Knife/Paint/Word: Art by Deborah Ugoretz

A new exhibit “Knife/Paint/Word” at the Henry S. Miller Judaica Research Room at Fordham’s Walsh Family Library features the work of Deborah Ugoretz, a Brooklyn-based artist, whose expressive work deals with the exploration of feminism, her concern for and fascination with the diversity of the natural world, and social issues. The exhibit is accompanied by items from the Judaica collection in the Special Collections at the Walsh library, chosen and research by two undergraduate students Hannorah Ragusa and Elizabeth Rengifo-Vega. The manuscripts and printed books on display include one from Yemen, a recent acquisition, eighteenth-century books illustrating Jewish ceremonies, and medieval manuscript facsimiles that speak to the themes of Deborah Ugoretz’s art: the blessing of the New Moon, the story of Creation, and Lilith, the mythical primeval woman, traditionally imagined to have been the first, disobedient and rebellious wife of Adam.

The exhibit opened on February 8th and will be on view until May 20, 2024. On April 7th, there will be a papercutting workshop with Deborah Ugoretz at the O’Hare Special Collections. You can learn more and sign-up here.

The Artist’s Statement

I have two loves in my artistic life: working in cut paper and painting in acrylics.

I use the first to explore my fascination with negative and positive space. Because cut paper reveals the beauty and mysteries of what has been taken away, negative space is not empty or meaningless. It exists to support what it is possible for us to see. The act of cutting away is a process that reveals the graphic form of things, and illuminates the concept of balance through structure. In the way I work, line becomes thick, morphs into the armature that holds and unifies the work.

The ancient Kabbalists believed that it was possible to find meaning in the empty spaces around and within the letters of texts. The Japanese concept of Notan views the relationship of negative and positive space as reciprocal and necessary for harmony and balance. These two world views deeply influence my work.

The simplicity, flexibility and strength of paper enables me to transform it into multi-dimensional art with a limitless range of expression. I love the challenge of solving the problems inherent in working with paper and particularly the challenges of working in three dimensions. In my piece Sanctuary, inspired by Psalm 27, I depict fear, chaos and the promise of a place of security in three-dimensional form. Part of the pleasure of creating is the discovery of materials that enable me to bring my ideas into reality. The craft of building and forming becomes a way to express ideas.


In my paintings, I work to engage the viewer in a celebration of the spectrum. Color is the way that the mysterious is revealed to the world. It is rather spiritual; if white light is invisible – in the same way that the LIFE FORCE is invisible- then it is through the spectrum that that spiritual force is revealed to us. My goal is to delve into the physical, tactile nature of painting as I develop themes that express my concern and fascination with the natural world.

Much of my work is born from the written word. I take texts — poems, prayers, ancient writings — and translate them into a visual language that infuses those words with deeper meaning because visual language touches me on a richer emotional and intellectual level. My painting, The Six Days of Creation based upon the Genesis story, uses my theory of color and finishes off the painting as a comment on the ravages of disposable culture. This is how I connect texts, my interpretations and social comment through art.

Deborah Ugoretz’s Six Days of Creation displayed at the Walsh Family Library with medieval Hebrew facsimiles showing the same story in writing or in image: the Sarajevo Haggadah, the North French Miscellany, and the Kennicott Bible.

About the Artist

Deborah Ugoretz is a Brooklyn-based artist, born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She holds a B.S. in fine art from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her expressive work deals with the exploration of feminism, her concern for and fascination with the diversity of the natural world, and social issues. Since 1978, Ugoretz has been a master cut paper artist and teacher. Her work was featured in the monograph In the Tradition of Our Ancestors – Papercutting (Folklife Program of the New Jersey State Council of the Arts, 2006) and the catalog of the exhibition “Slash! Paper Under the Knife,” held at the Museum of Art and Design in New York from 2009 2010. She has designed stained glass windows and synagogue art for the Russ Berrie Home for Jewish Life in Rockleigh, New Jersey, and other houses of worship. Other commissions include the Tenement Museum, University of Michigan, Jewish Theological Seminary, YIVO Institute of Jewish Research, and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Ugoretz’s work has been exhibited at the Milwaukee Jewish Museum, the Monmouth Art Museum, the Hebrew Union College Institute of Religion Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art, The Museum of Biblical Art, the UJA Federation Gallery, and others. Ugoretz is recognized by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts as a master cut-paper artist.

The exhibit has been made possible through the generosity of Fordham’s Trustees Henry S. Miller and Eileen Sudler, Mr. Eugene Shvidler, and Anonymous donors.

A Holistic View at Jewish Culture: Reflections on the Jewish Museum

Emma Reynolds FCRH’23

Immediately upon entering the Jewish Museum, the tone is clear: Holistic. On the third floor, the large main room we entered first was bright. It included art of all content and style, spanning centuries of history. The exhibit “Scenes from the Collection” was very obviously curated with a labor of adoration, with each piece in its specific place working with each piece around it to create a picture of Jewish culture that was both historical and personal, modern and contextual, saddening and rejoicing. I believe the museum was very careful to present Jewish culture as alive, not simply reduced to Jews as victims of tragedy and discrimination. This was a theme I often came back to in our course this semester, how both antisemitism and the study of antisemitism can de-personify Jews, either turning them into villains or perpetual victims. The reinstating of Jewish personhood and identity, while also acknowledging the sadness and loss that is a part of that identity, is one of the strongest statements of the museum.

These themes of connecting personal modern identity with the past was shown through many pieces and displays in the exhibit. The first collection we viewed was a case of at least a dozen Hanukkah lamps that varied wildly. From material to sentimental context, from a century to a continent, each lamp was different and reflected the personality of Jews all across place and time, united by a culture and religion. The image was so powerful. These lamps were so personal, almost a vignette or a biography of a family who had once owned it, yet the display also served to point out the longevity of the traditions that maintained this culture. Too often in the study of Jewish history, or even more so in antisemitism, the lack of a Jewish voice can prevent us from seeing a person behind every story, perpetuated myth, act of violence or gaining of citizenship. While studying the history of antisemitism, I would constantly and actively remind myself to read between the lines and remember the humanity behind every story and remember that people, demonized in these text, were also not just victims—they had full and culture-filled lives that were enriched by their community and religion. This display of Hanukkah lamps also noted the connection between religion and culture.

Another display that stuck with me was the pairing of the highly decorated portrait of Alios Itzhak by Kehinde Wiley and the Torah ark made by Abraham Shulkin next to it. The placement of these two objects, different in era, form and function, allowed us as the audience to clearly compare and understand the elements that are reformed and replicated as important motifs in Jewish art. The similarities included religious elements such as the top more decoration of the eagle and the hands gesturing in prayer, as well as intricate detail work of flowers and vines. The overlap in these pieces that are so different really emphasize the importance of history to modern Jewish art and show how modern Jews continue to root themselves in their past and in religious origins to maintain a cohesive culture. The use of religious motifs despite the nonreligious function of the piece really speaks to the importance of the religion on the culture, yet the continuation of artistic styles also supports the reverse- that there is a deeper culture and style that unites beyond religious symbolism.

These ideas are also reflective of what we discussed in class, the variation in defining what is “Jewish”, and how its ties to cultural, religious, and ethnic roots impact the contextualization of Jews in their world. While this is relevant to antisemitism, as it concerns outward perceptions of Jews and what it means to be a Jew, these are also concerns of the self and of self-identity. In the art by modern Jewish artists, physical manifestation of that self-exploration is seen in their playing with the overlap of culture and religion. In the painting by Kehinde Wiley, I think this relationship is captured perfectly, and it is aided by the side-by-side comparison to the historical Torah ark.

The art on display did not shy away from discussions of trauma and violence, however, it framed these events in the context of Jewish agency and personhood. Works we saw explored

Jewish reactions to the mass murder or attempts to understand a new reality with the knowledge of the extent of anti-Jewish hate, but they did not reduce the Jewish people to faceless victims. This reflection on the real emotion and reaction to tragedy were some of the most honest and human works of art I’ve experienced. By framing the Holocaust in this way, almost in an abstract, the viewer is allowed to focus on the humanity of the artist, and the life that they created from a tragedy.

Overall, I think this museum is remarkably well conceived and unique in its ability to remain cohesive and yet represent such a long and diasporic history. In the use of the specific works of art to contextualize each other historically or emotively, the museum was able to create a truly personable and holistic view at Jewish culture.

Emma Reynolds is a senior at Fordham College at Rose Hill. She visited the Jewish Museum as part of the values seminar on the history of antisemitism taught by Professor Magda Teter in the fall of 2022.