Dead Sea Scrolls

Art and Text by Berit Engen

Colors win me over. In my studio I let random spools of yarn lie around, and suddenly a surprising combination will pop into my vision that I hadn’t noticed before. One day I spotted turquoise and bluish orange together which immediately brought me back to 1986 and my time in the Evanston Art Co-op when I encountered a stunning series of paintings of ceramic jars found in Israel by the wonderful artist, Lenore Schulman. Each painting – and jar – was unusually narrow and tall (about 4 feet), and the jars filled almost the entire canvas.

More than 30 years later, after I had entered Judaism and started weaving tapestries on Jewish texts and life, I had for a few years wanted to weave the jars that had housed the Dead Sea Scrolls. The turquoise and bluish orange spools, which had been lying listless in a basket for years, reminded me of Shulman’s paintings and reawakened the idea. I decided I wanted to weave the jars right then, even if I didn’t really have the time, being in the midst of other projects. (Each tapestry takes about 5 days to finish.)

I looked through my 100+ spools of linen yarn and found the combination x 4 in lighter to dark shades. I decided to weave four tapestries showing the jars leaving the cave at four different times in the span of a day, from morning dawn to evening twilight. I added black for the perceived darkness inside the cave and ochre for the landscape and dry plants. That is how I began this eight-piece series depicting the archeological find of the 20th century. But I wanted to tell the whole story. I added three tapestries for the beginning starting with the 2000 years of silence (from the perspective of the scrolls and jars). I decided to end the story with a tapestry depicting the “Shrine of the Book,” the museum in Jerusalem (built in the shape of a pottery lid) which now stores and preserves these ancient treasures of words.