Jazzed about JABA Open House

Imagine a house that’s filled with items handcrafted by local Jewish artists and designers. In addition to Judaica, such as a seder plate with matching Passover place settings, or a one-of-a-kind mezuzah for the front doorway, also think attractive wall finishes, window treatments or stained-glass windows.

That’s the vision behind JABA Open House, which will make its debut at this year’s To Life! Jewish Cultural Street Festival.

“It could be very interesting,” muses Barbara Mortkowitz, who has taken on the task of organizing and overseeing the exhibit.

A project of the fledgling Judaic Artist Guild, or JABA (Jewish Arts of the Bay Area), the makeshift house — which will structurally resemble a sukkah — will display items made by Bay Area artists, interior designers and artisans.

And though there will be Judaica, not everything will be Jewish themed, says Mortkowitz. “We may have a piece of furniture … or upholstery. I’ll be interested to see what all comes together.”

Organizers see JABA House as the “kick-off event” to their yearlong effort to recruit guild members. The guild, which falls under the auspices of the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, is open to all Bay Area artists who are Jewish or produce Judaica (including visual arts, music, writing or performance arts).

It is the brainchild of festival director Stephanie Brown, herself an artist who creates hand-painted silk tallits and chuppahs. (Before moving to the Bay Area to head To Life! and the JCC’s J-Connect program, Brown belonged to a Judaic arts guild in Washington, D.C. and found it a great networking and support group.)

JABA Open House, to be located at the center of the street festival, will present the new guild to the community. Visitors will be able to walk through the structure and view the works of JABA members, make purchases or pick up the business cards of participating artists.

The house will be staffed with volunteers and JABA members who can answer questions or conduct transactions.

Organizers hope the exhibit will show how homes can have a customized and artistic Jewish environment.

“We have this group of artists, and so we’re providing them an opportunity for artistic outlet and revenue,” says Mortkowitz.

Participant Rena Shachar, for example, creates ceramic-tile wall hangings, tables, mirror frames, and other items for the home. She also fashions murals for synagogues, recently completing a wall mosaic that hangs above the ritual washing station at Congregation Beth Israel in Berkeley, and last year composing a smaller mosaic for a rabbi gift from Oakland’s Beth Jacob Congregation. Both pieces used verses from the Book of Songs.

A native of Israel who works out of her home-studio in Oakland, Shachar uses hand-panted tiles from Jerusalem. Her commissions include both Jewish and secular themes.

A crew from the JCC is helping to build the JABA house structure using columns, braces and two-by-fours. “We’re keeping it as simple as possible,” says Mortkowitz, “so we can use it again.”

JABA is dedicated to the professional development of guild members, including opportunities for collaboration and networking, “fostering artistic growth and mutual inspiration through dialogue, critique and camaraderie.”

Another goal is to encourage and facilitate support for Jewish artists and their work in the local Jewish community.

Mortkowitz, an interior designer on the Peninsula and artist “in the field of book arts,” is jazzed about JABA Open House. “Rather than just having a booth, we thought we’d put their [artistic] work to use and come up with something clever.”

Its success will likely depend on the number of participants. “If we can get 20 to 40 artists, that would be great,” she says. “If we can get a couple hundred people walking through, it would be wonderful.”