By Nancy Abeshaus
Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Voice & Herald
Naomi Lipsky finds her muse in Jewish tradition
aleph-bet, by Naomi Lipsky
If anyone can gild a lily, a dreidel or a tzedakah box, Judaic artist Naomi Lipsky can. Literally. Gilding is a decorative technique for applying genuine gold leaf to solid surfaces to give them a thin coating of gold. This is just one of many decorative arts media that Lipsky, now a resident of Johnston, mastered since she chose Judaic art rather than science some 30 years ago. Before that, she was pursuing two passions simultaneously: By day, Lipsky was a doctoral-level graduate student in biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md; at night, she attended classes at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Some might argue that science and art are polar opposites but Lipsky disagrees. “Being a scientist is a very creative and independent field,” said Lipsky. “For example, you have to design your experiments; it’s just like solving a design problem [in art].”
When did she first know she was an artist? Lipsky said she always made things with her hands, even as a child. Fabric was turned into doll clothes, and she made the crafts in every issue of her mother’s Woman’s Day magazine. “My mother always encouraged me,” said Lipsky.
Lipsky earned her doctorate from Johns Hopkins and became a published researcher there. She also learned quilling and created her first Jewish works of art. “One day, I walked into a stationery store and noticed a fr tion around it,” said Lipsky. “I asked what it was and was told it was quilling.” Lipsky had never heard of the art form before but she figured out how it was done. At that time there were few books on quilling. “I was 24 when I discovered it,” said Lipsky.
A native New Yorker, Lipsky and her husband Ed Haskell moved here from Rochester, Minn. five years ago. Her first husband Dr. James Lipsky, now deceased, was a physician and director of clinical pharmacology at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
Quilling, an ancient art form that dates to the 13th century and is sometimes called paper filigree, is the art of cutting and coiling thin strips of paper, then shaping them into delicate and ornate designs such as flowers, leaves and ornamental patterns.
“The paper is a little like curling ribbon,” said Lipsky. “You roll it and shape it by adjusting the tightness and length of the paper.”
Although some quillers use a special tool to do this, Lipsky prefers to use a needle or a pin. “You just work very small and I am comfortable with that,” said Lipsky. She glues the paper shapes to a background before she mats and frames the piece. Lipsky has a frame shop at her home studio.
Soon after she discovered quilling, Lipsky exhibited and sold some Jewish artwork at a Jewish American street festival in Baltimore. “My booth was mobbed!” said Lipsky. That experience convinced her to become a professional Judaic artist.
What does being a Judaic artist mean for her? “It’s a way of making art meaningful,” said Lipsky. “Beauty is important, but I like to have beauty and meaning in the pieces I do.” Lipsky said her artwork is connected to her Jewish heritage, which provides her with an unending source of ideas. When she reads a prayer or a Torah portion, she gets an idea for something. “It’s a way to connect with people and show them things they may not have thought about,” said Lipsky, “and it’s a way of honoring my Jewish heritage.”
Pieces range from simple greeting cards to elaborately detailed pictures; sentimental keepsakes such as framed new baby, bar/bat mitzvah and wedding samplers, and three-dimensional, stand-alone decorative objects or boxes. Decorative symbols frequently include Jewish ritual objects and prayers.
“Hebrew letters are very easy to quill because they flow and are rounded,” said Lipsky. The quilling paper is now acid-free, so it won’t fade or disintegrate. Twenty years ago, Lipsky began to study the art of gilding and often puts gold leaf on the edge of the paper she uses for quilling or on picture frames. She uses genuine gold. “Nothing else looks like real gold,” said Lipsky, “and that luster lasts forever.”
Basically self-taught, Lipsky is now an accredited quiller and teaches classes on how to quill through the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework. She is also an active member of The American Guild of Judaic Art, The Quilling Guild (based in England), the North American Quilling Guild and the Society of Gilders. Her Judaic artwork is featured in several books and has been displayed in many museums and galleries.
Nancy Abeshaus, a freelance writer, lives in South Kingstown. Contact her at
Contact Naomi Lipsky at 647-3159,
or visit www.lipskyart.com.
Artwork is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without permission.