The members of Jewish Artists Collective Chicago write about our stories, struggles, experiences, and musings, and how they inspire us to create contemporary Jewish art.

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.