I love working in a small, 12 x 12 format. It forces me to really think about what I want my painting to say, because the small space doesn’t lend itself to a lot of miscellaneous flourishes. Here are a few pieces I’ve done in the past few months. By the way, Facebook has somehow removed my page (and no–I haven’t been posting anything horrible!), and I’ve decided to just let it go, so if you have a comment, please post it here on WordPress, or just contact me directly. The pieces here are all 12 x 12, Acrylic and mixed media, framed and ready for display.
While I was researching and writing Riva’s Journey: a Memoir, (now available on Amazon), I uncovered tons of facts about conditions in Eastern Europe during the late 19th-early 20th centuries that I wasn’t able to incorporate into my grandmother’s story. I hated to let go of all that information, so I decided to use it to create a presentation for my community’s History Club. I wanted to talk about how fully half the world’s Jews came to live in the Kingdom of Poland, under what sort of conditions they lived their lives, and the profound socio-cultural-political changes that happened in the century and a half after the first Polish partition in 1772. What led so many Eastern Europeans, Jews but also millions of Poles, Russians, and others to pick up and cross the Atlantic in search of better lives? To round out the story, I decided to expand the presentation to discuss the Atlantic crossing and the reception the immigrants received once they arrived in New York.
I’ve given this presentation twice now—once to a group at my synagogue and then to the History Club. Both times, I’ve realized that I probably bit off more than I could chew. There’s so much material that covering it in only one hour doesn’t really do justice to the subject. Still, I hated to leave anything out, and people did seem to enjoy hearing about all of it.
The whole experience reminds me that originally, decades ago, I prepared to teach history, a subject to which I was drawn because I always wanted to know “what happened? Why?” And each time I revisit an era, I not only find answers to my questions, but also discover new insights and deepen my understanding of the events I’m studying. Maybe I’m returning to my academic roots after all this time. Whatever—I’m enjoying the detour.
Everyone in the United States today is an immigrant or descended from immigrants, with the exception of Native Americans whose ancestors were here before Columbus. Between 1880 and 1920, people from Eastern and Southern Europe poured into the United States by the millions. They were Russians and Poles, Czechs and Romanians, Italians, Greeks and Ukrainians. All of our ancestors came from someplace else. Riva’s Journey explores the reasons why one large group of people, Jews who’d been born in the Russian Pale of Settlement, decided to leave their homes and immigrate to the United States, and how they adjusted to becoming Americans. Riva’s Journey tells the story of one woman, and one family, who made the trip.
There’s a curse, erroneously attributed to the Chinese, that goes, “May you live in interesting times. Riva’s Journey is the fictionalized memoir of a woman whose life spanned the start of the Industrial Revolution in Tsarist Russia to the post-war prosperity of the United States—my grandmother. She lived in very interesting times.
It was a time of vast social and political changes in the area defined as the Pale of Settlement, established by Catherine the Great of Russia about 1791, after Russia took over large parts of what had been Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, and more, and incorporated those areas into the Russian Empire. Jews were forbidden to establish new settlements outside the Pale, nor could they live in most major cities such as Moscow. The May Laws of 1881 further severely limited Jewish rights to own land, to access education, and to engage in business. The majority of Jews relocated to various large towns and cities, pursued livelihoods in trades and small businesses, or found jobs in the newly established factories that sprouted up as industrialization of Russia progressed.
And many immigrated to America….