Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Valley of One Thousand Hills


“Valley of One Thousand Hills” was commissioned for Jonathan Liebesman in 2017 to mark his birthday, and is inspired by a quote from Nelson Mandela’s autobiography:

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”

This papercut is about life as a journey, about finding one’s place and mission, and a way to connect to the world. It’s about the need to be doing good, important work — and that there’s always more to be done. The landscape includes the distinctive quiver tree (indigenous to South Africa) and the rolling patchwork hills of the Valley of One Thousand Hills, from which it takes its name.

Mandela gazing out over the landscape, an excerpt from X-Men #76 (June 1998),
and text from D'varim (Deuteronomy) 11:11


Hills have significance to the Jewish tradition as well. The city of Jerusalem is said to have been built on seven hills; in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 11:11 we read, “The land into which you go is a land of hills and valleys and drinks water of the rain of heaven.”

Loki riding across the hills, with Raphael looking on.

The background elements all come from Jonathan’s journey so far: South Africa and Mandela (from the 2009 Nelson Mandela: The Authorized Comic Book), and also the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Wars, Loki and more.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

"Extreme Mosaic-ing" at Camp Newman for 70th Anniversary Celebration

"Create connections and study Torah, because Torah is acquired through friendship." What fine words to sum up the experience of Jewish summer camp – a place where we live Jewishly, where we make new friends, and gain knowledge (and have fun) together. They are the words at the top of the new mosaic we made at camp this summer at the 70th Anniversary Celebration of West Coast Jewish Summer Camp, held at URJ Camp Newman in July.

The original logo as used in promotional materials.

Sunday, July 16, hundreds of people convened in Santa Rosa at Camp Newman to celebrate 70 years of west coast Jewish camping – from Camp Saratoga to Camp Swig to Camp Newman. It was an unforgettable day at our home away from home, with singing and dancing and reconnecting... and one more big thing: making a 24-square-foot mosaic in just four hours!


My wife (Rabbi Shawna Brynjegard-Bialik) and I were asked by camp to lead an community art project: making a new mosaic for Camp Newman that would commemorate the 70th celebration, and getting the hundreds of celebrants joining us at camp to all put a piece (or two or three) in. And we did it!


I designed the original logo for the celebration, and we designed the mosaic to build that logo into a full camp landscape – along with input and support from camp artists from over the decades.

Rabbi Shawna with the incredible and indefatigable Charles Yoakum and Max Winer!

We spent most of the morning before everyone arrived at camp getting it all set up, and then over the course of four hours we worked as hard and as quickly as ever we have on any mosaic, which is why we took to calling it "extreme mosaic-ing."





We were pleased to welcome Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who joined us to place a few pieces in the mosaic as well.



And the mosaic was complete before the end of the celebration! Here's a mock-up we made in Photoshop; we promise to share photos of it in its  camp home as soon as its up.

The final mosaic!

Big thanks to Heath Ceramics and Tile Clearance, Inc., who both contributed tile to the camp so we could get this done.

Want information on how you can bring me and Rabbi Shawna to YOUR community? Check out our new website: www.PaperMidrash.com.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

DON'T PUT DOWN THAT KNIFE!
Cutting Paper at Camp Newman

Detail from student work incorporating "Ragman,"
one of DC's first openly Jewish super heroes.
It comes and goes so quickly – my annual two weeks teaching papercutting workshops at URJ Camp Newman – but it looms so large in my rearview mirror. This summer — my 11th as faculty artist! — was no different, as I spent two hours a day, nearly every day for two weeks, working with 18 campers to teach them how to make "paper midrash" in the beautiful hills just outside Santa Rosa, around the corner from wine country. The work that these campers produce always sends me back to my studio full of inspiration and ready to get back to cutting paper.

The campers I work with are part of Hagigah, the arts track for 10th and 11th graders; these campers spend four weeks in total at Camp Newman, where they're exposed to many different forms of art, and encouraged to try them all out and learn new ways to express themselves. Among the other offerings this summer were mosaic, drama/screenwriting, dance, songleading, art journaling, tallit-making, screenprinting and Hebrew lettering.

This Thursday, July 13, is the annual Hagigah Peachy Levy Arts Festival; campers will display or perform the works they've created at camp, but not all of you out in interwebland can make it up there... so I'm pleased to share the papercut work here.

Once the campers get familiar with their knives and what they can do (including some basic safety lessons because KNIVES), our first project is a mizrach: an ornamental wall plaque used to indicate the direction of prayer (east) in Jewish homes. We brainstormed as a group to get some ideas going, but each student designed their own mizrach, and then backed it with comics.

Campers hard at work on their mizrach papercuts.
Once the papercut structure is built, it's time to start cutting up comic books!

The Hagigah art building is a peaceful and beautiful place to create art.
 It's always amazing to me that even though all of the campers start with the same project, and the same batch of ideas to incorporate into their design, each of the pieces is incredible and unique.

Allie included the Israeli flag and a rising sun.

Ben's mizrach includes a painter's palette to allude to Hagigah's focus on the arts.

Daniel included the Jewish super hero Ragman in the rising sun of his mizrach.

Eden included Hebrew and English lettering in her mizarch.

Ellie's vision of EAST is composed of tiny little (time-consuming) triangles.

Robin is front and center in the Jewish star of Ethan's mizrach.

Gia's vision of the eastern sky included sun, moon, and stars.

Jamie created a Western Wall with seven flames, representing the six days of work and Shabbat.

Max added handwritten ideas into his mizrach.

The Hebrew letters which spell out "mizrach" dance between sunbeams in Rachel's mizrach.

Sam's Jerusalem cityscape is backed with comic book text and images of a house of worship.

Sophie spelled "mizrach" in Hebrew across Jerusalem's Western Wall.

Tavi's sunrise is filled with energy and warmth.

Trasen's minimalist approach resulted in an intimate and elegant mizrach.


The second project is our BIG project: paper midrash. Each camper had to find a Jewish story or character or theme from our tradition which they wanted to explore and develop with the aid of knife and paper.

Hard at work cutting paper midrash.


Knife skills + Jewish ideas = beautiful, meaningful art!

Time to add the comics!

I bring lots of acid-free masking tape to camp.

Actual photographic evidence of me, at camp, with campers.


Some worked with Rabbi Dan Feder (Hagigah's rabbi for the first two weeks) to find fascinating little tidbits, others made up their own commentaries, and all of them created stunning work; there are some incredible pieces of comics in the backgrounds, often driving a lot of additional meaning.

Allie created a piece in tribute to her grandfather.

Ben's paper midrash explored the seven species written of in Parshat Eikev.

Daniel's paper midrash dealt with the story of Jonah and the "big fish."

Eden's tree grows in the garden that bears her name, from Bereshit.

Ellie's midrash papercut has a dove plucking peace from the receding waters of the flood.

Ethan explored the concept of a tree of life.

Gia worked with an angel story she found in Sefer HaAggadah.

The ten plagues of Parashat Vayera are the subject of Jamie's papercut.

Jonah was one of the Hagigah counselors; his papercut centers around his (Jewish) college fraternity.

Julia was a counselor who had cut paper with me as a camper; her beach scene reflects her experience.

Max's paper midrash is of Parashat Noach – ALL OF IT, from Babel to flood.

Natalie's parting of the Reed Sea emphasizes "freedom"
but also "the cloud and the darkness" she read about in Parashat Beshallach.

Rachel created midrash about her biblical namesake, changing the emphasis of the imagery of Joseph's dream for a new look at the mother of the children of Israel; zoom in to the moon to see the speech bubbles she found to tell her story.


Sam explored a verse which said that "every seed on earth has a constellation calling out to it to grow."

Sohpie connected two stories together: the burning bush in Shemot and the parting of the sea in Beshallach.

Tavi's coat of many colors tells Joseph's troubling story; zoom in to read speech bubbles above the coat.

Trasen's tight focus on the angel in his story creates drama.


I love working with these campers every summer – just like I enjoy working with people ALL OVER, teaching papercutting workshops and talking about art and comics and Judaism. In fact, it's a thing I do with my wife, Rabbi Shawna Brynjegard-Bialik. If you're interested in finding out what we can do with YOUR community — for a few hours or a few days — please visit our website at www.papermidrash.com.