People and Projects
Historians sometimes have to scrounge a bit for information if their topic is off the beaten path. Linda Borish ’83, who studies American Jewish women in sport history, says her subject has not been previously studied and therefore “does not usually appear in indexes.” But the extra work involved in tracking down research materials doesn’t deter her.
First she considers who might have sponsored sporting activities for Jewish immigrant women a century ago—settlement houses, Jewish Educational Alliances, and Young Women’s Hebrew Associations, for example. Then she tries to locate the organizations’ archival records and the various cities where Jewish women immigrated. She’s collected oral histories (from, among others, 1920 Olympic gold-medalist Aileen Riggin), consulted scrapbooks, and pored over photo collections, as well as perused the more obvious information sources such as the Jewish Heritage Collection.
Last winter Borish received a $3,500 grant from the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute to fund her project. While on sabbatical this year from her teaching
post at Western Michigan University, she’ll be conducting further research for her book Not Merely Confined to the Gymnasium: Jewish Women in American Sport. She’ll be examining “the vital roles of Jewish women as competitors, administrators, and reformers” in sporting history. From immigrants at settlement houses in the 1880s to successful athletes in the twentieth century, Jewish women have “challenged gender and ethnic constraints and advocated for women’s right to participate and compete in sport
in American society,” Borish says. She
trusts that her research will, among other things, help dispense with “the
stereotype about Jewish women’s lack of athletic ability.”
Herself a T’bred tennis star (she was a number-one singles player and a New York State doubles champ), Borish is impressed by some of her subjects’ stories. Charlotte Epstein, for example. “Eppy,” a swim team coach in the 1920s, battled the US Olympic Committee to allow women to compete for medals. She also “promoted bathing-suit reform, so that women in competitions in the nineteen-teens could swim without stockings at meets.” —MTS
For several years Randi Sidman-Moore ’89 was a “quiet observer” of Cuban-American Jews living in south Florida. Quiet but for the sound of a snapping shutter. In candid images, the internationally recognized photojournalist—whose work has appeared in Elle, Time, Cosmopolitan, and the Miami Herald—documented the familiar routines and intimate lives of the “Jewban” community, as it is commonly called.
This past spring, thirty of her large-scale black-and-white and color photos were exhibited at Florida Atlantic University. The four-year project was an attempt to refute the popular “glitz and glamour” portrayal of Miami and “paint a picture of this landscape through images of real people and everyday life,” the artist says.
Sidman-Moore, who studied photography at Studio Art Centers International in Florence, Italy, has lived in Miami for almost ten years. The Cuban-Jewish community, which took hold there about four decades ago, “shows the heart and substance of authentic contemporary life in South Florida,” she says. As families granted the photographer access to their daily lives, she was privy to a host of ceremonies (including a birth and a bris, above), holiday meals, and places of worship and employment.
The photos illuminate numerous personal stories—of Carmen Rodriquez, born to a Cuban father who was raised Catholic and a mother who is a Jewish New Yorker; Ori Meneses, a black Cuban who converted to Judaism; Mariano Moshe Otero, a former Evangelical minister who became an Orthodox Jew after learning that his grandmother was Jewish. Capturing both the ordinary and the remarkable in the intimate format of photos was, for Sidman-Moore, a privilege. —MTS
Songwriter Jocelyn Arem ’04 never met Lena Spencer, but in the last couple of years she’s come to know a lot about her—and the Saratoga coffeehouse she founded forty-five years ago—through the Caffè Lena History Project.
Arem, an ethnomusicology major, wrote her thesis on the early history of this internationally known acoustic-music venue. To expand public awareness of the café’s cultural significance, she asked its board (including VP and local musician Torey Adler ’95) to sponsor a community arts endeavor that included developing a permanent archive of café-related memorabilia in the Saratoga History Museum. Ever since, the stories and photos—of the musicians, the place, and the events that have made Caffè Lena the jewel it is—have been rolling in (see www.caffelenahistory.org).
An exhibit opened in the café this summer, and the response, from patrons and performers alike, has been “heartwarmingly positive,” Arem says. One element that’s gotten a lot of attention is the graffiti in the bathrooms (“this is the ‘interactive’ part of the exhibit,” she laughs). After hearing that café-goers were disappointed when 1970s-era graffiti was painted over, Arem “armed some neighborhood kids and volunteers with Sharpie markers” and set them to work quoting from her oral-history interviews. The walls for sure are talking now.
But “with or without the exhibit, the café has always had that feeling of history speaking and mingling with the present,” Arem says. “Most who know Caffè Lena well can tell you that it has a certain artistically inspired, ‘welcome-home’-like vibe. The exhibit just highlights that.”
Meanwhile, Arem (who was elected to the café’s board last fall) is grateful for the many Skidmore professors and alums who have provided encouragement and labor—and for funding from the president’s discretionary fund. She’s continuing her research, with student assistant Lauren Sheehy ’06. And, for added kicks, she’s recording her first full-length album of original songs. —MTS
His new stuff is really putting New York artist Josh Dorman ’88 on the map. Literally. That’s because Dorman paints and inks his beautiful, doodley images right on top of antique maps to create “playful works that feel as though Klee has met Kandinsky,” as the Los Angeles Times says. Sometimes Dorman highlights the maps’ delicate topographic markings; other times he paints right over them, spinning out Turneresque vistas of volcanoes, animals, trees, microscopic beasties, little cities, bizarre doings—all surging up from the subconscious in ways that Albany’s Metroland magazine calls “fun, beautiful, mysterious, or all three at once.”
“When I was eight years old,” Dorman recalls, “I’d lie on my stomach in my bedroom and draw with colored pencils in ring-bound sketchbooks…monsters, winged beings, organic machines with gears and tendrils and bolts of electric current.” He took up oil painting at Skidmore, followed by an MFA and a series of jobs (including teaching at Skidmore’s Summer SIX program) to keep himself in pigments.
One day he came across his childhood sketches, yellowed and curling, and “the whole drawing thing started up for me again.” But it was another couple of years before he dared to overlay “the drawing thing” onto old maps (bought from Saratoga’s Lyrical Ballad bookstore), only too aware of “the implied violation inherent in putting my first marks on the antique paper.” The results earned him a 2004 exhibition at New York’s prestigious CUE Art Foundation, a major show that “totally changed everything for me,” says Dorman; last summer’s numerous—and nationwide—exhibitions of his work had art critics from Buffalo to Los Angeles eagerly taking note.
Always engrossed in five or ten new pieces at a time, Dorman is now cutting up his old maps for new collages, carrying around little pieces to work on in odd moments, on the subway and at the private school where he teaches. “If I spill a bottle of ink on a map, I’ll work with that,” he says cheerfully. “I go with my mistakes.” And that’s a trip. —BAM
Nathan Barr ’95 scored big when he wrote the tunes for Warner Brothers’ action comedy The Dukes of Hazzard, the recent feature film based on the 1980s TV show. Barr describes the score as “Allman Brothers meets AC/DC meets ZZ Top.” In fact, the soundtrack features ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons (pictured with director Jay Chandrasekhar, Barr, and mixer Peter Cobbin).
Barr, a multi-instrumentalist who’s performed all over the world, was a cellist in the Skidmore orchestra. After graduation he played in the industrial alt-rock band VAST. In 1996 he moved to Los Angeles and became an assistant to Academy Award-winning composer Hans Zimmer.
Traveling Companion (1998) was Barr’s first flick, which he worked on in Zimmer’s studio. Since then he has scored dozens of films, including Club Dread (his first collaboration with Chandrasekhar), From Dusk ’Til Dawn 3, Beyond the Mat, Cabin Fever, and several TV series. Cabin Fever director Eli Roth notes that Barr, who shuns samplers and synthesizers, is “literally a one-man orchestra, playing close to forty different tracks of cello, violin, drums, and twenty other instruments I cannot name.” (How about: cumbus, bulbul, bowed psaltery? He’s also been known to crank a hurdy-gurdy.)
When the Dukes soundtrack was recorded in June, the mood in the studio was upbeat. “We were definitely under pressure,” Barr says, “but everyone had a great sense of humor.” And working with Billy Gibbons, who he describes as “a true Texan gentleman,” was a trip. He played on several tracks, infusing them with some “bearded-boy attitude.”
In late summer Barr finalized his music for Eli Roth’s Hostel, shot on location in Prague. Barr recorded the tracks there with a seventy-piece orchestra. “This is one of the reasons I love scoring films,” he says. “I get to go from a hard-rock score in the Dukes of Hazzard to an orchestral score with Hostel, back to back. It makes life so very interesting.” —MTS