Joanne Y. Heiligman

Artist’s Statement

Biblical Quilts

Installation Art

Purim Masquerade!
Depicting the Book of Esther and the holiday of Purim

My passion for textile art started in a fabric shop when several fabric bolts caught my eye and I decided to make a quilt of creation. The topic was much greater than could be depicted in a single quilt, and the project expanded over many years to include several related pieces.

In the process I created a unique style of fabric collage using piecing, appliqué and embroidery to bring to life Jewish traditions as well as Biblical texts. 

In the quilts, I use cotton fabrics almost exclusively, in vibrant and intense colors.  Generally, I work with commercially available fabric, but I also dye, paint, modify, or create my own as needed. Although much of my work is sewn by machine, there is also hand piecing, appliqué and embellishment. The internet and fabric printing have opened a world of possibilities for including astronomical images in my work.

I draw on my rabbinic knowledge to enrich my work so that my art expresses several levels of meaning, from the plain meaning to traditional interpretations of Biblical texts, to my own serious or whimsical perspective. 

Reading the Bible can be challenging.  Reading a commentary slows readers down so they will see new meanings and not skim over a text too quickly. In this sense, I think of my work as a visual commentary on Jewish texts, prayer, and practice.

The people of the Bible were not living with technology, but they were just as socially and emotionally sophisticated as we are.  We make a mistake to think of them as primitive. 

The most repeated commandment (Mitzvah) in the Torah is “Do not oppress the foreigner, because you were foreigners in Egypt.”  It appears at least 36 times.

The Israelites also faced issues of freedom and oppression, abuse of power, arrogance, as well as the search for awe and wonder, and meaning in the world.

I hope that my work will encourage people to see the world in a new light, to fire the imagination about how life, art, spirit, and intellect can illumine each other.

Acknowledgments: Thank you to my photographer, Ben Sussman, who has taken most of the quilt photos on this site. Those are the good ones, Ben is scheduled to photograph the installation pieces, so I hope to post better photos of those soon.

In addition to a number of dolls I made myself, there are over 2000 Guatemalan “worry dolls” in the installation pieces, “The Partings of the Seas” and “Immigration Debacle.” The dolls were purchased wholesale, and those pieces would not have been possible without the Guatemalan artists whose names I do not know.

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