In my flickr wanderings, I found the work of Jennifer Fairman, who is a medical illustrator by trade... I however fell for her chuppah and I asked her to tell you about it. She did that and more. Besides her explanation about her work, she also told me about her mother in law who is an artist in her own right. You will read about her tomorrow. Jeni's husband should be counting his blessings... lovely, loving wife AND mother!
Here is the newlywed's handmade chuppah: made of embroidered silk, duchess satin appliqué, antique lace and trim. The embroidered panels read, "Ani Ledodi V'Dodi Li," meaning, "I am to my beloved as my beloved is to me." This chuppah was designed by the bride with help from the groom, and crafted by hand by the bride herself. The florist helped put the finishing touches to it by adding grapevine, willow, berries and fall flowers. This chuppah is now a family heirloom that will be passed throughout our new family.
Why make it yourself?
Well...good question. I didn't really have anything sentimental like my father's or grandfather's tallis, or my grandmother's old tablecloth. Additionally, I thought I would have a quilt made, like many brides do...but in essence I did want something unique that could be handed down to other brides in the family, that spoke of our personality and that wouldn't cost me too much time or a fortune. As everyone knows, planning a wedding can take lots of time...or can be stressful. But this not a requirement for a happy marriage, right? Ron (my husband) and I agreed that our wedding should be a reflection of our love for each other and our families...not a crazy over-the-top party. With that in mind we picked the tasks we really cared about, like food (of course!) and some of the more symbolic things, like our ketubah (I almost made that too...but I was smart and decided not to dig that hole)...photography, music -- stuff like that. As for the chuppah, I wanted something simple and not too expensive. With the power of having a sewing machine, I thought, "How hard could it POSSIBLY be to make your own chuppah? I'll just go to the fabric store, pick out some gorgeous fabric, cut a big square, add some trim, and maybe 1 or 2 hours later, it will be DONE! One less task to take care of."
The pattern, as I mentioned above was simple - I picked out some beautifully embroidered silk which was at the end of its bolt and had a small stain in the corner. So lucky me. It was on sale! Marked down twice! I took it home, laid it out on the floor of my sewing room, and snip-snip, I cut it into a square. Then I began measuring out the tassel trim for the edges. But not so fast! My husband Ron came into the room, took one look at it and said, "It's too small!"
"What do you mean it's too small?!" I exclaimed. "Two people can stand under here just fine!"
Ron replies, "You, me...the rabbi. Both our parents?"
Oy...that's when I had the sinking feeling I had just ruined a nice piece of silk. How do I make it bigger again? Eureka! Hanging from my sewing room door, I had kept an old 1920's wedding gown I had bought for $10 at a thrift store (with a big nasty stain on the front). I had anticipated taking it apart one day and doping something special with it. Well, this was that moment. I can cut that up, make side panels, AND use the gorgeous lace trim from the train to act as the seam between the center silk square panel, and the side panels. Only thing is I need to make these panels interesting...I can't just leave them white! So I designed the English and Hebrew lettering on my computer, printed it out, cut the letters out and pinned them to the panels as templates. I cut each letter out of more fabric I bought to match the center square panel. Pinned those to the side panels and used the appliqué stitch on my sewing machine to attach them to the white panels. Of course, this was the part that took the most time. Once the panels were finished, I attached them to the center panel using the old wedding lace. Then trimmed the whole chuppah with tassel. Viola we are done!Of course, we had to show it to our rabbi to make sure it was indeed big enough...turns out the only people who are required to stand under the chuppah are the bride and groom! Needless to say our chuppah was perfectly sized!
What do you do?
My "real" job? I am a Medical Illustrator - I run my own medical illustration practice called Fairman Studios, and I am also an Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, teaching in the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine. Growing up, I was always interested in medicine, science and research. I thought I might go into pediatrics. Maybe become a forensic entomologist? I also loved fine arts and crafts and just using my imagination to create things -- some which commemorate things I have experienced in life, others to communicate or teach an idea. One day discovered the field of medical illustration, and like an epiphany, the idea of becoming a medical illustrator became a deeply meaningful career path - one that combined my favorite subjects: medicine and art. I went into the field of medical illustration knowing that I would be able to educate myself as well as a variety of audiences about the unending discoveries of science, medicine, anatomy, surgery and so many other biomedical subjects. I love to teach, and illustration does just that: illustrations are drawings that teach. So medical illustrations are drawings, or animations even, that teach medical or scientific subject matter.
What do you see as the importance of Jewish art in every day life?
One of the most obvious pieces of art one might see on a daily basis is a Ketubah - it reminds us of love, family, commitment, and building a Jewish home together. Our ketubah has a beautiful brocade pattern that is colorful and just mesmerizing to look at - I could stare at it all day and see something new I didn't see before...just like marriage I suppose - we learn and grow from each other on a daily basis. Sometimes more obvious, sometimes ever so slightly. I think Jewish art has a rich tradition of symbolism and can be as unique as the person that owns the art. There is so much you can create that expresses who you are as a Jewish person. I also make jewelry, and lately have been incorporating Jewish symbolism in my work - I am making a jeweled Hamsa that also incorporates an illustration of birds and flowers - I love nature and science, so if I can combine those things into my non-medical art, I will!
What is the chuppah doing NOW!
The last time the chuppah was out in public, my sister-in-law's sister used it at her wedding. While not being passed around the family, it sadly sits inside a little silk pillowcase. I am just afraid if I hang it on a wall or something, it might stretch out or fade. I am really trying to preserve it for whoever wants to borrow it next. So our photos will have to do for now.
I hope I answered your questions - but let me know if you have any others. I attached more photos - also some photos of a Jewish star I made, which my Mom now wears forever (that's another story for another time), as well as the Tallis I made for my husband... you know the one a bride is SUPPOSED to give to her new husband on their wedding day? Yeah...that project took me a little longer to complete (snickering), but I am proud to say that project is finished.