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  Susan Weinberg
  Studio 409































   





THE OPEN JAR
   
Opening the Jar



When my mother's memory was still strong I had gotten her a gift of a ceramic jar with the label memories.  Within it were strips of paper on which I had written memories of our times together.  Years later when she was losing memory I noticed the jar during a visit.  I took it down from its shelf and together we went through each memory. She read each memory to me and we remembered them together.  Some she could recall, others were no longer in her memory.  After we concluded she thanked me for helping her remember.  Soon after my sister was visiting and heard a noise in the kitchen.  She looked in and there was my mother laughing at a memory in the memory jar.


This painting includes some of my favorite memories, many from our trips together.  On a trip to Europe I had driven a small car from Provence to Spain circling around many traffic circles endlessly trying to figure out where we were going.  My mother gave me a small wooden race car to commemorate our trip.  You can see it in the upper right going in circles.  We often laughed about a trip on which I had boarded a train and reached down for my mom just as the train moved forward.  Soon she was getting smaller as the train moved forward with me on it, both of us in shock.  Finally I threw my bag down and jumped.  Books were a constant in our house and many of my memories revolve around our library visits.  I also wrote of my mother peeling fruit for me, making me feel loved and nurtured.  The squares to the upper left represent the picture postcards of artwork that my mother used to post in her kitchen gallery.




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FLOODING


floodofmemories

  

This painting grew out of a quote from Toni Morrison.  She writes:

You know they straightened out the Mississippi River in places, to make room for houses and livable acreage. Occasionally the river floods these places. "Floods" is the word they use, but in fact it is not flooding; it is remembering. Remembering where it used to be. All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.

So how does this relate to loss of memory? One of the things I observed in my parents as they lost memory was the way they clung to their prior identity. As I explore the question of what happens to identity as we lose memory, I have concluded that identity is very persistent. Even if they no longer possessed the capability to do the tasks of their prior identity, it remained an important part of how they saw themselves.

My father was deeply involved in technology in his day, a man before his time in many respects. Then time passed him by. His identity as a tech savy person was deeply embedded and in his later years he had a propensity to purchase technology even if he could no longer comprehend it. He returned to the path he once carved.

Similarly my mother who had been a first grade teacher collaged every day, but she called it "cutting and pasting". She had a wall on which she had pictures of things that interested her that she called her "bulletin board". She returned to deeply engrained aspects of her life as a teacher. Their world narrowed as they aged, just as the river's path was straightened, yet they flooded its banks, seeking the life they once lived, the person they once were, their emotional memory leading the way.

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THE MEMORY JAR


MemoryJar


This was my first memory jar painting based on the story told in The Open Jar.

When my mother's memory was still strong I had gotten her a gift of a ceramic jar with the label memories.  Within it were strips of paper on which I had written memories of our times together.  Years later when she was losing memory I noticed the jar during a visit.  I took it down from its shelf and together we went through each memory. She read each memory to me and we remembered them together.  Some she could recall, others were no longer in her memory.  After we concluded she thanked me for helping her remember.  Soon after my sister was visiting and heard a noise in the kitchen.  She looked in and there was my mother laughing at a memory in the memory jar.

This painting / collage is filled with strips that all begin with "I remember..."  When my mother passed away, I brought the memory jar back to my home as I am now the keeper of memories.

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INTO THE WILDERNESS



Into
                                          the Wilderness



























 "Iím confused", my mother reported when I called her one morning. "Where is everyone? I feel like Iím all alone. Has everyone forgotten about me? It's like Iím in a wilderness".

"I haven't forgotten about you", I replied. "Here I am with your morning call. Every morning I coaxed her through her day. "What day is it?" she would ask. Time was a slippery devil, it kept changing, never standing still. On top of the refrigerator was a large digital display with the day and time in red.  She would read it to me. "Monday, 8:35" I reminded her to take her pills and she would go to her pill box. "Is today Monday?" she asked. We again established that it was Monday. "Who is coming today?" she asked me yet again.  I repeated myself many times.  Each time she asked, it was a new question for her.

My mother was losing memory.  Five years earlier she was fine. My late father's memory loss was more severe and perhaps overshadowed her more gradual decline. She had been on a plateau for a long time, not great, but not terrible either. My sister and I had adjusted to this new normal when suddenly the ground beneath us shifted abruptly, the floor of a crazy fun house dropping suddenly, our stomachs lurched with it.
 
I was intrigued with her description of her experience, a wilderness. I was surprised that she could identify her confusion, perhaps a stage along the way until she would be lost in that wilderness and the confusion that it represents.  I pondered this wilderness, this new and confusing world that she was entering. What would she take with her, what would she see and hear?

 Her cat was her companion and gave her comfort, another living, breathing creature. Her cat would accompany her into this wilderness. My mother wrote a lot of notes to herself. Not always logical, she wrote down times that five minutes later would be obsolete. It was the act of writing that helped fix her reality.

I pictured a path of yellow post-it notes, a yellow brick road of sorts with her cat leading the way, her shadow behind. A thick and tangled forest in front. The red flash of time through the trees. And my phone call reverberating in waves, an anchor for her as she stood before this forest.

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CUTTING AND PASTING


Cutting and Pasting




 


Work by Rose Weinberg

These are a couple of my favorites that are deconstructed in the painting.



 Everybody has an idea and they work it.- my mom

My mother was an artist. She never had a show and the last art class she took was when she was pregnant with my brother over 60 years ago. She quit when she could no longer fit in the seats. It was her love of art that spurred me on in my explorations, that made it tangible.

We would go to the Chicago Art Institute and she would get postcards of her favorite paintings,  She put the postcards in a little kitchen gallery, glancing up at them as she cooked or washed dishes, her little oasis of personal expression.

My mother became a first grade teacher and carried her love of art into her classroom. She was known for her puppets. She constructed them of paper-m‚chť with carefully stitched clothing, paws or hooves and tails.

In her late 80s, she was contending with memory loss. Her world had shrunk as her ability to retain the thread of a story had faltered and reading had fallen by the wayside.  Her problem was how to occupy her time now that books no longer filled her days. She was a purposeful person and needed a reason to get up each morning. She found that in a new pursuit, collaging. Or as she called it, cutting and pasting. Each morning she got her notebook, her newspaper and her glue and scissors and began to cut.   My mom used to teach first grade so I suspect this was a familiar activity .

Over time her images began to overlap, to meld together, color and form juxtaposed in unexpected and interesting combinations. Virtually anything was grist for the mill. She worked at this like a job, focused and intent, highly purposeful. She knew what she liked. She always did.

I liked what she was doing and sometimes envied her ability to suspend planning.  I would agonize over finding the perfect arrangement of imagery. She followed her eye and just as a photographer takes many pictures to get the critical moment, she just kept producing and her work was often quite interesting. She told me"everybody has an idea and works it". This was her idea.


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GREETINGS FROM BEYOND


Greetings from Beyond



A few years ago on my birthday my husband and I went out to dinner to celebrate. When we returned, my phone was blinking. A message.  I played it back and there were my parents singing Happy Birthday to me.  My mom led and my father's gruff voice picked up the melody. "Ba da bom bom" my dad added at the end. Then silence.  "What should I do now?" my mom asks. My dad replies, "Hang it up".  It still makes me chuckle when I hear that. 

Both of my parents had lost memory.  My dad had been losing memory for years, my mother's memory loss was just becoming apparent.  For years my mother helped my dad, together since they were 16 and 17, they already shared many memories.   Then my mother's memory began to deteriorate too.

I was amazed that they were able to call me and sing. That seemed like a complex task beyond their abilities.  My mother had stopped making long distance calls.   My father would never have remembered a birthday.  Together they were able to accomplish something that they could not individually.

Three months to the day, my father passed away.  The message was preserved by my phone answering system and I saved it on my computer. When my next birthday rolled around, I started the day with that bitter-sweet recording.  The following year I was at my mother's on my birthday. We were going to Israel, a trip she had always wanted to do.  Anxious to begin our trip, I woke up at 5am, I heard my mother awake as well.  I went into her bedroom.  Together we perched on the side of her bed.   I reminded her that it was my birthday. "Oh, Happy Birthday!" she offered enthusiastically.  She no longer remembers birthdays.  I  played the recording of her and my father singing together.  Enough time had passed that it was now more sweet than bitter. "I play this each birthday" I said.    "It's my birthday ritual.  Someday when I'm your age, I'll be listening to you and dad singing Happy Birthday to me."

When I decided to paint this I thought of the components, my parents, the old wall phone they had when I was growing up and a curved row of birthday cakes denoting birthdays through time. Candles cast the glow of memory. Flickering them into the present, my birthday present.

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BLOWING KISSES


blowing kisses



I touched bases with my mother daily and one day I hung up the phone chuckling.  "I just blew your Dad a kiss", she had said.  "Huh?" I replied.  My father had passed away some time ago.  Should I be concerned?

When he passed away, my mother remained in her home, living alone for the first time in her life with the assistance of some aides who came in each day. 

She hastened to add that my dad's picture had just come up on her picture screen and it was an old one of which she was quite fond, hence the kiss.

When my mother was in her late 80s it was too late to introduce her to a computer.  We had, however, often wished we could easily share pictures with her.  When a friend mentioned a digital picture frame linked to the Internet I was intrigued.  It allows anyone to email pictures to the device.  They then come up automatically on the screen.

My mother was amazed when new pictures suddenly appeared.  It was like magic.  She looked up as she ate breakfast and there were images of her recent visit with her great-grandson. How did they get into there she asked? She recalled how amazed her immigrant mother was at her world.  Now she often felt like her as she observed ours.  I confided to her that sometimes I'm amazed too.

When I visited her I scanned some of her old pictures and added those as well.  For elders whose memories are beginning to flag, it provides a way to keep the important people in their life visible and to remind them of special memories that they share with family members.  Sometimes I would ask her to describe the pictures and we reminisced together about shared experiences.

When we first installed it my sister sent a message saying not to send more pictures of our late father as it made my mom sad.  A short time later she said to ignore that earlier instruction as my mom decided she liked them.  Soon she was blowing him kisses.



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MEMORY PALACE 1


InfanteMargaurite



There is a concept called the Memory Palace which is a tool to help one remember.  It makes use of image and spatial sense to retain memories.  The way it works is that you take a place you know well, like a childhood home.  You mentally place images in different locations often in odd combinations that help you to remember.  You then mentally walk around the home and collect the visual reminders.

It dawned on me that my mother's home was a memory palace, it was part of why it was so important to her.  She had lived there just shy of 60 years and her house was filled with nooks and crannies of memorabilia, often in odd combinations.  This small painting captured one of the bookshelf niches.  It includes a menorah from France, a ceramic sculpture based on Velasquez's painting of Infante Margaurite, a painting she's always loved.  Behind one of the candlesticks is a walrus figure from a cruise she went on with my father to Alaska.  Behind all of this was a tray from the surplus store that my grandfather used to run in New York. 

I anticipate a series of small paintings that will form a larger painting called the Memory Palace.

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BUBBLING UP


bubblingup


While I was working on my memory series I was also in an artists' lab working on the theme of water.  I began to think of the theme of memory as it relates to water and it occurred to me that we use language that evokes water to describe memory.  Things bubble up, we experience a flood of memories.  Then I began to think of how one memory triggers another.  In this case my mother was thinking about my grandfather and wondering if he was left-handed, that in turn triggered a memory of my grandmother or her father telling her to look after her brother or the dress he made me as a child.  Each memory nudges another until we have wandered far afield of where we began. Things do indeed bubble up, triggering waves and floods.




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CACOPHONY



cacophony









This painting is based on a memory shared by a visitor who had a loved one who lost memory. It was submitted to the memory jar. 

The memory was this:  The morning you took the long way to town in the dead of winter, and you stopped by the river, turned off the motor and rolled down the windows and we listened to the hundreds of trumpeter swans.

When I first read this memory I pictured the car window rolled partly down with the suggestion of people within.  I imagined the car blending into the surroundings of lake and swans, all of one piece.

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HERE'S LOOKING AT YOU


HeresLookingatYou



This is a second more whimsical take on a memory shared by a visitor with a loved one who lost memory.

After doing the first image Cacophony, I began to think of different vantage points and imagined what it might be like if I moved the swan into their space. With that concept I did a more playful image of the swan looking into the window curiously watching the carís inhabitants.

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CUT FROM THE SAME CLOTH



CutFromtheSameCloth






This painting is based on a memory shared by a visitor who had a loved one who lost memory. It was submitted to the memory jar.  

This story was of a visit to a greenhouse with the writerís mother when the writer was a few years old.  She recalled her mother wore a plaid coat that she had made and using the same material had made one for her. My first painting was the image as I pictured it, lattice ceiling, a path with the two characters and the interior filled with greenery.


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LOOKING IN

lookingin


This is a second more whimsical take on a memory shared by a visitor with a loved one who lost memory.

This painting was my second run at Cut From the Same Cloth, but this time I imagined the viewer outside of the greenhouse, the windows fogged up from humidity.  Written on the glass is the phrase Cut From the Same Cloth, with just a glimpse of sharper color where the letters break the foggy surface.

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THE PHOTOGRAPHER


photographer




This painting is based on a memory shared by a visitor who had a loved one who lost memory. It was submitted to the memory jar.    

This was a more complex story  with the submitter as a young child taking a pretend picture of a fawn who had become a family pet, her grandmother beaming as she watched her at play.  I made the girl and the fawn the central figures as the grandmother watched from the porch wearing cats-eye glasses and a big smile.
 
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MEMORY TOTEM


memorytotem



A second more whimsical take on a memory shared by a visitor with a loved one who lost memory.

This second painting based on The Photographer resulted in a form that seemed totem-like with the grandmother with cats-eye glasses, arms around her granddaughter as the fawn faced them.  The sunglasses, camera and the deerís nose become the focal points, each in black with no eyes visible.



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THROUGH HER EYES


her-eyes


When my mother lost memory and was no longer able to retain the thread of a story, she no longer had books to fill her days.  Instead she began to create collages.  Each day she clipped images from the newspaper and pasted them into a collage album. She told me that it was her legacy.  I now have two boxes filled with 20 albums.  Over time her style evolved and she showed a preference for certain colors and forms.  She was an artistic person and that was reflected in much of her work.  In this painting I picked imagery that reflected her choices, looking at the world through her eyes.



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GREETINGS FROM BEYOND II


greetings2


 You will find a more realistic image of this story on this page.  Sometimes I have to paint the realistic image out of me before I can begin to play.  This is my more playful version of this story:

A few years ago on my birthday, my husband and I went out to dinner to celebrate. When we returned, my phone was blinking. A message.  I played it back and there were my parents singing Happy Birthday to me.  My mom led off and my father's gruff voice picked up the melody. "Ba da bom bom" my dad added at the end. Then silence.  "What should I do now?" my mom asks. My dad replies ĒHang it up.Ē It still makes me chuckle when I hear that.
 
Both of my parents had lost memory.  My dad had been losing memory for years, my mother's memory loss was just becoming apparent.  For years my mother helped my dad.  Together since they were 16 and 17, they already shared many memories.   Then my mother's memory began to deteriorate too.

I was amazed that they were able to call me and sing. That seemed like a complex task beyond their abilities.  My mother had stopped making long distance calls.   My father would never have remembered a birthday. Together they were able to accomplish something that they could not individually.

Three months to the day, my father passed away.  The message was preserved digitally in an email and I saved it on my computer. Every birthday since Iíve begun it by playing that recording of my parents singing together.  I hope to play it for many in the future. 


When I decided to paint this, I thought of the components, my mother's special birthday cake, candles and flickering lights and the curled phone cord stretching to them in the beyond.  Candles cast the glow of memory, flickering them into the present, my birthday present.



 

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THE MEMORY PALACE




marg
glass
attendence



chair
bird
spoons


















A memory palace is a tool for remembering often used in memory competitions.  Memory is spatial.  When using a memory palace the person takes a place they know well, like a childhood home and puts images in different rooms in odd juxtapositions, then collects them by mentally going around the rooms. I realized that my mother's home was a memory palace.  I lived there from age 3 until I left for college, returning each year to visit. My mother lived there for almost 60 years. When she passed away and I began to dismantle her home, I began this series of paintings of segments of the home that represented memory and history.   For example, my mother taught first grade and on the bookshelf is a winged award for perfect attendance. Behind it are her nature guides and my father's books on music.  Each picture is a story of the people who lived there.
           
 

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THE NATURE LOVER


nature


My mother always put glass in her windows or where it would catch the light.  My earliest memory of gifts to her were colorful glass bottles. She used to have three plates in her window, some were fused glass, some had bubbles captured within them.  When she passed away I took two of the plates and put them in my kitchen window.  Directly outside the window is a beautiful maple tree that I watch through the seasons.  It moves from buds to cool greenery to an amazing orange tinged with red and then to branches on which snow rests.  My mother was also a nature lover and would call us to the kitchen window, to see a bird or a sunset. When I look through the window through those plates, I feel as if I am looking through her eyes. This painting sought to capture that sensation through the seasons.
 


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MEMORY ICON





icon


My mother used to be an avid reader, but as her memory failed, she couldn't remember what she just had read. She needed something new to occupy her time and one day began to collage. She used her newspaper for raw material.

On one of my visits I decided to see if she might enjoy family history collage. I was teaching collage workshops at local libraries and was curious how she would make use of some of the materials. I brought down print outs of family history pictures for her use. She did a nice collage, but I decided I was imposing too much structure and part of what worked so well for her was the spontaneity. There was an odd benefit to collage with diminished memory.  The planner and judge was no longer in charge.

On my next visit, I was surprised to see that she had made use of the images I left behind in her own way.  I had left an image of my sister and my grandmother (see below) and she had crowned them with fruit. It reminded me of icons and specifically work by Frieda Kahlo who often used crowns of flowers in her self-portraits.  I decided I needed to do a painting of her in a similar fashion and since I used apples as my metaphor in the Roundness of Things, I decided to carry that forward into this painting.



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andee      grandma












































THE ROUNDNESS OF THINGS




round


My mother was the wisest person I knew. She was a searcher with a curiosity about the world, open to wisdom from many quarters, a teacher who carried her wisdom in a kind and gentle heart. When she died, I felt the world shift.  As I went through her home disposing of belongings, I realized I was looking for something of her essence.  I found it in a file titled Notes on Books Read.  

In it she had excerpts from books on many disciplines, science, history, novels and Jewish texts such as the Talmud, and the Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers. If something spoke to her she wrote it down and many excerpts related to finding meaning in life, facing fears and making good use of our time in this world.  We had often talked about books and as I perused this file I felt as if I was having one more of our many conversations.  

I used the apple as a metaphor for seeking wisdom starting with that first bite of the apple by Eve. I soon discovered that apples often were a metaphor for preparing for Godís law. Rabbinic literature talks of how the time from the first blossoming until the ripening of the fruit is fifty days, as was the time from the Exodus to the giving of the Law on Sinai. The title of the painting is drawn from a quote from Wally Lamb that I found in my motherís file Ė ďThe evidence of God exists in the roundness of things.Ē

A book lies open over a branch, its pages swirling out into the world.   On its cover is the title Pirkei Imahot, Ethics of the Mothers. No such book exists in print. The wisdom of mothers is often passed down by example and as oral tradition. I believe it is one of the most powerful sources of wisdom.


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