Monday, March 4, 2013

Meet Willa from Deep Bright Judaica

I love to interview Jewish artists and if you've been reading my blog for a while you know that I also love all things organic. So, when I found Willa's Etsy shop Deep Bright Judaica, I knew her unique wood carved objects would make for an interesting interview. Meet Willa!
DM: How did you get the idea of making wood sticks into Mezzuzahs?
Deep Bright Judaica has many roots. 
I had made other items from sticks for a while before the idea for mezuzot came to me.  (I'd been inspired by some branch hooks in a Vermont home.)  But one day it just sort "came to me" - which is the thing about inspiration - and I said "thank you very much" and took the idea and ran with it.  
 
I also have an overpowering desire not to waste things, otherwise expressed as my deep desire to be personally of use - and to put things to use in the world.  Now, clearly, sticks do not go to waste - especially on a mountainside or on the beach, where they merely go back to their source as compost.  But I sew quilts for this exact reason (the desire not to waste scraps of fabric) and for another, which applies to my Judaica: to let these things live on and tell their stories.  So, for example: walking in the woods in Pinnacles National Park, where the only wild California condors live, I brought home an armful of sticks from a fallen oak tree.  Could condors have alighted on its branches?  Who knows!  But the possibility is there.  The story is there.  

At its most basic, though, Deep Bright was born of a desire to make something that I, myself, wanted in my life.  I adore the idea of remembering the Divine and acknowledging God's oneness every time I walk through a door.  I mean that literally - it fills my heart.  Mezuzot are one of the beautiful manifestations of how ordinary objects become sacred through use.  
They don't have to be made of anything in particular and anyone may make them. In a mezuzah we see a perfect example of the living relevance of tradition. 
    
DM: Do you have training as an artist or are you self taught?
Yes.
My "real job" for a decade has been as a b+w film photographer.  I shoot portraits, performance photography, and fine art.  I took a class when I was in middle school and pretty much haven't left the house without a camera since.  I've had the great good fortune of being apprenticed to a handful of Masters, but haven't really taken many art classes.  (The situation usually ends with me and the teacher arguing over whether or not I've "completed" the assignment.  The idea of there being assignments in art classes didn't much jive with me as a teenager.)   I'll take classes regarding technique or tools (how to sew a zipper, how to safely use giant machinery...things that might, in the end, help me make my art) but not really "art" classes.

From my experience - personally and from watching others - what people mean by "being an artist" is really "being a vessel."  It's a matter of taking the time to get out of your own way and let out whatever wants to come through.  This involves patience, dedication, and perseverance.  And a lot of noticing.   Gratitude helps.  So do silence and good health, both of which allow one the perspective to see things clearly as they are and as they could be.

DM: I noticed you live in California but the wood is from Vermont?

The wood for my pieces comes from all over the place.  Wherever I am, if I see wood and have the ability and permission to take it with me I will.  Last fall I went on a two and a half month road trip to record an album back in my very first home, Vermont.  I did a lot of walking in the woods in that time, so I now have wood from all over the country, curing and waiting to become.....all sorts of things.  Maple and birch are two of my favorite woods to work with, however, so soon enough there will be a good offering of Vermont-born pieces available.
DM: How does Judaism play a role in your business and art?
Well, in business - as in all things - I strive for the strong, beautiful ethics of a Jewish Soul.  I make art that feels ethically good.  It's very low-impact and, in that, acknowledges the fleetingness of life.  That thought keeps me humble - we'll all be gone soon enough.  Better to walk softly and enjoy this world, know deeply how beautiful it is, share that.

And as for the making of the art, it feels like spiritual practice to me.  I'll listen to some beautiful Jewish music - Rabbi Menachem Creditor's "Within" is a recent favorite -  or work on learning a new psalm, or just be quiet, pay attention.  Essentially: I take the time to make sure that I connect with the spirit of the thing.  That I take this work seriously, joyously, gratefully.  That I actively remember I've been offered a chance to play a role in others'
connection to their traditions, community, and spiritual practice.  That feels like Right Livelihood to me.

Micah says, "Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God."


DM: What new products are you currently working on?
Oooh, I'm so glad you asked!  I've got some great stuff happening.  I'm particularly excited about my Shabbos Candlesticks and my new Tallis Pouches.  The Candlesticks (like the mezuzot) are also carved from found wood and each one is a little different.  They're very mix-and-matchable, so you can have two two-inch little cherry wood stumps, or one big olive wood and one funky-shaped little burl....you get the idea.  
Then there's the new Tallis Pouches.  Each one is made from re-used material (what else?) - silk from an old wedding dress, wool from a vintage army blanket, vintage canvas off-the-bolt.  You get the picture.  And each one has a hand-carved block-print on it, which reads "Tallit" in Hebrew.

I also make tiny version of these pouches (same design, different use) which read "Shabbat" in Hebrew.  Inside is a box of tiny candles, a tiny little candle holder, and some matches.  The idea is for people in a small space (a college dorm, maybe?) or traveling (campers?), there's a quick, contained, sweet little way to still make Shabbat.  I'd put wine and bread in the pouch, but there's not enough room!  I call these my Tiny Shabbat Sets.

And who knows what's next?  Always something brewing...


DM: Thanks so much Willa for sharing your inspiring story with us today!
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