What is the soul? Where does it reside? And what does it look like?
A group of Twin Cities artists pondering those questions came up with some answers that they’ve boldly depicted in an array of media from watercolors and photography to glass, copper, cardboard and textiles.
Giving form to the soul became an exercise in self-discovery, said Lucy Rose Fischer, a St. Louis Park artist who spearheaded creation of the Jewish Women Artists’ Circle four years ago. Now the project’s impact has spread beyond the group to attract attention in the larger community. At the invitation of the University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality and Healing, the artists’ collective work, titled “Neshama: Visions of the Soul,” will be on exhibit through Oct. 2 in the Larson Art Gallery on the university’s St. Paul campus.
The artist group’s first project focused on prayer. The process left participants inspired, Fischer told guests Tuesday evening during an artist reception at the gallery. What came next, she said, just “bubbled up.” The artists decided their second project would focus on neshama, a term meaning “breath of life” that represents a Jewish concept of soul. Seventeen women whose art is on exhibit were intrigued by the challenge of “a concept you can’t see,” said Fischer, a career gerontologist who became a full-time artist five years ago. Their work reflects varied approaches to the concept of soul that encompass spirituality, intimacy, faith, life force, memory and the afterlife.
Energy, self and community
Made with copper and thread, artist Rachel Breen’s leaf-like sculpture explores a “complex relationship” between body and soul, she wrote in a booklet created to chronicle the exhibit. Her sculpted design also symbolizes how “our souls are inextricably tangled up with how we act in the world.” Jane Bassuk’s definition of soul is an “energy that connects us to all living things,” she wrote. At the center of her embroidered, beaded quilt is a moving tree-like form representing an “energy that permeates the universe.”
Renanah Halpern’s art displays pure-colored shapes that suggest a flame, a teardrop or womb, surrounded by layers of more complex color patterns. “We’re born with a pure soul,” she explained during the reception Tuesday. Over the years, that can change as we experience life and often trauma and illness. “I think healing connects us back to our soul. We have to peel back the muted layers to get back to that core, that center.”
Dianne Silverman’s painting re-creates a childhood birthday party when her soul “filled with joy.” She titled it “Becoming Aware of My Soul.” Lucy Rose Fischer chose the title “Community of Souls” for her hand-blown glass vase with its images of women, men and children dancing. “Each of us has a unique soul,” she explains. “We also are interconnected and intertwined with all souls.”
Classes to integrate arts
How does Fischer evaluate the result of the group’s challenging soul project? “Something invisible became visible,” she said. “Healing is a big part of it.” The artists’ group plan a third project.
Mary Jo Kreitzer, director of the university’s Center for Spirituality and Healing, called the artists’ work “deeply moving to us.” The center’s goal is to create a formal program that includes classes linking healing to the visual arts, music, movement and gardening, she said. The initiative is backed by growing research showing the arts’ ability to help people heal both mentally and physically.
The artists value the self-discovery that comes with their art, too. “I think we eventually understand more with our art,” said Bette Globus Goodman.
“That’s the beauty of it,” Renanah Halpern added.