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The Chrysler Museum to Present Ancient and Contemporary Torah Pointers in Upcoming Exhibition
NORFOLK, VA. (March 8, 2022) – The Chrysler Museum of Art is proud to present the astonishing collection of Torah pointers assembled by Jay and Clay Barr of Norfolk. The Guiding Hand: The Barr Foundation Collection of Torah Pointers, on view March 24–Aug. 14, is the first exhibition of Judaica at the Chrysler in several decades and focuses on a single type of Jewish ritual work of art, the Torah pointer. The exhibition will include approximately 150 Torah pointers, or yads, from the Barr Foundation collection that range in size from a few inches to over two feet in length.
Barr, in honor of her late husband Jay Barr, began collecting Torah pointers 28 years ago. For Barr, since any pointer can serve as a yad, the simplicity of yads allow for creative expression, bringing together her twin interests in art and Judaica. The Norfolk-based Barr Foundation collection has been exhibited in New York, Miami and other locations. The Chrysler is especially honored to present this show because of the Museum’s long relationship with Clay Barr and her family, the Hofheimers.
“The Guiding Hand: The Barr Foundation Collection of Torah Pointers will advance understanding and dialogue about Jewish spiritual life and art and connect to the growing presence of Judaica in our collection” said Lloyd DeWitt, Ph.D., the Chrysler Museum’s chief curator and Irene Leache curator of European art. “This exhibition will be organized in several sections, including silver, wood and mixed media. The show will also highlight Torah pointers by women artists.”
Torah scrolls contain the five biblical books of Moses, from Genesis to Deuteronomy, on one continuous scroll, and readers often find it challenging to keep their place in the large areas of Hebrew text. Jews first used simple tapered wooden sticks to follow the text of the Torah without touching the precious and fragile handwritten parchment (animal-skin) surface with their fingers. The pointers also helped readers avoid damaging even a single letter, which would risk rendering the sacred, communally owned scroll incomplete and unusable. The pointer is called a yad, literally the Hebrew word for hand, יד””, because of the miniature hands that typically form the tip of the pointer.
Beyond being a functional pointer, there are no rules for making a yad, which inspired Clay Barr to grow the Barr Foundation collection by commissioning yads from artists and craftspeople working today, many from beyond the Jewish community. Several of the modern-day yads are masterpieces by the world’s leading artists of Judaica, including Anika Smulovitz and Piet Cohen. Contemporary artists represented in the exhibition include sculptor Wendell Castle, architect Ghiori Aharoni and sculptor and Norfolk native Spencer Tinkham, who transformed a recycled skateboard deck into the whimsical Rabbit Yad. “Each singular yad that comprises the Barr collection celebrates Jay’s spirit, and my hope is that these will carry his legacy far into the future.” Barr said.
Stacey Lee Webber’s pointer is made of copper coins fashioned into a keyhole saw, while Vicki Ambery-Smith’s golden yad has a model of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia on top. Steve Ford’s pointer features a colorful explosion of painted shells. George Worthington delivers a pointer that is a sensuous sculpture of carved wood that resembles a flowing ribbon. Others were created by Tobi Kahn, Darlys Ewolt and Albert Paley. Marjorie Simon’s haunting Never Again references Auschwitz and is a stark reminder of the Holocaust and ongoing persecution the Jewish community faces even close to home today.
The contemporary yads express each artist’s own style and creativity, but they reflect all the inspiration and reverence of the spiritual connection to the holy text. These build on the Barr Foundation collection’s historic yads, which reflect the full breadth of the global Jewish community, from India and Russia to the United States.
Each yad is a personal, individualized object. Yads are a favorite gift to young people as they enter into adulthood in their synagogue community through the Bat/Bar Mitzvah ceremony in which they read the Torah in the weekly public worship service for the first time. While yads can still be simple wooden pointers, most yads are more typically objects of silver with gold, jewels or ivory ornament. Others are now shaped from materials as diverse and unconventional as lucite, paper, graphite, porcelain or glass.
This exhibition promises to bring to life for all audiences the regular ritual encounter of Jews with the sacred text of the Bible.
The Guiding Hand Gallery Talk with Clay Barr
May 15, July 16 and July 24
2 p.m.│ Free
For hundreds of years, Jews used simple tapered wooden sticks to point the way through the text of the Torah without touching the fragile handwritten animal-skin parchment surface. Join Clay Barr for a close look at Torah pointers on view in The Guiding Hand: The Barr Foundation Collection of Torah Pointers. See elaborate ancient pointers as well as newly created pieces commissioned and acquired by Barr from contemporary artists.
Chrysler Book Club: The Chosen
3 p.m.│ Free
Two boys become friends in 1940s Brooklyn despite their different religious upbringings and discover in each other a lost spiritual brother. Follow their story and explore the traditions of Judaism and its history in America during a discussion of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, a Chrysler Book Club inspired by the Museum’s exhibition The Guiding Hand: The Barr Foundation Collection of Torah Pointers. Registration is required. The Zoom link will be sent on the day of the event.
About the Chrysler Museum of Art
The Chrysler Museum of Art is one of America’s most distinguished mid-sized art museums, with a nationally recognized collection of more than 30,000 objects, including one of the great glass collections in America. The core of the Chrysler’s collection comes from Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., an avid art collector who donated thousands of objects from his private collection to the Museum. The Museum has growing collections in many areas and mounts an ambitious schedule of visiting exhibitions and educational programs each season. The Chrysler has also been recognized nationally for its unique commitment to hospitality with its innovative gallery host program.
The Perry Glass Studio is a state-of-the-art facility on the Museum’s campus. The studio offers programming for aspiring and master artists alike in a variety of processes, including glassblowing, fusing, flameworking, coldworking and neon.
In addition, the Chrysler Museum of Art administers the Moses Myers House, a historic house in downtown Norfolk, as well as the Jean Outland Chrysler Library. For more information on the Chrysler Museum of Art, visit chrysler.org.
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