Un-Literal Letters: The Instruments Of Imagination

Scroll Alefbet©2012 Ilene Winn-Lederer

Acanthus Alefbet©2012 Ilene Winn-Lederer

In December of 1968, as an illustrator/designer at Pictorum, Inc., a Chicago design firm, I received a Christmas gift from my employer, a devout Catholic, that would prove to be a map to my artistic future. Jewish Art From The Bible To Chagall by Ludwig Gutfeld (Thomas Yoseloff, New York, 1963) is a modest compendium of art, artifacts, architecture and sculpture created to express themes in the history and practices of Judaism.

It awakened my nascent curiosity about my ethnic and religious heritage, suggesting questions I did not know how to ask. As an art student, I had been intimidated by a demanding instructor whose own formidable skills in the lettering arts exposed the limits of my skills in that area. I became discouraged from considering a career in that area, yet, despite being unable to read Hebrew, I was particularly drawn to the examples of medieval manuscripts in this book with their hint of unlimited possibilities in these letterforms.

It was not until the early 70’s, when I became aware of the iconoclastic lettering works of the artists Ben Shahn and Leonard Baskin that I developed the courage to experiment on my own. In later years, with further exploration into their history and levels of meaning, my fascination with Hebrew letterforms grew, becoming incorporated into my illustrations and eventually manifesting into the series of  alphabets, two of which are shown in this post. Within my Magic Eye Gallery site (http://magiceyegallery.com/) under the pull-down menu, you can see the others in the Alchymy of Alphabets gallery. They are available as gicleé prints, sized to order.

According to the Sefer Yetsirah, a core Jewish mystical text, God created the world through the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and ten numbers or sefirot. I would humbly suggest that perhaps we can understand this process on our own micro level, honoring these letters as keys to unlock our imagination…

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4 Responses to “Un-Literal Letters: The Instruments Of Imagination”

  1. Shelley kramer Says:

    Great art great words lots of them adorable art especially the coffee one. Love your blog. Shelley


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  3. A.K. Segan Says:

    It would be helpful for folks who come across this page if would add the names of the artists
    who did each of the five or so works shown on the page
    along with the media, size, year and provenance (i.e.
    collection of, or courtesy of). And it’s not just as a professional
    courtesy that that should be done but as ther i
    s so much theft
    of visual imagery on the internet. (The latter is not helped by the internet
    giants like flickr and Facebook as their executives do not recognize any national
    or international laws re copyrighted art, photos,etc.)


    • Ilene Winn-Lederer Says:

      A.K.: As an illustrator, I am very aware of the image theft issues that are rampant online. I also realize that I am taking a huge risk putting my own work out there both at this blog and elsewhere, but that is my choice and life is short, so I want others to enjoy my work as I do. And yes, much of it has been co-opted by readers around the world. But I do not have the resources to find these people or pursue legal battles against them. As for other artist’s work, I make it a point to use only public domain images and descriptions of these usually appear in my blog entry text. Of the four entries that you noted, the book cover is described in the text while the two alphabets are my own with proper copyright attributions. The Hebrew manuscript page (which you can easily find at the New York Public Library’s Dorot Division is from the 14thc and the artist is David bar Pesah.


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