By Michelle Cohen
From painting to photography, jewelry-making to dance, Jewish artists in the Lehigh Valley are finding ways to put their unique stamp on traditional methods. Meet a few local artists below:
Svetlana Howells, a jeweler and tango instructor, has lived in the Lehigh Valley since 1978. Originally from Russia, she earned a degree in art history from Kutztown University, but in terms of her craft, she learned the most from “messing around with” jewelry-making tools. “I begin a piece by just looking at the raw material before me and imagining how I can manipulate it,” said Howells, who enjoys discovering new techniques to interact with materials. Her primary method, fusing, is not considered a formal method, but she turned it from an accidental discovery into a way to make unique jewelry. She creates pieces with “elegance, ingenuity, timelessness, whimsy and heart” that are inspired by nature and Japanese art and architecture.
Howells also teaches Argentine tango, a dance she calls a “life-altering experience.” The steps matter much less than the connection to the music and the “focus on two people moving as one and interpreting the music together,” she said, and she enjoys bringing tango to the community with a variety of event collaborations.
For Susan Levin, who started her art career by painting in oils, a move to Hawaii 30 years ago prompted a new passion for her art. Inspired by the “intense beauty of the land and by the warmth of its diverse culture,” she found a mentor who taught her a unique way of collage. Her collage papers are hand-dyed in such a way that no two pieces are ever alike. They are then layered, scraped and sanded. Gold leaf is also added to the process. When Muhlenberg College Hillel was getting a new building, Levin was commissioned to create a series of collages based on the seven Biblical days of creation; her works still hang there today.
Levin has also created a variety of Jewish objects with silk painting, including tallitot, challah covers and a chuppah for her son and daughters. The intricate process involves stretching the silk, tracing the design, painting with dyes, steaming for two hours, washing out any excess dye and finally quilting it. Beading is also involved in some of her more intricate pieces. In addition to creating Jewish art, Levin enjoys representing natural scenes and fish, like the ones in her koi pond. Whatever the project, “I feel happy when I’m creating,” she said.
Jett Sarachek began taking pictures while enrolled at Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia. Originally an illustration major, she discovered photography in an elective course. “It opened up a possibility for more creativity and it was a natural fit for me, so I pursued that as a way of making my art,” said Sarachek, who has followed her passion for over 40 years.
Photography became the “means for me to explore the world as an artist,” said Sarachek, who began with black and white street portraits in the ‘60s and evolved over time into her current style. “After 20 years of 35mm work, I needed a new perspective, a new challenge,” she realized, and she began to experiment with fine art photography, which involves creating images that represent more than the physical people or objects in the frame. Using a pinhole camera with exposures from 30 seconds to four minutes has led to “a type of magical distortion as the process of taking a picture is slowed down, simplified and there is more time to experience the making of art. The photography of everyday becomes extraordinary,” she said.
Influenced by her grandmother’s creations and abstract expressionist painters, her goal is to “evoke as much of an emotional response from the viewer as they do for me when I am experiencing and creating the photograph/art. I want my images to hold the viewer in an embrace where they linger, question and imagine.”