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Two Jewish artists contribute to cultural range at sculpture garden

Featuring over 300 contemporary sculptures tucked into 42 landscaped acres in Hamilton, Grounds For Sculpture is one of New Jersey’s cultural treasures.

It is also a reflection of the state’s uncommon diversity, with sculptures by artists from Japan, China, Israel, Germany, France, Poland, and Africa.

The works of two Jewish sculptors and longtime friends — Marion Held and Tova Beck-Friedman — also reflect what the site’s chief curator and director of artistic development calls a commitment to “many different artistic viewpoints, materials, cultural backgrounds, and artist profiles.”

“I’ve known Marion and Tova and their work for many years,” said Tom Moran. “They and their ancestors come out of a unique experience that’s told through their works, creating a deeply emotional vehicle which shares their story.”

Held, a resident of Montclair for 25 years, said, “I’m proud of my Jewish faith and find that it influences my work in a basic philosophical way.” Her sculpture Three Figures features metallic clay faces and torsos suspended in a large wooden frame. “The work is intended to evoke the distant past, the passage of time, and an ancient structure or ritual,” Held told NJJN. “It’s also meant as a marker of contemporary conflicts, suggesting the transmigration and rebirth of the spirit.”

Held grew up in New York City with Polish and Ukrainian immigrant parents. Although they were not “very observant,” she said, “we were very Jewish.” In her early teens her family settled in Toms River. “I was among only a handful of Jewish kids, which made me feel more aware of my own identity,” she said, adding that she became captivated by books on the Holocaust and the meaning of life.

Held majored in art education at New York University, taught for several years, and found herself attracted to sculpting and the medium of clay and ceramics. “Materials like clay are extremely tactile and fun to work with,” she said. “I also began to work with other materials such as silicon resin, which becomes a beautiful physical presence when it sets.”

In addition to an artist residency in Poland in 1998, during which she made many “emotionally loaded” visits to sites connected with prewar Jewish life and the Holocaust, Held completed residencies in Israel in 1993 and 1997 alongside Beck-Friedman. “I’ve known and admired Tova both personally and professionally for a long time,” Held said.

Held has exhibited extensively in the United States and overseas and has been awarded numerous grants and fellowships. Her sculptures are part of the public collections of, among other institutions, the Montclair Art Museum (where she teaches a drawing class), The Newark Museum, The NJ State Museum in Trenton, and the Negev Museum of Art in Be’er Sheva.

In 1993 and 1997, her work was included in the International Biennale Beer-Sheva in Israel. In June and July, Held’s work is being shown at the Medialia Gallery in New York City.

“It’s thrilling to have my work featured at Grounds For Sculpture because it’s such a beautiful venue visited by so many people,” Held said. “It truly serves the whole state.”

Beck-Friedman was born and raised in Israel and earned an MFA from Goddard College in Vermont. “I was always attracted to art, in particular the tactile element of it,” she said. In the early 1980s, she had “the great opportunity to study in Japan and chose to concentrate on clay, the most tactile material of all,” she said.

Her piece at Grounds For Sculpture, Excerpts of a Lost Forest: Homage to Ashera, created in 1992, is made of ferro-cement, vinyl concrete, and pigment and incorporates five elements, each measuring approximately 96” by 20”. Beck-Friedman said the name “Ashera” refers to the ancient Semitic mother goddess; the work’s five tubular pieces interact with one another in “an anguished attempt to communicate” within their environment and natural setting.

According to the GFS website, Excerpts of a Lost Forest “displays her close ties with her Hebrew heritage, with nature, and with the concept of the eternal feminine.”

“Growing up in Israel shaped not only who I am, but it also informed my work,” Beck-Friedman told NJJN. “My surfaces are influenced by the dry desert images of my childhood. I’m also very interested in mythology and biblical stories, especially as they pertain to women, and my images fuse human figure with nature formations.”

Beck-Friedman said she was proud that photographer Ricardo Barros later won an award for his photograph of the installation.

She is equally excited that her work and Held’s are part of the GFS collection.

“Marion and I both share a love for the tactile object, and I have a great admiration for her artistic sensibilities,” Beck-Friedman said. Their two month-long residencies in Be’er Sheva “were great events that let us draw upon local industries to inspire and create sculptures.”

Though she currently lives in New York City and travels and exhibits internationally, Beck-Friedman has lived in several NJ towns, including Rockaway, Madison, and Hoboken. In addition to GFS, her work is on exhibit in such other outdoor venues as William Paterson University in Wayne, on the grounds of Schering-Plough in Madison, and in the outdoor Sculpture Garden at the Newark Museum.

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