Hillels of Georgia recently welcomed “Threads of Ritual,” a new installation of tallitot and challah covers by Ruth Simon McRae, to its Marcus Hillel Center at Emory University.
In the Center’s sanctuary, filled with natural light, hang eighteen of McRae’s delicate tallitot. Attached to the ceiling with hangers, pieces like “Undersea,” “Birds and Branches” and “Date Palm Shibori” seem to be floating throughout the sacred space. According to Hillels of Georgia CEO Elliot Karp, “the pieces use evocative colors and dynamic texture to tell the stories and histories of the Jewish people.”
McRae, who lives in Taylorsville, a small town in the northwest corner of Georgia, says that the work in this exhibition “represents a complex layering of handcraft and artistry along with a deep appreciation for the objects of daily life that are a part of our faith.”
Her interest in textiles began in her father’s interior design studio, where, as a young child, she found herself surrounded by beautiful fabrics. Inspired by the fashion of the 1960s, McRae studied painting at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine and the Philadelphia College of Art in Pennsylvania. But it was in 1970 that she purchased a 100-year-old loom and taught herself to weave, focusing on pictorial tapestries.
After moving to Georgia in 1978, McRae earned a degree from Georgia Tech to pursue a career in industrial textiles and floor covering design. Her cousin pointed out that the complex handmade textiles she created would translate well into tallitot.
“I started with autobiographical themes, or more simply themes from my life,” McRae writes, “the landscape in our backyard, the garden, studies in white to express a feeling of holiness, watercolor painting. From there I moved on to tallitot that were inspired by various materials and color combinations. I have a passion for the warmth and feel of textiles and am drawn to handicrafts and the textile arts. Textiles have layers of meaning, and I like to use tallitot and challah covers as canvases for expressing stories, histories and rituals.”
McRae says that she aims to create emotion with surprising color relationships enhanced by shape and texture. “Each piece was produced over a fairly long period of time, each was iterative, with one material or section added in response to the last, like a painting,” she added.
For over a decade, the Marcus Hillel Center has hosted rotating exhibits of Judaica, which Karp says fulfills the mission of the Center as a place to explore Jewish arts, culture, spirituality and community. The exhibit continues through Dec. 20 and is open and free to the public, 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding all Jewish holidays. Visit www.HillelsofGeorgia.org for more information.