WHEN Lisa Belkin attended a family event at a synagogue in a suburb of Philadelphia last year, the Winnipeg-born sculptor and painter noticed there wasn't a lot of art on the walls.
"I mentioned this to my sister. She must have said something to the president of the congregation, that her sister is an artist and noticed there wasn't a lot of colour or art around," says Belkin.
The next thing she knew, the president was trying to get in touch with her.
"They saw my work and they were very excited about it," she says.
Fred Leibowitz, president of the Congregation Or Shalom, located in Berwyn, Penn., a suburb of Philadelphia, gave the go-ahead after agreeing to a project that would have Belkin painting six huge panels that are to sit between the windows, beautifying the walls of the synagogue's sanctuary.
The conservative synagogue in Berwyn is home to about 150 families.
The tall, narrow panels depict the six days of creation.
"I ordered the panels in July," says Belkin, who adds that due to their unusual height, they had to be custom-made and were shipped from Quebec. She began to sketch and then started painting the panels in late August.
"They wanted a more modern type of art that would appeal to young people and families" says Belkin, who lists Chagall, Kandinsky and Picasso as her inspirations.
Each bright and boldly coloured panel depicts, in an abstract manner, one of the six days of creation described in the Book of Genesis. They display a lot of symbolism and each one contains one of the first six letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
The first panel represents the first day "when God said, 'Let there be light,' " and contains the Aleph, "the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet," says Belkin. "The Aleph corresponds to 'the beginning', the 'oneness.' "
The rest of the panels illustrate the creation of sky and water, of dry land and vegetation, the sun, moon and stars, the birds and fish, and finally the creation of man and all living creatures. Belkin also consulted with a rabbi from a conservative synagogue in Winnipeg.
The artist had to have all six panels finished and shipped by mid-November. That, in itself, was quite the undertaking.
Belkin says she was on the phone for hours trying to take care of all of the shipping details such as the packing, crating and documentation required for getting the oversized panels to Philadelphia.
There will be a dedication this year, which she plans to attend.
"It was a real honour to do this."
Belkin, who says she's been doing art since age four, credits her mother, Klara Benjamin-Belkin, an internationally known cellist and teacher, for nurturing and encouraging her from an early age.
She started sculpting in her 20s after walking into a museum in Hungary and seeing a Terracotta sculpture exhibit by Hungarian artist Margit Kovacs.
"I said, 'Oh my God, this is it. I have to try this'... I enrolled at the Forum Art Institute, I think it was, in the North End and Jordan Van Sewell taught me."
Belkin began to paint while living in Germany before returning, more recently, to her roots in West Kildonan.
"I was born here and have always been in this part of town," she says.
When not busy painting or sculpting, Belkin hopes to complete a biography she has been working on of her mother, principal cellist with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra for many years, and her experiences in war-torn Hungary during the Second World War.
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