Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Rosh Hashanah 5772

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins at sundown tomorrow. The festival lasts for two days and commemorates the creation of Adam and Eve over 5700 years ago, on the 6th day of Creation.
Rosh Hashanah is also a judgement day, when Jews believe that God balances a person's good deeds over the last year against their bad deeds, and decides what the next year will be like for them. It's a time for people to think about their priorities in life and to reflect on what has been achieved in the past year.
After services in the synagogue a special meal is eaten at home, including apples dipped in honey, a symbol of the sweet New Year that each Jew hopes lies ahead; a sweet carrot stew called a tzimmes is often served; Challah bread in a round loaf, rather than the plaited loaf served on the Sabbath, so as to symbolise a circle of life and of the year; often a pomegranate on the table because of a tradition that pomegranates have 613 seeds, one for each of the commandments that a Jew is obliged to keep.
As the Hebrew years comes to a close and a new one starts, I would like to wish all my Jewish customers and friends a very happy and sweet new year. In the words of the traditional blessings, "May this year and its misfortunes finish, and next year with all its blessings start. May you and all of Israel be inscribed in the books of life, peace happiness, blessings and good fortune."

Sunday, 25 September 2011

A Land and It’s Dolls

My Granny and her sister were born in Germany. For obvious reasons they left that country when they were young. My Granny eventually settled in England, whilst her sister moved to what was at the time Palestine and eventually became the State of Israel. My Great-Aunt visited us in England many, many times, often bringing me a doll in some form of Israeli national dress as a gift. These would go on a shelf in my bedroom with all my other 'knick-knacks' and a collection was formed.
I got older, left home and eventually moved to Israel myself. The doll collection remains in England in the home that I grew up in, yet each time I visit I spend a little time looking at it, remembering my kindly Great-Aunt and her wonderful gifts.
With that in mind, at the beginning of the summer I was excited to read about the exhibition 'A Land and It's Dolls' being held at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. We visited the very same museum during the holidays to see the incredible 'Tales in Sand' exhibition but the doll collection was closed in the evenings when the sand one was open and funnily enough not one member of my family of boys wanted to come and see it with me another time!
Last week I decided that I had to see this exhibition before it closes at the end of this month and so I hopped on to the train to Tel Aviv for a morning all to myself.
'A Land and It’s Dolls – Israel and National Identity' looks at the Israeli national costume dolls which were sold in souvenir shops and shops owned by institutional bodies such as WIZO (Women's International Zionist Organization) and Maskit (a cultural venture launched in the 1950's to promote Israeli handicrafts). All the dolls displayed in the exhibition were produced in Israel, first by individual artists and craftspeople and later, as demand grew, by local workshops. The earliest dolls in the exhibition—a middle-eastern man and woman—were created by Rivka Stark-Avivi (1895-1979) in 1919. The most recent ones are from the 1980's.
The exhibition begins with the Pre-State period and representations of Israel's varied immigrant population. It then proceeds to the 1950's and 1960's, when souvenir dolls mostly depicted the idealized version of the new Israeli, often as a young pioneer in an embroidered blouse and khaki shorts. The 1960's and 1970's dolls glamorized the young Israeli soldier, whilst I also spotted several Ultra-Orthodox figures and Arabs, a result of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. The most recent dolls are from the 1980's: Local production of Israeli souvenir dolls came to an end in the 1990's, when there was little demand for them mostly due to the sharp reduction in tourism caused by the First Intifada.
As with every exhibition I visit, I had my favourites. I adored the modern-looking and often humorous wooden dolls made by Frank Meisler, the German-born artist who left Nazi Germany for England and moved to Israel in 1955. Meisler later switched his creative energies to the production of upscale Jewish-themed metal sculptures, which, to this day, are popular with well-heeled tourists. Something about his wooden-headed dolls really appealed to me, especially his depiction of several of Israel's greatest leaders: Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, the military leader and politician Moshe Dayan, and the fourth Prime Minister of the State of Israel, Golda Meir (above).
Once home I quickly sent an e-mail off to my Dad, sending him photos of the many dolls I had seen and which I remembered having in my own collection. I am now awaiting the arrival of two wooden-headed dolls which I had never realised were designed by Meisler himself! Oh, how I wish Great-Auntie Rene had still been around to enjoy this delightful exhibition with me.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

75, 80, 90...

I seem to have been busy with a number of 'age' cards recently. In my second to last post I showed you a 60th birthday card. Today I made a special card for an upcoming 88th birthday celebration and the cards you can see here were made for a 75, 80 and 90 year old.
This card, above, went to a special Savta (the Hebrew for Grandmother) in the UK. Her two red-headed grandsons live here in Israel, whilst the other three kids are in London. One of the redheads babysits for my boys, so it was easy to come up with a 'portrait' of him. For all the others, I worked from photos.
Even though the card was not actually from me, I received a lovely e-mail when it had arrived at its destination. "Today we received the 8Oth birthday card for my mother from her grandchildren. Another superb card. Thank you."
Along a similar theme, I was also asked to make a card for another UK-based Grandma. This time I showed the grandchildren and Mum and Dad! I was told that Grandma Betty loves crosswords and anything book related. In addition, my customer, who has ordered from me several times before, updated me as to what type of kippa (skullcap) his sons now wear and the shapes of his kid's glasses! I always make a point of telling my customers that my designs are by no means realistic portraits but, with all these specific little details, I hope that somehow my characters do look a little bit like the people they are supposed to represent!
After this card was delivered, I received one of the nicest thank you e-mails ever!
"Hi Lisa,
Just want to let you know that Grandma Betty loved the card. She thought it made her look a lot younger!!! Thanks for bringing joy to our family."
It doesn't get much better than that, does it?
I have no idea what the person who received this last card looks like! A simple request was made for a 75th birthday card for a gentleman who is a rugby league fan and also enjoys a little gambling and greyhound racing. He originates from Ireland, thus I added the Shamrock - a 3-leaf Clover and Ireland's most recognized national symbol.
My customer seemed particularly impressed with the greyhound illustrated on the card. I didn't let on that my youngest son had recently read Michael Morpurgo's 'Born to Run' and had urged me to read it as well. The book is a bittersweet tale of a champion greyhound's journey through life and so, by the time I needed to illustrate this particular card, I was well briefed on greyhounds and exactly how they should look.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

My favourite colour combination and more...

Back in July I received a message from Linda B telling me that my Japanese Lady Papercut Picture was being featured on her blog alongside a selection of other handcrafted items. She was asking her readers to vote for their favourite item and the winner with the greatest number of votes would win a feature solo blog interview. I am happy to say that my picture got the most votes by far and in August the interview appeared on her blog.
Linda asked me what my favourite colour combinations are, what inspires me and where my ideas come from. She wanted to know why I think people should buy handmade and what lessons I have learned from other artists. Intrigued? Well why not pop over to Linda's blog to find out my responses and more?
Below you can view the item which won me all the votes. A beautiful addition to any room, this picture of a Japanese woman is an original artwork, created in cut paper on a crisp, white stock and signed by me. The artwork measures 12.5cm x 17.5cm.
If you are interested in learning more about it or already know which wall it would look great hanging on, please do stop by my shop.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

South African Wildlife

I am a member of the Etsy Expats team, a friendly group of expats who "cheer each other on" (as the tagline on our Etsy page says). Not long ago a fellow team member asked me to make a birthday card for her Mum who lives in South Africa. Mum was turning 60 and my online friend wanted a special card to mark the occasion.
As is my usual way, I requested a list of Mum's hobbies and interests and discovered that she is an extremely talented artist and has been painting African animals and flowers for more than 30 years. I was blown away by her art and also a little intimidated by it too! Would someone so talented really appreciate a card made by little me?
I learnt that Christianity is also a huge part of her life and was asked to include a bible, along with a lion, zebra and paintbrushes and paint. She loves earthy colours like green, brown and orange. Oh, and could I add a number 60 too please?
I am happy to report that both my customer and her Mum, talented as they both are, loved the card. My customer noticed how long I had spent creating it - each of those zebra stripes were cut by hand - and thanked me for my hard work. With my approval she had planned to write a bible scripture around the edge of the card - the reason why there is no greeting on the front of the card - but apparently Mum didn't want her to touch it and the card stayed as I made it. It travelled a long way, from Israel to my customer in France and then on to South Africa, but it was well worth the effort since it seems to have really helped make Mum's day!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Lilac and Gold

The young lady illustrated on this card celebrated her Bat Mitzvah last month. She had recently completed a sponsored swim for charity and her Aunt told me that she also talks on the phone a lot! Though my son pointed out to me that my card was 'wrong' - that the girl couldn't be on the phone in the swimming pool - it made my customer laugh and I am told that the Bat Mitzvah girl loved it too.
I was also asked to make cards for the rest of the family, all with a little lilac or purple in the design, the Bat Mitzvah girl's favourite colour. The name 'Yona' means 'Dove' in Hebrew so one card had to have a dove on it. The others display a Star of David, one of the symbols most commonly associated with the Jewish people, and the number 12, the age that a Jewish girl becomes Bat Mitzvah.
Bat Mitzvah aside, I have also made a number of Golden Wedding cards lately. 50 years of marriage is really something special and a wonderful reason to celebrate. The origin of the 25th wedding anniversary symbol, which is silver, can be traced back to medieval Germany. When a couple had been married for 25 years they were honored by a silver wreath being placed on the head of the wife. If a couple made it to 50 years of marriage, a gold wreath was used - thus the golden anniversary was born!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Safe to travel?

I think I can safely say that I have never begun a holiday before with a call to the Home Front Command but that is exactly what we had to do when we went on a recent trip to Eilat. We had booked our holiday weeks before but then the terrible terrorist attacks on the way to the city happened just before we were due to travel and rockets were being fired into the area of Israel we planned to travel through.
The Home Front staff assured that it was safe for us to go but the hubbie and I still discussed it over and over again. In the end we decided to go ahead with our plans but by travelling a rather out of the way but hopefully safer route through the south of the country. It did take a loooong time to get there. The kids began to get bored and drove us a little bit crazy, but I am happy that we took the detour and thankfully the only sign of the current troubles was the long queue at the checkpoint into Eilat itself. Something you get used to living in a country such as ours.
This past summer I have become somewhat of an expert on finding 'different' things to do with the kids. Eilat is essentially a resort city, located at the northern tip of the Red Sea and, even though I dream of doing nothing at all but swimming and reading when I am on holiday, I soon realise that it's not really what any of us want. We want to see the area. Do fun things together. Try something new. And so that's what we did!
Our holiday started with a visit to Hai-Bar Yotvata, a large reserve in the southern Arava Valley north of Eilat, established to foster the breeding of animals mentioned in the Bible and other endangered desert animals. Hai-Bar is divided into three main sections: a 12 square kilometre open area where herds of desert animals live in conditions similar to the wild; a predator centre with enclosures containing large predators, reptiles and small desert animals; and a dark room to view nocturnal animals when they are active.
We purchased a CD which guided us through the reserve in our car and were soon met by a group of ostriches, eager to taste the flies which had got stuck on our car during our downward journey. As they pecked away at our vehicle any worries about the safety of our trip disappeared and we began to relax and enjoy ourselves. What else can you do when there are five or six very large birds with long pink necks and big eyes staring at you?
The plan of action was to do some kind of activity each morning and return to our hotel later in the day to cool off in the pool. A necessity in the 42°C+ Eilat heat! One day we experienced a rather bumpy camel ride through the beautiful desert landscape of the Eilat Mountains Reserve, followed by a light snack of Bedouin pita, labnah, olives and tea brewed from desert plants at the camel ranch. We snorkeled in the sparkling clear blue water of the Red Sea to view the coral reef and the many varieties of fish and sea creatures living in it. A truly breathtaking experience!
We paid a return visit to the delightful Dolphin Reef where we once again sat on the floating piers to watch the “bottlenose” dolphins which are fed several times a day and, especially at those times, jump and play together and "talk" to the staff. We drank cocktails by the water's edge and swam in the enclosed swimming area where more colourful fish swam between our toes.
It's always hard to head home after a good holiday but Eilat is relatively easy to get to and I'm sure we'll be back there soon. The astonishing fish and coral, the stunning red mountains and blue waters of the Red Sea and those friendly ostriches at Hai-Bar will no doubt draw us back again and again.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Shades of Jade

You can see from the date on the cover of this Customised Guest Book that it was created some time ago. Like always, I waited to be sure that the recipients had received it before I displayed it... and then summer got in the way! I have more holiday photos to come but thought I'd show you this album now, before Meghan and Dan reach their first wedding anniversary!!!
The bride's brother ordered this album. He told me that his sister is an orchestra/music teacher, that she loves music and is in a women's barbershop quartet called "Shades of Jade". He even sent me a link for the quartet's facebook page and wow, Meghan is seriously talented! She and Dan like to watch sports together. Her husband is a big St. Louis Blues and St. Louis Cardinals fan and played a variety of sports in high school and college. With all this information I set to work on the design.
Both the cover and inside pages reflect many of the couple's hobbies and interests. I have used green - jade - as the background colour throughout, based on the bride's quartet's name. She is even wearing a jade pendant since I noticed that is what the singers wear when they are performing. Dan is wearing a suit with a matching green tie and, though I assume he didn't wear one on his wedding day, he has popped a St. Louis Blues baseball cap on his head and is holding a ball in his hand.
The inside pages of the album continue to reflect the couple's interests. Clockwise from top left, I have shown Meghan's violin; popcorn and tickets because one of their favourite activities is to go to the movies together; the St. Louis Cardinals team badge, Dan's second favourite team; music notes for the talented Meghan and, finally, a hockey stick and soccer ball, two of Dan's preferred sports.
The wedding took place in a church so for once I wasn't working with Jewish graphics! I had fun adding doves and wedding bells and some pretty pastel flowers throughout.
Upon seeing photos of the album (I wrapped it well before its journey to the US) my customer sent me an e-mail telling me that it was "Truly amazing – I’m certain they will love it!". I hope that Meghan and Dan loved it too.
If anyone is interested in ordering their very own guest book/album, there is a listing for one in my shop.