Emily Beadle, “Sweet Sunshine”

Natalie Balazovich is an extraordinary gardener. In only a matter of days, she is transforming a few indoor rooms — where there is little sun, no soil, no streams or lakes — into a beautiful forest.

The forest will be home to trees (of a sort) and images of nature in all colors and sizes, some completely lifelike and some wild and fantastic. They will be painted and drawn, sculpted and made of glass.

The forest will be called the “Essence of Life,” an exhibit curated by Balazovich that celebrates Tu b’Shevat, the Jewish holiday of the trees, marked this year on Feb. 11. The show will be on display at the Janice Charach Gallery at the West Bloomfield JCC from Jan. 8 through Feb. 9.

Malt, “Swim”

Natalie Balazovich is assistant director of the gallery, and these days she’s putting the finishing touches on “Essence of Life,” which will include more than 100 works by 30 artists, along with a coloring event, a Tu b’Shevat seder and a hand-lettering workshop.

“The exhibit is vivid and uplifting,” Balazovich says. “It’s like the gallery will be alive with themes of renewal and rebirth.”

It began with a call for art, which gallery staff posted on websites and Facebook pages, seeking submissions for works based on Tu b’Shevat. The responses were quick and, Balazovich says, surprising, because they included mostly artists who have yet to exhibit at the Charach Gallery.

Artists were allowed to submit up to five works. Balazovich then spent considerable time choosing what to include. There were so many submissions she loved that “Essence of Life” will begin on the bottom floor, wind along the hallway leading upstairs and continue throughout the second floor.

Ken Axelrad, “Ancient Evenings”

There’s an enormous range of experience among the artists, Balazovich says. Some are very well known; others are “emerging artists who have never shown before.”   

The final collection includes a father-and-daughter team, Paul and Camille LaMontagne — one who makes surreal images of trees with hidden elements, another whose paintings are life-like roses and cats; popular local ceramics teacher Allison Berlin; renowned artist Brenda Stumpf of Pennsylvania, who believes that “creating art is a mystical and potent act; it’s a shamanistic environ that transcends time and space”; Lev Davidov (featured on the Jewish News cover this past February); and Miriam Svidler-Maximkov, whose interactive typographical works are 3-D models that include running water and sculptures of rice paper and string that show the Israeli desert.   

Lev Davidov, “Inner Sanctum”

Balazovich begins the organizing once all the art has arrived. She regards the empty gallery as her canvas, and when she curates she puts consideration into every aspect of the design, thoughtfully imagining where to place the pieces that are easy and bright, and where to find a home for those that are somber or quiet, moody or even strange.

Balazovich hopes that “Essence of Life” not only showcases fresh images of nature but also takes visitors into a forest-like atmosphere, with sculpture arranged as if to create a pathway, and lighting both emphasizing each individual work and developing the sense of a deep, quiet area filled with trees — a place that is mysterious, beautiful and surprising. *


Lena Joan Thomas, “Waiting”

“Essence of Life” opens Sunday, Jan. 8, and continues through Feb. 9. Among the artists whose work will be included are Jean-Paul Aboudib, Jim Aho, Ken Axelrad, Emilie Beadle, Allison Berlin, Alice Frank, Kelly Kaatz, Deborah Marlowe Kashdan, Elana Lerner, Miriam Mir, Linda Stern, Brenda Stumpf and many more.

Events include:
Coloring, Chocolate and Conversation: A Tu b’Shevat-Themed Adult Coloring Workshop at the JCC’s Meyers Library. 1 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19. $2. RSVP: Francine Menken at (248) 432-5546 or fmenken@jccdet.org.

Hand-Lettering Workshop, with instructor/calligrapher Elana Hopman. 11 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 29. $30 ($25 for JCC members). Learn creative hand-lettering techniques and complete a finished print to keep. Supplies included. RSVP: Kelly Kaatz at (248) 432-5579 or kkaatz@jccdet.org.

Interactive Tu b’Shevat Seder, led by Marilyn Wolfe. 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7. $3 per person. RSVP: Rosa Chessler at (248) 432-5467 or rchessler@jccdet.org.

The gallery also will feature abstract artist Johnny LZR in the Side Gallery. *

By Elizabeth Applebaum, Special to the Jewish News

Previous articleJN’s Videotaped Interview With Bill Berman
Next articleYear In Review 2016