. All who live in our nation inhabit that garden forming a rich mosaic of entwined blossoms; the ethnicities, the races, the people who immigrated over time and built our country. I celebrate them and the hard-working people now aspiring to make our country their new home.
Tikkun Olam is our desire as Jews to “heal the world.” Art heals and can hold messages as well. I often reference the ocean in my paintings. Vital to the life of the earth, the ocean lives but is endangered as it warms. In my series “The Wave, the Sky, the Expressive Stroke”, the gestural stroke indicates we are at one with nature and a key to our planet’s evolution.