Points of Light

Here is an article on our amazing guest blogger, Helen Rosenau!! It was written by Christine Sherk of The Register-Guard. 

An avid reader, she talks enthusiastically about books. An admirer of art, she details what “drew her in” to the human portraits by Bay Area photographer Jon Kaplan she has hung in her Eugene home. “He gets the eyes.”

Spiritual dialogue, however, most engages Rosenau, both privately at home, where she has created a sanctuary for creative and contemplative work, and in an increasingly public way through fused-glass artworks, her meditative blog at kabbalahglass.com and as a somewhat regular speaker during services at Temple Beth Israel (TBI) in Eugene. To Rosenau, these different ways of expression are all part of her journey and her purpose.

“To me the nature of the art is to be a bridge in that spiritual conversation that I’m in,” she says.

Color and meaning

Alone in the quiet of her cozy studio, Rosenau considers the vibrant array of colored glass she’s collected, and yields to the creative force working through her as she builds, for example, beautifully balanced fused-glass Tree of Life panels, Etz Chaim in Hebrew. The ancient Jewish mystical practice of kabbalah and its inherent dualities regarding the qualities of God inspire these works. Pairs of tiles set in opposition play off each other, resolving in a center piece. Each tile, representing a life-force or sefirot, such as Wisdom (Chokmah) or Harmony and Beauty (Tipherat), has ancient meaning embedded within it. Some tiles are solid color: ruby red, or blazing orange, or deep blue; others are lined and patterned. Tile construction is a free-flowing process for Rosenau.

“When I’m in my studio and I’m really listening, I just trust what I’m told to do. When I reach for something, I generally trust what comes to my hand. So that’s one of those moments when you really feel connected to that presence in a personal way.”

Once the tiles are constructed — she lays them all out at once so she can see how they work together — they are fused in Rosenau’s kiln in two batches. “I really don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” she says of that wonderful element of surprise each piece contains for her when it’s removed from the kiln.

Rosenau generally doesn’t stray from the traditional Tree of Life structure — three tiles on each side and four down the middle — but she does represent Knowledge, where in most Trees of Life it simply isn’t present.

“I always make them clear to honor that it exists. It would feel weird to me to have this empty,” she adds. “That’s what feels right to me, and so I listen to it.”

Seek and you shall find

Finding expression through glass art and returning to Judaism in a sense went hand in hand for Rosenau in 2002 and the juxtaposition of these two forces has changed her life, as she puts it, into one of goodness, joy and creativity.

“We’re all works in progress,” Rosenau explains. “It’s taken me 22 years to have all of them at once.”

She grew up Jewish in Philadelphia, the daughter of two German-Jewish immigrants who had fled Germany during World War II.

Off to college first at the University of Pennsylvania and then at UCLA in Southern California, Rosenau shifted from what she calls “probably the most nonspiritual time in my life” to an open curiosity in the world’s faith traditions. She practiced Buddhism “and all the usual New Age stuff,” she says.

She had settled in Oregon by 1981 and built a career as an administrator for an economic consulting firm. “Very left brain,” she says of the work. About her artistic and spiritual nature, she quips, “There are people in town who have no idea about this part of me!”

The power of glass art dazzled Rosenau back in 2002 when she took a class. Already, she had worked with clay and had done some woodwork. A longtime supporter of local artists, Rosenau would visit art festivals and be drawn to the vibrant colors of glassworks, and decided to give it a try.

“The glass just called me. I wanted the color,” she explains. One three-hour class in fused glass, and Rosenau was hooked. “I came home and I realized that I hadn’t thought about anything for three hours, and then it was like, where am I putting my studio!”

The Hebrew alphabet began to bring Rosenau back to Judaism around the same time. At a bookstore, “The Oracle of Kabbalah,” by Richard Seidman, caught her eye. The book details the ancient symbolism of the Hebrew letters. “So, I started studying the letters, and it just began to bring me back,” Rosenau says. One thing led to another and soon enough she found a real community at TBI as well as an outlet for speaking about faith by giving Torah talks during services.

Writing, too, is a valuable outlet for Rosenau, who began a blog last year in October, framing her weekly posts around the Torah Cycle. She has written plenty about self-development and self-improvement in a completely different genre as an advice columnist using the persona, Your Jewish Fairy Godmother. But the blog writing is different. It’s deeper. It’s part of that ongoing spiritual dialogue.

“The blog is about that we’re works in progress. Get as far as you can,” Rosenau says. She adds, “I care about self-development. How do we get to be better people? I don’t know that path, but I know I’m increasingly open and public about who I am, what I’m thinking and what I’m saying. I want to have a more direct relationship with the people that (my work) speaks to, and I think that’s what it comes down to. It’s moved from an inner dialogue to an outer voice.”

Rosenau has hung several of her pieces from creative arches she designs for both her front and backyards, where she loves to sit and watch the glass tiles twist in the wind and radiate their colorful essences in the sun.

“There are times when I’m looking and that middle tile will talk to me,” she explains of a tile representing Harmony, part of one of her Trees of Life in her restful backyard Zen garden. The color will catch her eye. “It will just say ‘me, me, me, pay attention to me.’ And so then I’ll sit there and think about that piece and how it relates to my life, what I’m experiencing then.”

Her pieces are visible in public as well. One, called Hineini Tallis, stands in the library at TBI, a social justice award in honor of now-retired Rabbi Maurice Harris and current Rabbi Yitzhak Husbands-Hankin.

Not all of her works have a spiritual bent; she has submitted more figurative pieces in the Eugene Mayor’s Art Show, and likes to make whatever comes through inspiration. “Glass work is alchemical. It’s play and color.”

But the deeper work thrills her. The connections it affords. When she makes a Tree of Life for someone, she really listens to their perspective and tries to understand the many paths within their spiritual journey.

“In making the art for people, I’m really interested in developing that personal relationship first. I want to know them well enough to reflect them back through the glass.”

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