I’ve kind of followed several artists/illustrators/others whose sense of humor I enjoy. Along with many other subjects, they shed light on their ideas about Jewish food. I thought I’d share those with you all. Maybe you’ll also enjoy their work and your curiosity will be sparked to explore more of their work.
A favorite author and illustrator in our home is the brilliant Maira Kalman. My daughter grew up with a handful of her brilliand and off the wall children’s books – yes, we are pretty weird, but the stories are engaging and the illustrations delightfully creative. Stay up Late and Sayonara Mrs. Kackleman are just a few titles. I’ve since continued to buy her books as they appear. Her New Yorker covers decorate our home!
Kalman was a contributor to the recent Tablet Museum publication – 100 Most Jewish Foods (https://100jewishfoods.tabletmag.com/). I’ve referred to this valuable resource a number of times, and I actually bought a copy of my own (I highly recommend it). Kalman writes about her memories of herring and the place it held in her family’s home. Included in her entry is an anecdote about the Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov and herring, a great favorite among many Jews. I do not know if it’s true, but it’s … well, interesting (https://100jewishfoods.tabletmag.com/herring/). And, I’ve just spent 3 weeks ushering and listening to Miami New Drama’s presentation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in Spanish, Gente Osciosa (one more week to go).
As Kalman writes: “When Chekhov died, his body was sent to the funeral in a refrigerated train car full of herring. They accompanied the great writer to his end. The fish were innocently sitting in their boxes next to the big box of Chekhov. That is enough to make you like them. And now I actually do.”
Roz Chast is another artist/cartoonist whose work I’ve admired for many, many years. It has graced the pages of the New Yorker for as long as I can remember. I’ve made use of her insightful cartoons to emphasize points while teaching museum studies, or just to lighten the class and make the students think. For example, the muses of Ancient Greece (poetry, tragedy, comedy, hymns, dance, astronomy, and history) are the source of the word by which we call these temples of heritage found worldwide – museums. Chast imagined three early 21st century muses which have entered our lives. Does one of them influence you?
I’ve been able to meet her twice. Wow! Really special. Another of her cartoons illustrates the museum many of us have in our homes, our kitchen museum! Do you have The Cabinet of Too Many Teas? I certainly do!
Here’s Chast’s impression of the world of Jewish food – reflects her Ashkenazi background. We need her to do the same with Sephardic food.
Barbara Kirschenblatt Gimblett is a renowned folklorist, better known to her students and others as BKG. We have a number of things in common: studied folklore at Indiana University’s Folklore Institute, though she was in an earlier class; made our mark in Jewish museums. But I never had the opportunity to study or work with her. Most recently, she was the curatorial vision behind Polin, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews (https://www.polin.pl/en). This is a must-see in Warsaw if you’re traveling there.
BKG’s parents immigranted to Canada from their homeland, Poland. In his later years, her father made his name as a so-called memory artist who captured the life of his family in Poland in paintings. BKG co-authored a book, exhibition, and film which documented her father’s life and work – They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood in Poland Before the Holocaust. One his paintings depicts a “Boy with Herring” along with a mother’s recipe for a kratsborsht (scratch borsht) (https://amzn.to/2sBzT7R). As he recalled:
“I am coming home with a herring. Mother sent me to my grandmother’s store to buy a herring. They did not wrap herring in paper as paper was in short supply and even newspaper was precious. One newspaper would be shared among several families, rather than each family buying their own daily paper. The shopkeeper wrapped a little piece of newspaper around the middle of the herring, just big enough for my hand, so I could hold it. That’s how precious even newspaper was. Brine would drip from the head and tail of the herring. On the way home, I would lick the dripping brine.”
Perhaps you, too, have favorite artists who represent food and memories of food in their artwork. Perhaps they take a serious bent or are humorous like my favorites. So many ways to be creative with food!
Thanks to the artists whose work I have copied here and shared with you all. Perhaps, you’ll explore more of their amazingly creative work. I hope you’ll find it as delightful and meaningful as I do.