Joslyn Art Museum fountain court in Omaha, Nebraska (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In October, I gave a tour of Jewish artists in the collection of the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska. The tour was just of the permanent collection that was hanging in the galleries that day. My tour was for a group of Jewish scholars who had been invited to Omaha to present papers at the Klutznick Harris Symposium. After 2 days of listening to scholarly presentations, the group of 10 scholars looked forward to enjoying a visit to the local art museum.
I like giving tours of the permanent collection of the Joslyn, because I’ve been hanging around the museum since 1993 when I moved to Omaha for an internship there. I was looking forward to having a group of Jewish scholars with diverse backgrounds to chat with about the art and artists.
Doing research about the Jewish artists in the collection was eye-opening to me. Most were definitely acknowledging that they were Jewish, but for the most part, they were artists who happened to be Jewish. Jewish themes were the farthest thing from the subjects of their art.
So why give a tour of Jewish artists, when most didn’t want the viewing public to even know they were Jewish?
This brought up a question that I’d struggled with in graduate school. My advisor had begun to write a lot about Jewish art and artists. It was eye-opening to me at that time in my life when I was trying to find my way as a young scholar. Everyone knew I was Jewish, and I actively participated in assorted Jewish activities on campus. However, I really wasn’t interested in pursuing research on Jewish art or artists. It seemed, at that time, very limiting, and I didn’t want to put myself into that box, a Jewish art historian writing about Jewish art and artists. I was much more interested in women artists and the Feminist movement, and limiting myself to Jewish artists didn’t feel comfortable.
After moving to Omaha, finishing my dissertation, and realizing that I was going to stay here to raise my family, I began thinking differently. What could I do research on, and where could I present it? What niche could I fill in this city where I now lived? Then I began to realize that I felt comfortable in the role of a Jewish art historian who researched Jewish artists, and there were actually people in Omaha who were interested in my research.
So, here I am in Omaha, feeling comfortable being known as a Jewish art historian who has found my niche, and JAE is a great place to explore being a Jewish art historian.