Artist blends Judaism with feminist themes

But the Saratoga-based artist has managed to do it quite well. One example is in her "Oy, Butterfly" series, a collection of watercolors.

Stone's technique is somewhat unusual. Her colors are brighter and richer than most watercolors. In fact, people often guess that it is done in another medium.

"I don't soak the paper, I prefer having more control," she explained.

Stone's watercolor of four figures was chosen to be the poster for "To Life! A Jewish Cultural Festival," which takes place Sunday, Sept. 10 on California Avenue in Palo Alto.

Stone, who has long had a fascination with Japanese culture, brushed a series of vibrant Japanese couples, in billowing ceremonial dress. Upon closer look, tiny details show her Jewish influences; the chopsticks, for example, are adorned with Hebrew letters.

Stone can easily explain the similarities she sees in Jewish and Japanese rituals — Jews use a red ribbon to ward off the evil eye from a newborn baby; some Japanese ceremonies make use of red rice. Also, scrolls and calligraphy are used in both traditions.

But like most artists, while offering some interpretations of the symbolism she uses, she prefers to let the work speak for itself.

Janice Sands-Weinstein, executive director of New Bridges, the main sponsor of the Palo Alto street fair, said committee members had been looking for a picture of people dancing before they discovered Stone's work.

"We wanted something very joyous and communal, and this was, wildly, exactly what we had envisioned," she said.

Also, she added, "We wanted a local artist, someone very involved in the community. Stone's artwork reflects the spirit we were looking for."

Stone's artistic career spans three decades, and in addition to watercolor, she has done ink drawings and illustrated several children's books, including "Nathan the Needle and Other Stories" by Michelle Gabriel and "The Yiddish Alphabet Book" by Frederica Postman.

She is also interested in textiles and quilting, and is a collector of vintage gloves and aprons.

One of the highlights of her career is a hand-printed book on which she collaborated with Postman, called "The True Collector." In a limited edition of 100 copies, it runs through the alphabet like a children's book, although it's not immediately apparent. The book uses items like a real knotted tie to illustrate the letter T and a folded map to represent the letter M.

In addition to the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, the book is in the permanent collections of such high-profile museums as the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington.

Stone's Jewish figures combine traditional imagery with the whimsical.

In the picture used for the poster, two men and two women dance in a circle, their arms clasped around each other's shoulders. The perspective is from overhead, and two patterned yarmulkes sit atop the heads of the men.

The women's heads are covered by babushkas and their apron strings seem to be flying out behind them.

Stone often uses the overhead view in her work, "because it's a way we don't typically see ourselves. It also enables me to do interesting things with the design," she said.

If Judaism is a recurring theme in Stone's work, so is feminism, or more specifically, women's experiences. She thinks many of her artistic interests have been shaped by her experiences as a Jewish woman and mother. In several pieces, women step on either threads or ribbons, stomping on symbols of their domesticity.

Stone's latest project began in 1992, when a close friend of hers was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"I wanted to be there for her in some way," Stone said.

Describing her friend as a "fabulous hostess," Stone built upon that, taking cloth aprons, sewing plastic pockets on them and sending them to 26 women of her family-and-friend network, inviting them to "create any part of [their own] life story."

Over the next year and a half, Stone sent the women updates and suggestions, and checked on their progress. Her only rule was that they not speak to one another about their projects. When the allotted time was up, Stone's idea had produced 20 decorated aprons, from women ages 28 to 81, of varying ethnicities. Two of them were breast cancer survivors. Motherhood and divorce were among the themes the women depicted.

The aprons became a traveling exhibit that was shown in the Koret Gallery at the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto as well as elsewhere in California and nationally.

And while the friend who was the genesis for the project lived to see the first opening, she later died of the disease that affected Stone so deeply since the diagnosis.

"I believe that if we took women from all over the world and put them under one tent, and we had a device to make a common language, we'd all be saying the same things," she said. "Women experience the same things in every culture."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."