Where is the interface of healing and art for me? Self-discovery, wholeness, growth and balance are the words that come to mind when I think about healing. Being in a state of balance where I can hold silence and meet my creative self is for me a goal I strive to achieve. For it is from that state that I can create.
My own journey as an artist began with a great deal of personal growth and discovery. In particular, my art over the years has been tied to my growth and learning as a Jew. Many early pieces were the expression of discovery and excitement in my study of Jewish texts. At times, there were specific pieces that included the concept of healing, sometimes at a sub-conscience level, as layers of meaning were revealed over time. Among my early body of textile sculpture, “Rachamim”, a reference to the embrace of G-d, stands out as an example of a healing theme.
Beginning in the mid ‘90s, I began to take on many commissions of work for the worship environment of synagogues. As an artist, working at a professional level with large-scale commissions, which involved working with other artists and craftspeople, the focus becomes management of people, timelines, deadlines and budgets. I found that it was hard to continue the same level of personal discovery and growth I had experienced the previous decade and a half. As I look back on those years now, I see that one outlet I gave myself for connection between my art and healing was my blessing project. This effort began almost simultaneously to the larger projects. First as hand rendered words of blessing on scrolls of webbing and later in production as the Blessings Abound gift line, these small but important objects were critically important to me personally. It was a way of gift giving and sharing on a deep level with others. Eventually, I developed enough blessing sayings to cover all life cycle events from the celebration of joy to the challenge of illness and loss. These meaningful objects were even referred to by one theologian as tangible theology. I took great pride in the blessings people carried in their pockets or placed on their walls. One time I ran into a friend in an airport; his wife was going through chemotherapy and he pulled out his wallet to show me that among the bills, he was also carrying a well-worn pocket blessing with the message “Every Breath is Healing”. I once heard from a mom who had given her daughter the pocket blessing “Every Journey Brings Blessings” when she began her service as an IDF soldier. When her backpack was lost, the mom wrote to me; the one item that her daughter really missed and wanted to replace was her pocket blessing. Countless clergy members tell me stories of how meaningful a gift “Every Breath is Healing” was for their congregants who were in the hospital or how touched people were to receive “Every Journey Brings Blessings” when they were dealing with life’s challenges.
In 2010, my family experienced an unexpected and terrible tragedy when our beautiful 21-year-old son, Avi Schaefer, was killed by a drunk driver. The community reached out to us in so many wonderful, enveloping ways and this collective grace certainly was a key factor in our own healing process. Among the many gifts we received were two of the hand painted blessings I had made back in 1996 for dear friends and these are the two pieces included in the show. One, the blessing scroll with the words “Heal Me Hold Me”, was originally made for my friend, Reverend Ann Howard who gave it to her mother who was then in her last months of life. I had forgotten about this scroll, but Ann found it and brought it to our house during the week of Shiva. It has hung on my bed ever since. Now that I part with it for the exhibit, I am also putting it into production as both a pocket blessing and a blessing scroll, as I realize that these words fill a gap in my offerings. I have decided however to change the order of the words to “Hold Me Heal Me”, for I now know from my own personal experience that the fist step is to be held, and then the healing follows. The second scroll I have in the exhibit is one I made originally for another friend, Rabbi Anne Brener. This hand painted paper scroll in Hebrew holds the words of our traditional prayer said to a family member in mourning: “May you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem”. Anne brought this gift back to me also during Shiva and it brought us great comfort to read it. This scroll remained on our wall until recently when we were finally ready to take it down. The comfort I felt in receiving these gifts of love back from friends, who had received from me at a time of their need, was very special for it was as if they each returned a piece of myself back to me. And that was and remains a great gift of healing.