Interview with JOFA's Office Manager Heather G. Stoltz

Tue, 04/09/2013 - 12:00am -- JOFA

Heather StoltzJOFA is blessed to have a dedicated, diverse professional staff, a team comprised of women with strong passions and impressive skills that all contribute to JOFA programming. Heather Stoltz, whose official position is JOFA Office Manager, is not only an invaluable asset to JOFA daily operations, but also brings with her a rich background in Jewish text study and art. This year, Heather was designated one of the 2012 “36 under 36” by the Jewish Week, and has had several exhibitions that have given her some well-deserved exposure. She is also the Co-­president of the Women’s Caucus for Art New York Chapter and received a 2011 Manhattan Community Art Funds grant for Temporary Shelter, her installation piece about homeless New Yorkers. Her work has been exhibited nationally and featured in Jewish Threads, Creative Quilting: The Journal Quilt Project and several other publications. She was a Drisha Arts Fellow 2008-­2010 and was an Artist-in­-Residence at the 2008 National Havurah Committee Summer Institute.  

Heather splits her time between JOFA and her art work. JOFA is very proud to have Heather on staff, and is thrilled that she is pursuing Jewish feminism through art.  JOFA Director Elana Sztokman spoke with Heather about her work and recent achievements:

Tell me how you became an artist

I've had a creative side for most of my life, but I tried to push it aside in favor of more practical pursuits.  In college, I double majored in Mechanical Engineering and Jewish Studies and I worked as an engineer for two years after graduation.  It wasn't until graduate school that I started creating fiber art and, once I started, there was no turning back.  

I discovered this wonderful medium when studying with Dr. Anne Lapidus Lerner at the Jewish Theological seminary.  She told us that we would have to do a final project for her class on Eve, but it didn't have to be a traditional research paper.  Having come from engineering where we didn't write papers, I was relieved and took this opportunity to create two quilted wall hangings: one about Eve in the Garden (http://sewingstories.com/portfolio/reflections-of-eve-the-garden/) and another about the Creation stories (http://sewingstories.com/portfolio/reflections-of-eve-creation-2/).  I loved this process so much that I switched departments so that Dr. Lerner would be my advisor and created another wall hanging for my thesis.  That piece "Women of Valor" was inspired by the midrash of Eishet Chayil (http://sewingstories.com/portfolio/women-of-valor/).  

After graduating from JTS with an MA in Jewish Women's Studies, I couldn't stop quilting the women of the bible and created a series that was shown at the 2007 JOFA Conference.  During that time, however, I was still unable to confidently call myself an artist until I left my full time job in 2010 to pursue my art.

What kind of art do you do?

As a Fiber Artist, I create quilted wall hangings and fabric sculptures inspired by Jewish texts and social justice issues. My most recent installation piece, "Temporary Shelter" tells the stories of homeless New Yorkers.  The piece takes the shape of a sukkah and the walls are made of fiber art. The nine inside panels are my interpretation of the stories of nine individuals I met in faith-based shelters in Manhattan and the outside walls are made of over 100 pieces created by children in family shelters.  

What makes your art Jewish?

Almost all of my work is somehow connected to Jewish text. There is an obvious connection in my Biblical Women and Liturgy series, but texts also inform my social justice work.  For example, "Temporary Shelter" was guided by texts from Sefer Chasidim, Vayikra Rabbah, and the Friday Night liturgy.  

Who or what inspires you?

 My art tells the stories of those who lack a voice; from Biblical women to homeless individuals, to those with special needs.  All of these people inspire me to share their stories with a larger audience.  I'm also inspired by Jewish text and am often struck by a specific quote or section of text that cries out to be explored.

The series I'm currently working on is inspired by Special Olympic gymnasts.  I have been coaching these amazing athletes since high school and it felt like it was time to share the joy they have given me with others.

What do you want people to experience when they view your work?

It is my hope that my work opens a door for others to see the subject in a new way, whether it be a new way to view a traditional text or a heightened awareness of homelessness or those with special needs.

You have been very busy lately! Where have you been displaying? 

For the last year, I have been exhibiting my "Temporary Shelter" installation piece in synagogues and churches in NY and CT.  Most recently, the piece was shown at Kol Ami and Temple Israel Center in White Plains.  I am also proud to be part of the exhibition CONTEXT that was on display at the Columbia/Barnard Kraft Center.  In December, I had a solo show at The Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford, CT. My piece Shattered Childhood about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was selected to be part of this group exhibition in Philadelphia. See a list of my exhibitions.

I have also been busy teaching Fiber Art workshops to people of all ages.

What kind of feedback do you get?

I have been humbled by the recent feedback of my work.  "Temporary Shelter" has touched people of all faiths and ages and has sparked important discussions about homelessness in many venues.   In May, I was honored to be named one of the Jewish Week's "36 Under 36" for 2012.

Tell me about your work at JOFA: How long have you been at JOFA?

I came to JOFA in 2006 and was the Administrative Assistant until 2008 when I left to follow another career path as the Community Service Coordinator at a Reform synagogue.  In 2010, when I left that job to pursue my art, I returned to JOFA as a part time Office Manager.  Since we have a small office staff, I have been able to assist with a variety of programs and projects including the art exhibit at the 2011 Celebration, the new website, and our upcoming Megillat Esther App.  

How do you like being at JOFA?

Working at JOFA has been wonderful.  I really enjoy working with the amazing women on the staff and board and love that I'm able to work on so many different projects.  I'm also grateful to JOFA for their support of my art.  JOFA has given me the opportunity to share my work with their community during the 2007 Conference and at the 2011 Celebration and the part time position allows me to have dedicated studio time each week.

Does working on Jewish feminism influence your art?

During my first couple years at JOFA, I was touched by the plight of agunot and was inspired to create an art piece about the issue of iggun (http://sewingstories.com/portfolio/agunah/ ).  In this piece,  the rings, a once solid and unbreakable symbol of marriage, have turned into nothing but broken glass. Yet, these empty, hurtful rings are still locked tightly together with no way to separate them from one another.

It was also during that time that I continued my series on Biblical Women.  Since then, I have continued to create art about the stories of those who are not given a voice, including the homeless of New York and those with special needs.

 

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