Nature-themed art exhibit blooms at JCC gallery

Father-daughter duo share lasting memory

By: Eric Czarnik, Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published January 17, 2017

 “Hiatus,” by Ann Smith, is presented at the gallery as part of “Essence of Life,” a nature-themed exhibit based on the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat.

“Hiatus,” by Ann Smith, is presented at the gallery as part of “Essence of Life,” a nature-themed exhibit based on the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat.

Photo by Sean Work


WEST BLOOMFIELD/CLINTON TOWNSHIP — While temperatures continue often to fall below freezing in metro Detroit, the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield has introduced a lush new exhibit at its Janice Charach Gallery during parts of January and February.

The gallery, located inside the Jewish Community Center of Metro Detroit in West Bloomfield, opened its “Essence of Life” art exhibit Jan. 8. It runs during gallery hours until Feb. 9.

A total of 45 artists were cut down to 36, just as a means to make room for the artwork. Even a couple of out-of-state participants — including one artist from Pennsylvania — have their art displayed.

According to Gallery Coordinator Natalie Balazovich, the new exhibit is themed around Tu B’Shevat, which is observed on the 15th day of the winter month of Shevat, according to the Jewish calendar. This year, the day starts at sundown Feb. 10.

According to the gallery, Tu B’Shevat marks the beginning of a new year for trees, particularly ones in Israel that bear fruit. According to the gallery, people often observe the day by eating fruits such as pomegranates, grapes and figs.

Jewish and non-Jewish artists have contributed more than 100 pieces to the exhibit. The pieces are in various mediums, such as painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics and glass.

“All of the work reflects on rebirth and renewal,” Balazovich said. “It’s a really great theme to have in January when everything is dead and snowy.”

Balazovich said that the artists make up a range of ages and experience levels, adding that some have been doing this for 40 years, while others are displaying their work for the first time. Trees, plants, people and the “energy of nature” are common themes.

Often, exhibitions take months to plan in order to spread the word to artists. She said preparation for this particular exhibition began in October.

“Obviously, each artist will take on their own version of the theme,” she said. “Most of the artists seem to focus on using imagery from nature to kind of reflect on the idea. … Some of the sculptures literally use branches of trees with other sculptural elements on top.”

Alice Frank, a West Bloomfield multimedia artist, said that she has five pieces of artwork in the “Essence of Life” exhibit.

“So in my wall pieces, they have watercolor mixed media,” she explained. “They have fired metal pieces that are woven into the piece, and they are attached to linen and yarn. And they are primarily watercolor, and they have to do with the arrival of spring. … The incorporation of fired metal in the (pieces) sets them apart from a typical watercolor.”

In addition, Frank said, the exhibit is displaying a fired metal piece of hers that contains fired platinum and depicts a series of figures reaching up to greet spring. She added that she also is presenting a small fired metal bowl at the exhibit.

A special part of the exhibit is the inclusion of a father-daughter duo — the first of its kind at the gallery, Balazovich said.

Camille LaMontagne, 27, and her father, Paul, 82, hail from Clinton Township. Each created two pieces of artwork for this specific exhibit.

It’s the third gallery experience for Camille, who graduated from Detroit’s College for Creative Studies in 2011 and works full time with photography, retouching and doing commission work on the side. She even recently created artwork for General Motors for the opening of the 2017 North American International Auto Show.

“Having that (family) support growing up really pushed me in that direction,” Camille said.

Paul has a lifetime of experience that follows his prestigious learning experience at the Pasadena ArtCenter College of Design. Suffering from Parkinson’s disease, he has strayed away from his art roots in the past couple of years.

Camille’s work deals heavily with nature. She locks herself in a room at home, surrounded by an easel, tables with materials, and she listens to podcasts or Netflix in the background.

She submitted two pieces of art: one with flowers and another featuring felines. She enjoys working with oil and paint on a textured canvas, adding depth that suits her own skills. Recently, she has worked more with acrylic paint as well.

“You capture that little moment of a creature being themselves,” Camille said, in reference to her cat-inspired work.

Paul, on the other hand, has been discouraged due to his disease. His hand shakes while holding the brush, and Camille knows he’s not as youthful as he used to be.

Still, she thought it would be “a very special thing” to have both of their pieces together at one exhibition. His surrealistic work — featuring mermaids and trees — makes people look, and then look again.

On the first day of the exhibit, family and friends crowded Camille and Paul’s pieces to show their admiration. For someone like Paul, who doesn’t get out much these days, it was a big deal.

It also meant a lot to Camille.

“(My dad) got so many compliments; so many people were going up to his paintings,” she said. “They’re just so different, how surreal they are. … I really wanted him to feel good and uplifted. Maybe he would feel compelled to pick up a paintbrush again. … That’s what makes him, him.”

To accompany the “Essence of Life” exhibit, the gallery will host some related events for people who RSVP. At 1 p.m. Jan. 19, the gallery will hold an adult coloring workshop themed around Tu B’Shevat for people who pay a $2 admission fee.

At 11 a.m. Jan. 29, artist Elana Hopman will teach guests at the gallery about hand lettering. Guests may use provided supplies to join in; JCC members must pay $25 to participate, and nonmembers must pay $30.

In addition, the gallery will host a special seder for Tu B’Shevat at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 7, and admission to that event will cost $3.

Find out more about the Janice Charach Gallery, located inside the Jewish Community Center of Metro Detroit, 6600 W. Maple Road in West Bloomfield, and the “Essence of Life” art exhibit by visiting or by calling (248) 432-5579.