Ruth Surosky Levy, a narrator whose memories have influenced several pieces in the Baltimore Stories project, has already seen Sigler's piece, created around the "neighborhood" theme. "There's a picture of myself in there as big as life, 52 years ago," says Levy, 83. She's curious to see how other artists have interpreted her remembrances. "I've just accepted everything I've done. Those were my decisions," she says. "How [they] affect other people, I don't know. To me, I've just lived a wonderful life."
The project's community coordinator, Shelley Hettleman, says Baltimore Stories speaks to other groups whose lives aren't always found in history's master narrative. "We don't want our audience to just be the Jewish community. ... Similar projects could be done with any 'identity' community," for example, African-American and Hispanic women, she says.
As the artists immersed themselves in the transcripts, keeping their assigned theme in mind, they came to focus on certain narrators. Getting to that point wasn't always easy. "I have to admit it was a struggle," says London, accustomed to creating large-scale, conceptual installations. "I made notes and notes and notes."
Ultimately, London, whose theme was "achievement," succeeded. "I'm accustomed to really listening to what people are saying and [trying to understand] what they want. ... In the end, it started to come more alive for me."
London echoes the sentiments of other Baltimore Stories artists: "I think I'm never going to learn anything new anymore, but I did -- about my own [artistic] process. These women were mine. I really was in love with them by the time this was over."
For Lombrozo, the child of Jewish European immigrants who settled in Mexico City, the theme of "foremothers and forefathers" was a natural. "It just resonated so much," she says.
Lombrozo, 55, read the transcripts carefully, wrote a journal based on them, and used that as a platform for creating the suitcase series. "I started thinking in terms of what [a family's past] meant to our children -- the value of heritage; the things we literally carry with us."
For Sigler, a Baltimore native who lives in Florida for part of the year, the neighborhood theme was particularly apt. Her contribution to Baltimore Stories is layered with meaning. A noisy undercoat of paint is covered with softer grays "as a way to imply memory." On top of that, Sigler, 61, created pathways that lead viewers through a familial landscape, where Levy and other narrators once made their way from home, to temple, school, the movies, to the circus and corner deli. "The whole thing was fascinating to me," says Sigler of the research and artistry that went into her piece.
After countless meetings and difficult decisions, Brenda Brown Rever, who chaired the project's Baltimore advisory board, exults in Baltimore Stories and what it can tell visitors. "I always knew Jewish women were wonderful," she says. And what's more, once they enter their later years, as the exhibition attests, "These women are still going."
The same can be said for the artists who channeled those women's lives into passionate works of art.
Weaving Women's Words: Baltimore Stories is an exhibit based on the memories of 30 Baltimore Jewish women, and includes artwork, narrator portraits by photographer Joan Roth, and narrative excerpts. The show, on view through July 16, opens today with a public reception from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, 15 Lloyd St. Admission is free. Call 410-732-6400 or visit www.jhsm.org.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Jewish Women's Archive is presenting a symposium, "Jewish Women Building Community," featuring an address by author Gail Sheehy. A panel discussion moderated by Sanford Ungar, president of Goucher College, follows. The event takes place tomorrow from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Brown Center, Maryland Institute College of Art, 1301 Mt. Royal Ave. Admission is $10. For more information, call 410-602-9084 or visit www.jwa.org.
A series of talks and workshops related to the exhibition, including several featuring the narrators from Weaving Women's Words, continues through May. For more information, call 410-602-9084.