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Rachel Feinstein discusses Maiden, Mother, Crone Read More

The Artist Muses: Rachel Feinstein on “Maiden, Mother, Crone”

Sunday, January 17, 2021 marks the final day that the exhibition “Rachel Feinstein: Maiden, Mother, Crone” will be on view. The first U.S. survey of the New York-based artist opened on November 1, 2019, featuring three decades of Feinstein’s work in sculpture, painting, and video. We asked the artist for some final musings to close out a wonderful run.

Rachel Feinstein. Photo by Chris Sanders.

On the inspiration behind the Jewish Museum exhibition:

I bought a book at the Strand called Maids, Madonnas, & Witches by Andreas Feininger a couple years ago. The book contains beautiful black and white photographs that Feininger took himself of different historical sculptures of women from prehistoric times to Picasso all made by men. I found the categories of women they made for each chapter interesting, tragic, and funny. Henry Miller wrote the introduction and E.E. Cummings added poetry. The whole book is about women by men. I wanted to take what I could from this book but make my own version about women by a woman. The book was the starting place for the title Maiden, Mother, Crone, but the theme began to evolve as I started to delve deeper into Jungian psychoanalysis and “Game of Thrones.” I have been moving through these three stages myself, now beginning the last phase of Crone. Each stage has its pluses and minuses. Even though each stage is highly relevant, our world only has eyes for the Maiden and it stops there even though we all hopefully move beyond it. Having the wisdom of the Crone only comes with time and sacrifice. The Maiden has a perfect body and feels no pain but it comes at the sacrifice of not knowing anything. Being a Mother gives you the profound experience of bringing life into the world but also losing yourself.

Installation view of “Rachel Feinstein: Maiden, Mother, Crone.” Artwork © Rachel Feinstein. Photo: Tom Powel Imaging.

On her interest in art and turning it into a career:

I had a grandmother who was a Sunday painter and she recognized that I was an artist at an early age. I would find cardboard boxes and make sculptures out of them or use plaster bandages that my father would bring home from the hospital (my dad was a doctor). Grandma Martha started to take me to drawing and painting lessons when I was around 12. I later applied to the RISD pre-college summer school when I was in high school which further revealed my talents and desires. There was not much culture in Miami in the 1980’s, so wanting to be a well-known contemporary artist was an impossible dream. My parents didn’t want me to major in art or go to an art school because they thought I would never be able to support myself. Luckily I got into Columbia University as an undergraduate and was able to take serious art classes and go downtown to see the galleries even though at first I was majoring in pre-med. By mid-term of freshman year I dropped the pre-med classes and started doing mostly art, religion, and philosophy classes. I majored in religion and philosophy with a minor in art. Judy Pfaff was my sculpture teacher at Columbia and she was the reason why I became a professional artist. She helped me apply to Skowhegan and have Columbia endorse my residency. I soon met Kiki Smith and Ursula Von Rydingsvard and they became important role models and mentors as well. Because I was able to see Judy, Kiki, and Ursula’s lives as professional artists, I knew that I could become one. too.

Installation view of “Rachel Feinstein: Maiden, Mother, Crone.” Artwork © Rachel Feinstein. Photo: Tom Powel Imaging.

On her Jewish background and how it contributed to her art and life:

My father was raised orthodox Jewish in Brooklyn and when he was in medical school at SUNY Syracuse he met my mother who is Catholic. It was love at first sight and I was raised in both religions hence my reason to become a religion and philosophy major in college. I identify more with Judaism but am open to each person’s path to finding their own root and anchor in our seismic times. Judaism connects me to my father, who passed away right before my Jewish Museum show opened. I miss him so much and know that he would have been so proud to have my first museum show at the Jewish Museum.

Installation view of “Rachel Feinstein: Maiden, Mother, Crone.” Artwork © Rachel Feinstein. Photo: Tom Powel Imaging.

On her proudest career moment to date:

Having 25 years of my work all in one room is a profound experience so I would say the show at the Jewish Museum is the proudest moment of my career so far. When I saw the Crucifixion sculpture for the first time in 20 years, I was so happy to see how strong it was. It held up in my memory and even looked better than I remembered. An art work like Crucifixion is much more meaningful for me than seeing a photograph when I was young-; the sculpture is almost like seeing a part of my soul captured and frozen from that time. I can look at certain passages of the sculpture and remember where I was and how it felt to make it. My sculptures are extensions of my body that do not age and decay with time like flesh does. Art is the pathway I use to be immortal.

Installation view of the exhibition. “Crucifixion” (2003) is on the left. Artwork © Rachel Feinstein. Photo: Tom Powel Imaging.

On her next project:

My work Crucifixion opened up something in me. A writer named Steven Vincent wrote an article on that work called “The Plywood Intercessor” in 2003. He wanted to interview me because he thought I had made a religious image because I too was affected by seeing the Twin Towers fall on 9/11. At that point I could not understand my motives for making the work and felt that the interview was strange. Steven Vincent moved to Basra, Iraq to write about the war. In 2005, he wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times and a few days after it was published, he was murdered. Re-reading his article on my sculpture and living through this painful last year with COVID has made me want to portray religious iconography in my art again. I am working on making mirror paintings of well-known images of Jesus, Mary, the Deposition, the Crucifixion, the Last Supper, etc. I do not know where this will lead me but I am finding inspiration and energy from drawing these universal images.

Rachel Feinstein: Maiden, Mother, Crone is on view at the Jewish Museum through January 17, 2021. Museum admission is free with timed ticket — learn more and reserve at TheJewishMuseum.org/RachelFeinstein.


Rachel Feinstein discusses Maiden, Mother, Crone was originally published in The Jewish Museum on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

A Time for Miracles and Wonders Read More

The central ritual of Hanukkah, a holiday celebrating miracles and deliverance, is the lighting of a lamp — variously called a menorah, Hanukiya, or Hanukkah lamp. Over time, the depictions on the lamps have taken on new meanings, and other stories of miracles associated with the holiday have also been represented. — Susan Braunstein, Senior Curator Emerita, The Jewish Museum

In Search of Miracles, Salo Rawet (b. Brazil, 1955), Oakland, California, United States, 1995. Lead, wood, copper, glass, olive oil, and cotton wicking, 7 1/2 × 36 × 3 1/2 in. (19.1 × 91.4 × 8.9 cm), The Jewish Museum, New York, Purchase: Gift of Peter Lane.

In the midst of the horrific pandemic that has engulfed us, it is a welcome relief to be able to turn our minds to the celebration of one of the more joyous festivals in the Jewish calendar. Hanukkah is a holiday proclaiming miracles and deliverance, lights and happy endings, that is based in events that occurred over two millennia ago.

In the second century BCE, the Jews were under Hellenistic rule. They were forbidden to practice their religion upon pain of death, and their central Temple in Jerusalem was defiled with a shrine to the Greek god Zeus. A small band of rebels arose, led by Judah Maccabee, and miraculously succeeded in pushing out the Greeks and cleansing the Temple to reestablish worship. New implements were fashioned for the Temple, including the seven-branch lampstand (or menorah), and the dedication of the Temple was celebrated for eight days. It is this event that is commemorated during the eight days of Hanukkah, which means “dedication.”

Another miracle associated with the restoration of the Temple is recorded a few centuries later in the Talmud. When it came time for the priests of the Temple to light the great menorah, they could find only one jar of sanctified oil, enough to burn for one day. However, it amazingly lasted for eight days, giving them time to prepare a new batch of oil.

The central ritual of Hanukkah is the lighting of a lamp — variously called a menorah, Hanukiya, or Hanukkah lamp — that has eight light containers corresponding to the number of days of celebration, plus the shamash, a ninth flame used to light the other wicks. Many lamps are decorated with a dizzying array of motifs, ranging from heroic figures and animals to buildings and scrollwork. Strangely enough, it is the menorah, rather than the victorious Judah Maccabee, that is the most popular image on Hanukkah lamps from at least the eighteenth century on, primarily in Europe and the United States. Over time, the menorot depicted on the lamps have taken on new meanings, and other stories of miracles associated with the holiday have also been represented.

Burial Plaque, Rome (Italy), 3rd-4th century CE. Marble: incised and painted, 11 5/8 × 10 7/16 × 1 3/16 in. (29.5 × 26.5 × 3 cm), The Jewish Museum, New York , Gift of Henry L. Moses in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Henry P. Goldschmidt, JM 5–50. Photo by Ardon Bar Hama

Beginning in antiquity, the seven-branch menorah came to represent the hope for the restoration of the great Temple in Jerusalem, as well as a symbol of Judaism in general. The building that the Maccabees rededicated with such jubilation in 164 BCE was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, and the menorah that once stood within it emerged as a symbol for its redemption, at first longed for in this world, and then later in the world to come. This is seen in a burial plaque from a Jewish catacomb in Rome, dated to the 3rd or 4th century. The menorah has pride of place in the center, surrounded by other ritual objects that were part of Temple worship and pilgrimage: an etrog and lulav for the holiday of Sukkot, a ram’s horn blown at the New Year, a jar for sanctified offerings and above it a knife or incense shovel. The blank tablet above the menorah once held the name of the deceased; the red paint has become completely effaced. The depiction of the menorah illustrates the way it is understood from the biblical text, as a seven-branched stand upon which individual small lamps were placed.

Hanukkah Lamp, Sharar Cooperative, Bezalel School, Jerusalem (Israel), early 1920s. Copper alloy: die-stamped, 5 × 6 5/8 × 2 1/16 in. (12.7 × 16.8 × 5.3 cm), The Jewish Museum, New York, Gift of Dr. Harry G. Friedman (?), F 6066

The joyous nature of the kindling of the menorah during the rededication of the Temple in antiquity is captured in this Hanukkah lamp. It was created in the Sharar Cooperative in Jerusalem in the early 1920s. The Hebrew inscription above describes the scene: “They kindled the lights in the courtyards of thy sanctuary and established these eight days of Hanukkah” (from the Al Ha-nisim prayer recited during Hanukkah). On the right, a figure wearing the priestly breastplate lights the seventh light, while two children on either side, draped in garlands, sound the cymbals. The Sharar Cooperative was associated with the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts, founded in 1906 to create a new “Hebrew” artistic style. This featured, among other elements, imagery from the biblical past and the local landscape rendered in the style contemporary European art movements such as Art Nouveau.

Hanukkah Lamp, Germany, early 18th century. Silver: repoussé, engraved, chased, punched, appliqué, parcel-gilt, and cast, 11 11/16 × 11 1/2 × 3 5/16 in. (29.7 × 29.2 × 8.4 cm), The Jewish Museum, New York, Gift of Samuel and Lucille Lemberg, JM 27–53

The menorah depicted in this German lamp from the early eighteenth century is not meant to be the one rededicated by Judah Maccabee. It is the very first menorah ever created, made for the Tabernacle in the wilderness during the Exodus from Egypt a millennium earlier. This is signaled by the two figures who are flanking it: Moses holding the Ten Commandments on the left and Aaron, his brother, wearing the garb of the High Priest, on the right. The Bible describes how Bezalel, credited with being the first named Israelite artist, fashioned the menorah to God’s specifications: “And thou shalt make a candlestick of pure gold. . . And there shall be six branches . . . each with three cups made like almond-blossoms . . . each with a knop and a flower” (Exodus 25:31–40, 37:17). The menorah on this lamp actually has the eight branches of a Hanukkah lamp, instead of the seven branches of the Tabernacle menorah (six branches and a central shaft). This conflation of Hanukkah lamp and Temple menorah can be seen in a number of other lamps as well.

Hanukkah Lamp, Eastern Europe, early 19th century (?). Copper alloy: cast, 27 9/16 × 14 7/8 × 7 7/16 in. (70 × 37.8 × 18.9 cm), The Jewish Museum, New York, Gift of Dr. Harry G. Friedman (?), F 3338

This branched Hanukkah lamp from Eastern Europe in the early nineteenth century literally takes on the form of a tree. It is no ordinary tree but the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, with a snake winding around its trunk and a gated enclosure surrounded by palm trees. The connection of this scene to Hanukkah is unclear, although the Jewish association of the menorah form with a tree has a long history. Consider the biblical description of Bezalel’s menorah for the Tabernacle, with its branches, flowers and buds. In the sixteenth century, a kabbalistic text interprets the menorah seen by Moses as, among other ways, a tree that serves as the model for the creation of the world and its duration. Perhaps it this association with creation that was intended here. However, trees are also an important element in Russian folk art, and both the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life are depicted together on a popular group of nineteenth-century Polish Hanukkah lamps.

Hanukkah Lamp, Italy, 18th century with later additions. Copper alloy: repoussé, traced, punched, and cast, 14 3/8 × 10 7/8 × 4 3/4 in. (36.4 × 27.7 × 12.1 cm), The Jewish Museum, New York, Gift of Dr. Harry G. Friedman, F 2663

The menorah at the center of this eighteenth-century Italian lamp looks like something out of a fevered dream, and in fact it is. It represents one of the visions seen by the prophet Zechariah. His biblical book, written near the end of the Israelites’ exile in Babylon, contains prophecies of the restoration of Judah and Jerusalem and the coming of the messianic age. It is read in synagogue on the Sabbath before Hanukkah. In Zechariah’s vision, he sees a “lampstand of gold, with a bowl on top of it, and its seven lamps thereon; there are seven pipes, yea, seven, to the lamps, which are upon the top thereof. . . (Zechariah 4:2–3). God tells him that the lampstand represented His word that the Israelites will prevail by divine spirit, and not by might, possibly a reference to the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple. The arm in the upper right corner pouring oil into the menorah, personifies this divine assistance, either in the miracle of the sanctified oil during the Temple rededication, or in the restoration of the Jerusalem Temple. It may even be a depiction of the hand of God, something that is forbidden in Judaism by the Second Commandment. However, in Italian Judaica there is often a more relaxed attitude toward human representation, and occasionally an image of God is rendered, probably by a non-Jewish artist.

Hanukkah Lamp, Christian Gottlieb Muche (1717–1772; master 1746), Breslau (Wroclaw, Poland), 1761–72. Silver: repoussé, engraved, traced, punched, parcel-gilt, and cast, 5 15/16 × 11 1/16 × 1 7/8 in. (15.1 × 28.1 × 4.8 cm), The Jewish Museum, New York, Purchase: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Klingenstein, JM 26–64

There are other images on Hanukkah lamps beside the menorah that refer to miracles and wonders. One example is the central figure in this lamp, who is the biblical heroine, Judith. Using guile and her devout faith, she was able to kill an enemy general, Holofernes, who was besieging her town. She won his trust by telling him that she would betray her people and ensure God’s help for his victory. But when, attracted by her beauty, he invited her to a banquet and passed out from too much drink, she bravely took his sword and cut off his head. She is depicted here in typical pose: brandishing the sword and holding up Holofernes’ severed head. These events would have taken place in the sixth century. While there seems to be no connection between this story and Hanukkah, medieval rabbinical sources changed the setting of the story to several centuries later and the period of the Maccabees. Judith became a Hasmonean princess, a descendant of Judah Maccabee’s line, and Holofernes a Greek commander who tried to force himself on her. Her story of courage and piety thus became linked with the Maccabean revolt, Hanukkah, and with divine redemption.

Hanukkah Lamp, Frederick J. Kormis (British, b. Germany, 1897–1986), London, England, 1950. Copper alloy: cast and engraved, 16 3/4 × 13 1/8 × 3 15/16 in. (42.5 × 33.4 × 10 cm), The Jewish Museum, New York, Gift of Karl Nathan, JM 22–50

It was not until the early twentieth century that the image of Judah Maccabee, the leader who defeated the Greeks and rededicated the Temple, began to appear on Hanukkah lamps in any number. His rise to popularity can probably be linked to the Zionist call for a new kind Jew who would immigrate to Palestine, farm the land, and defend it. Thus, the more military aspects of the holiday began to reemerge. In the mid-twentieth century, when this Hanukkah lamp was created, the struggle for Israel’s independence and the seemingly miraculous victories that took place were seen to echo those of the Maccabees in ancient times. Indeed, President George W. Bush, when lighting a Hanukkah lamp from the Jewish Museum in the White House soon after September 11, 2001, linked the American fight against terrorism with the Maccabean revolt. On this lamp, Judah Maccabee, identified by his name in Hebrew, is shown in a heroic pose, leading his troops up to Jerusalem. The two lions are the emblems associated with the Tribe of Judah.

In Search of Miracles, Salo Rawet (b. Brazil, 1955), Oakland, California, United States, 1995. Lead, wood, copper, glass, olive oil, and cotton wicking, 7 1/2 × 36 × 3 1/2 in. (19.1 × 91.4 × 8.9 cm), The Jewish Museum, New York,
Purchase: Gift of Peter Lane, 1999–7a-lll

There can be no more fitting a metaphor for our current times than In Search of Miracles, the Hanukkah lamp created in 1995 by Salo Rawet. The artist, a sculptor whose work uses found materials to explore difficult issues in human experience, filled rows of test tubes with oil and wicks so they could be lit as a Hanukkah lamp. He explains that the work “presents an extended Hanukkah miracle and mandates a continuous light, one synchronized with the cycles of the sun and moon, daily, monthly, yearly renewing the miracle.” A work filled with hope, it embodies a combination of human efforts and divine process in creating miracles in our daily life. When the work was acquired by the museum in 1997, the staff interpreted the piece in the light of the scourges of that era: the AIDS crisis and the fight to find a cure for cancer. However, in 2020, In Search of Miracles takes on a new and urgent meaning, symbolizing the long-awaited vaccines that promise to bring the virus under control and allow us to resume normal life.

It is time for another Hanukkah miracle.

— Susan Braunstein, Senior Curator Emerita, The Jewish Museum; and author of Five Centuries of Hanukkah Lamps from The Jewish Museum: A Catalogue Raisonné


A Time for Miracles and Wonders was originally published in The Jewish Museum on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Zito’s Bakery, a Family Legacy Read More

In honor of Italian-American Heritage Month, discover the multi-generational history behind a New York City landmark, through a photograph in the Jewish Museum’s collection.

Berenice Abbott, “Zito’s Bakery, 259 Bleecker Street,” from the series “Changing New York, 1935–39,” 1937. Gelatin silver print, 10 × 8 in. Purchase: Mimi and Barry J. Alperin Fund. The Jewish Museum, New York.
“My family was impressed with Berenice Abbott’s photos and were proud to be included in her work that highlighted this area of Greenwich Village.”

Berenice Abbott is best known for her black and white photographs of New York in transition in the 1930s. Sponsored by the Federal Art Project, a New Deal program, Abbott produced over 300 photographs of New York’s urban landscape, culminating in the book Changing New York, which was published to coincide with the 1939 New York World’s Fair. One of the photographs in this series is an image of A. Zito & Sons, the famous Italian bakery once located in Greenwich Village.

Antonio Zito emigrated from Palermo, Sicily with his wife Josephine, opening Zito’s bakery on Bleecker Street in 1924. The bakery was well known for their delicious crusty wheat bread, a staple at any Italian family’s Sunday dinner. Zito’s was run by Antonio and Josephine’s grandson, Anthony, at the time it closed its doors in 2004, after 80 years of producing a beloved New York staple.

Anthony Zito happens to be my sister-in-law’s father, and I was able to ask him some questions about the photograph.

The woman in the photograph is Zito’s matriarch, Josephine. Anthony pointed out that there is another person in the photo as well. If you look closely to Josephine’s left, you can see her son Jack, Anthony’s uncle.

Anthony noted that people always asked about the word “sanitary” on the window. According to Anthony, “Back then if you passed the health inspection you were able to put the word sanitary on your window so everyone would know your store had passed.”

Anthony said that the family found out about the photo from Berenice Abbott herself. Not long after she took the photos, she stopped by the bakery, as well as to the other stores she photographed on the block, to talk to all the businesses and people on the street about the photos she took.

The Zito family “loved the photo and felt like it brought prestige to the bakery,” Anthony said. “My family was impressed with Berenice Abbott’s photos and were proud to be included in her work that highlighted this area of Greenwich Village.”

Shortly after Abbott died in 1991, a signed copy of this photo was delivered to the bakery as a gift to the Zito family. The grandchildren and each of the great-grandchildren of Antonio and Josephine Zito have copies of this photo displayed in their homes today.

Daniela Stigh, Director of Marketing Communications

Discover more photographs of iconic New York City landmarks in the Jewish Museum’s collection by visiting TheJewishMuseum.org/Collection.


Zito’s Bakery, a Family Legacy was originally published in The Jewish Museum on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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