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The Jewish News Weekly of Nortthern California
"Blessings from the Bible Belt: Southern artist’s collages are a modern twist on Jewish themes"
Friday September 12, 2008

by emily savage
staff writer

At first glance, Carol Buchman’s painting “Oy, I Married a Goy” depicts a rather typical duck-hunting trip she and her bronze-sculpting husband went on in Arkansas a few years ago.

Buchman and her husband, Roy Tamboli, are painted in a lush, grassy field, decked out in full camouflage. Tamboli is aiming a rifle into the air. Buchman is crouched on the ground — studying for her upcoming adult bat mitzvah.

Oh, to be Jewish in the Deep South. Brooklyn-bred Buchman currently resides in Memphis, Tenn., where she teaches art at an Episcopal church while creating her own unique Jewish-themed paintings. Her exhibition “From Borscht Belt to Bible Belt” will be on display at the Addison-Penzak JCC in Los Gatos through Dec. 20, with an artist’s reception Thursday, Sept. 18.

Buchman’s paintings are vibrant collages of past and present. She uses a variety of materials to create each piece, often interweaving grainy black-and-white photographs of her ancestors with oil-painted images of herself or relatives. The paintings usually include pieces of old family tablecloths, scarves, lace and handmade papers.

Buchman’s paintings feature literal and abstract images of Judaism. Among the 25 pieces in the upcoming JCC exhibition is a painting of Buchman’s Polish grandmother, Jenny, covering her eyes and standing over Shabbat candles, along with a companion piece of Buchman herself praying.

Many of the pieces depict blessings: Buchman often includes an image that looks like a lotus and is meant to be a person meditating.

“It’s become my symbol for a blessing,” Buchman explains. “It’s part of the idea that in Judaism everything is a blessing.”

Buchman’s paintings didn’t always have Jewish symbols and themes. An artist since elementary school, Buchman paintings have run the gamut: As a seasoned traveler, often taking trips to South America, many of

her early images were of landscapes and the geography of her journeys. She also went through a stint of painting animals.

“When I got into [Jewish imagery] it felt like there was a whole different level of meaningfulness,” Buchman says. “It felt like my work had a whole new level of depth.”

Growing up in New York and attending college in Boston, Buchman says she never thought much of her Jewish heritage — it was always just sort of there. Her Orthodox ancestors had immigrated to the U.S. from Russia and Poland, and her parents were more “cultural” Jews by the time Buchman was born, despite being raised Orthodox.

“I felt Jewish, but I didn’t feel I needed to do anything about it,” she explains. “When I moved to Memphis, the Bible Belt, I realized if I didn’t get proactive about [my Judaism], it was just going to disappear — I had a lot of family stories and I had a sense of owing it to them not to let my Jewishness fade away.”

In Memphis, Buchman began attending synagogue and becoming involved in the local Jewish community. In the last decade she’s had a bat mitzvah, learned how to chant Torah and met with dozens of rabbis — “I’m sort of a rabbi junkie,” she jokes. “I just feel like they know so much.”

Buchman is dedicated to the idea of having a contemporary Jewish voice in the art world. She likes to show her work at places where she feels like it can really be appreciated — like the JCC, which invited Buchman to present her exhibit after seeing her work earlier this year at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco.

Being an artist, Buchman inevitably transferred her newfound “Jewishness” into her work, though she says she often found herself frustrated with the status quo of Jewish art.

“Most of the Jewish art from my parents’ generation was so cliché — the Jerusalem street, the rabbi. Then a lot of contemporary Jewish artists were fabulous but didn’t reference their religion at all,” she explains.

Buchman’s art melds the religious with the contemporary — including the modern trend of mixed media, which in some cases is taken to an extreme.

While working outside on a recent summer trip to Santa Fe, pieces of bark and sap kept falling on her work — and she decided to go with it.

“I use everything,” Buchman says, laughing. “The paintings have held up — nothing’s come apart so far.”

“From Borscht Belt to Bible Belt” will be on display through Dec. 20 at the Addison-Penzak JCC, 14855 Oka Road, Los Gatos. An artist’s reception, discussion and gallery walk-through will be held Thursday, Sept. 18 at 7 p.m.