Wendy Evans turned to virtual platforms to introduce popular programs planned for specific groups and is preparing “Above Rubies: Jewish Women Artists” for members and supporters of the Eleanor Roosevelt Hadassah chapter.
Wendy Evans has long presented diverse fine arts history through the art of presentation. Whether in a college classroom, an art showplace or a public speaking venue, she has told the stories behind treasured paintings, sculptures, fabrics and other media according to different themes through creative talks supplemented with images.
For many years preceding the pandemic, Evans communicated in person before art history students at Wayne State University, Henry Ford Community College and the Society of Active Retirees (SOAR) locations. Throughout 36 years leading presentations for visitors at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), she expanded her topics.
Since the pandemic, Evans turned to virtual platforms to introduce popular programs planned for specific groups and is preparing “Above Rubies: Jewish Women Artists” for members and supporters of the Eleanor Roosevelt Hadassah chapter. It begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 26.
“I call it ‘About Rubies’ because of a quote in the Book of Proverbs: ‘Who can find a virtuous woman because her price is above rubies,’” explains Evans, adding tongue-in-cheek: “Not all the women in this presentation are going to be virtuous, and I’m not implying that they are.”
Evans’ Hadassah talk reaches from the first-known Jewish woman artist, Rachel Olivetti, who lived in Italy in the 1600s and embroidered Judaica that included Torah Ark curtains. It moves through the centuries and delves into current talents, such as Beth Lipman, who forms glass into copies of impressive objects that are not glass.
“My presentation is going to be very varied,” Evans says. “I need to find good images, so It takes a lot of research and a lot of it is done online.”
Evans’ talk expands on the growing number of Jewish women artists born in the 1800s. As an example, Florine Stettheimer will be represented by her painting “Love Flight of a Pink Candy Heart,” showing an unusual style that related to the artist herself, her family and important people in the arts.
“Stettheimer’s works were not Jewish in terms of religion but in terms of the people involved,” Evans says. “They’re fun and interesting.”
Artistic expressions of the Holocaust also will be covered. Esther Krinitz is one artist who lived through the Nazi occupation of Poland and created embroidered panels to tell her story, particularly to her grandchildren.
“There isn’t such a thing as Jewish art or Jewish style,” Evans says. “Jewish artists are impacted by the society they’re in at the time and what’s gone before. Like any other artist, they adapted.”
To demonstrate that versatility and adaptation, Evans makes sure to include a range of approaches. Among the featured artists in her upcoming talk will be representational photographer Diane Arbus, surrealistic photographer Claude Cahun, installation specialist Judy Chicago, sculptor Eva Hesse, abstract expressionist Elaine de Kooning, collage expressionist Lee Krasner and sculptor Louise Nevelson.
“Most of the time, the more I study an artist, the more I like that person’s work,” Evans says. “I don’t show images I don’t like, and I don’t generally show imagines I think are inappropriate. I have a whole talk about how women have been treated [objectified] in art.”
Evans, who enjoys doing art history research, has developed dozens of presentations that focus on specific museums, artists, styles and cities, among other topics. A visit to her website (art-talks.org) becomes a learning experience with plenty of impressive images to view.
Evans’ interest in artists and art history began in her London-based childhood, when her parents took her to museums. After trying her hand at painting in high school, she decided her artistic skills were limited and moved into an economics major at Oxford University.
Since moving to the United States when her husband, Leonard, accepted work as a traffic safety specialist, she volunteered to bring art programs into elementary schools then attended by her children.
As her children were growing, she studied art history at the DIA and became a docent. That led to her earning a master’s degree in art history at Wayne, which qualified her for teaching.
“I’ve been talking to Jewish organizations for a very long time, putting together talks that have a Jewish emphasis,” Evans says. “I was going to do Jewish artists in general but realized there were way too many, so I gave women their own talk.
“I love teaching about art because it covers everything — literature, religion, politics, engineering — plus, you’ve got wonderful images to show. I’m beginning to collect things on art stolen by the Nazis and the families that became Jewish dealers. That’s the next series I want to put together.”