Some of us look at the Bible and see intricate layers of text; Sylvia Feinstein looks at the Bible and sees intricate layers of images.
Then she weaves those images into beautiful tapestries.
Her various series of tapestries on Leviticus, on doves and on women in the Bible, among others, are displayed in her home gallery in Modi’in and in private and public collections worldwide, including the Municipal Museum of Art in Montevideo, Uruguay; Shaare Zedek Medical Center and Moreshet Abraham Synagogue in Jerusalem, as well as several kibbutzim.
“I have come to truly love the Bible,” says Feinstein, who made aliya in 1977.
“Having settled in the land of the Bible and having absorbed its sights and colors has helped me to reexperience the stories I have known since childhood.
All those images and topics that lay dormant in the back of my mind have now come alive on my loom.”
She says her creations are also motivated by “the sense that our entire life in Israel is actually related to the Bible – everything from the judicial system through medicine and ethics to poetry and literature.”
The native of Buenos Aires has taught and organized weaving seminars and developed an arts-and-crafts exchange program between Israel and other countries.
Feinstein creates with words, too. Her article “Weaving and the Bible” was published in 1991 in the for Foreign Affairs Ministry journal Ariel Review of Arts and Letters in Israel
, which was translated into five languages.
She produced an English and Spanish audiovisual presentation on Israeli contemporary arts and crafts, sponsored by the Argentine-Israel Cultural and Scientific Interchange Institute and screened in Latin America, the US and Europe.
She also has lectured on this topic in Central and South America.
Feinstein earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at the Manuel Belgrano School of Art in Buenos Aires in 1967. She continued her studies in painting, etching and ceramics after she married at 22 and moved to Montevideo.
There she discovered her passion for weaving under the tutelage of “an extraordinary teacher” at the Aroztegui Advanced School of Weaving Art. Later she did postgraduate studies at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem.
“I learned the traditional French techniques of Aubusson and Gobelin tapestries, enriched by the contributions of new materials and modern ideas of our century, and it was through the contact with this old-yet-new medium that I finally felt I was accomplishing the goal of expressing my inner artistic and spiritual world,” she explains.
It makes sense that a woman who considers herself primarily a painter would be drawn to Gobelin tapestry art, because this intricate stitching technique originating in Paris is often compared to painting. The method also has an emotional effect on her.
“When I finally arrived at tapestry in general, and the Gobelin technique in particular, there was no longer any doubt or searching left for me: I felt a magical combination of relaxing the atmosphere, absorbing light, calming the environment and making the spirit rest through this technique,” she says.
Feinstein has participated in more than 60 individual and group exhibitions.
Her works have been shown in local and national art events in Argentina and Uruguay, as well as in various art competitions in Israel.
“My first exhibition in Israel, entitled ‘Genesis Series,’ was presented at the Jerusalem Theater in 1978. I consider it to be the cornerstone of my mature art,” says Feinstein.
She is not afraid of tackling difficult subjects on her loom.
In addition to her series titled “The Prophecy of the Holocaust,” Feinstein has co-written an artistic book, Reincarnation and Holocaust,
with her daughter Carmela Lev-Ari. The book is part of the collection of the Holocaust Art Library at Yad Vashem’s Holocaust Art Research Center.
She has even done a triptych titled Rape in the Bible,
portraying the stories of Dinah, Tamar and the daughters of Shiloh.
“Such a challenging and difficult subject obliges me to pause and confine my approach to the thread that will respect this powerful subject,” she says. “I am hopeful that those who view this work will find in it the path to reflection on a topic so relevant to our modern world.”
Feinstein relates that her father was actively involved in supporting the creation of the State of Israel but felt that life in the nascent state was too precarious to bring his family there. However, his enthusiasm was passed along to his artistically inclined daughter.
“When I made the decision to come here, Argentina was not a good place to live,” she says. “There were many things that made me decide it was the right move.”
When she arrived, she got acquainted with a family of cousins whose existence she had only recently discovered.
She has two brothers, one in the US and one in Argentina. Her eight grandchildren – ranging in age from four to almost 27 – all live in Israel, as do her three children: daughter Paula in Tel Aviv, daughter Carmela in Modi’in and son Jimmy on Kibbutz Dafna. Feinstein gave birth to her children during the family’s 12 years in Uruguay.
“I feel free in Israel, despite all the problems here,” she says. “I feel it’s my home and that for my family it’s the best place to be.”