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Ina Golub: Looming Large

Artist weaves tradition into a lifetime of work

By Elaine Durbach


For over 40 years, Newark-born artist Ina Golub says the spiritual beauty of Jewish tradition "has become the expressive power of my art."

Photo courtesy of Newark Museum



Newark/New York (meaus) The Newark Museum's exhibition of Ina Golub's fiber art is called "Completing the Circle," but the 69-year-old makes it clear that "completion" does not imply she's finished. "Like in everything I design, there is always an opening in the circle--for the next thing to come," she said.

By way of example, she cited a Torah scroll cover she created for Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, on which a circle of Hebrew text opens up, signifying further potential. That lavishly decorated cover is just one of many the artist has created, part of the array of her woven, beaded, and embroidered works on display and in use in synagogues and other Jewish institutions and in private homes around the country.

'There is a more spiritual quality, especially in my Judaic pieces, a more meditative, thought-out quality.'

The Newark Museum show includes 30 objects. "There is even a water color painting I did in third grade, and they've got my first oil painting, from when I was about 10," she told NJJN, laughing. "They've done such a beautiful job with the display."

In 1996, Yeshiva University Museum in New York City held a 30-year retrospective of her work, and over the past 40 years her pieces have been featured in shows throughout the country, winning her a slew of awards. Those include the coveted Spertus Judaica Prize, the leading international award for contemporary Jewish ceremonial art.



Shekhina, Havdala spice box, 2004


But this latest show is a homecoming of sorts. The title for the exhibition--and some of its inspiration--emerged from the fact that Golub was born and brought up in Newark. As she tells it, Ulysses Grant Dietz, the Newark Museum's curator of decorative arts, leaped at the chance to showcase the work of a local person who has done well. She lives now in Mountainside with her husband, former Kean University music professor Herb Golub, but her artistic roots are in Newark.

Golub's father was a musician and artist and her mother was a craft hobbyist and homemaker. Both Ina and her sister, Myrna Wertheimer, inherited their parents' passion for creativity. Through her teen and early adult years, Golub often designed and sewed her own clothing. She attended Weequahic High School, and then went on to study art at Montclair State University and to complete an MA at Indiana University.

As she began to explore her own Jewish identity, her work began to reflect themes of Jewish history and talmudic teachings, intertwining Hebrew letters and symbolic forms like pomegranates, trees, and lions.

Much of her work is in use and could not be spared for the seven-plus months of the exhibition, which runs from Aug. 13 to May 3, but among the items on display are 11 loaned items. There are also design renderings for some of her commissioned works, including drawings for her various parahot, or ark curtains.




Orchard of Pomegranates, Torah scroll mantle and rimonim, 2005


Religious objects in the display include Torah mantles, bejeweled Havdala spice boxes, tallitot and kipot, and her gloriously fantastical Sabbath candlesticks.

"Growing up in a Jewish home with minimal ritual observance, I felt isolated from my heritage," Golub explains in a museum press release. "A college art history professor planted the seeds which, many years later, would take me on an enlightening journey into the depths of my culture. Slowly and consistently, I have developed a deep understanding of the meaning of my tradition. Its spiritual beauty has become the expressive power of my art." 

Her craft and her spirituality have impressed clients, like Rabbi Reuben R. Levine, rabbi emeritus of Temple Beth Ahm in Springfield, which has one of her ark curtains. 

"Ina's creations reflect a spiritual splendor and aesthetic brilliance that speak deeply and directly to the beholder," said Levine, a scholar of Jewish art history and a consultant in synagogue design and ritual art. "Her work lends meaning and dignity to Jewish artistic expression in a field where kitsch and derivative nostalgic anachronism often find easy acceptance." 

Golub acknowledged she has less energy than in the past, though she still functions with a vitality others might envy. But there are also pluses that have come with time. "I have a certain facility now that allows my ideas to take form more easily," she said. "And there is a more spiritual quality, especially in my Judaic pieces, a more meditative, thought-out quality."


"Completing the Circle: The Fiber Art of Ina Golub," is on view in the Newark Museum's Contemporary Craft Gallery and the Carole and Albert Angel Promenade through May 3, 2009. The museum is located at 49 Washington St.; for information, call 973-596-6550 or visit www.newarkmuseum.org



© PROMETHEUS 138/2008

PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin - News, Politics, Art and Science. Nr. 138, December 2008