OCTOBER 18, 2018 – Judaism has always been a central part of artist Allen Spivack’s life, so it is not surprising that his sculptures more often than not have Jewish themes. What may be more surprising is Spivack’s road to becoming a full-time artist.
After growing up in Wilmington, Del., Spivack attended George Washington University and then did graduate work in anthropology at Brandeis University before earning a master’s degree in social work at Salem State. When he retired from working five years ago, he had clocked time as a fundraiser (including for Combined Jewish Philanthropies), stay-at-home dad, building contractor, and working with victims of domestic abuse. His work took him to prisons and to a residential program at the Dimock Community Health Center in Boston for women with addiction issues.
But being an artist has always been Spivack’s dream. He even recalled telling his wife, Sherry Grossman – on their first date in 1973 – that he wanted to be a sculptor.
After “life got in the way” – he and Grossman have two grown sons – Spivack decided five years ago that it was time to realize his dream. “I said, if I don’t do this now, and put the effort into the art, I’m going to really be too old to do it,” he recalled. Spivack retired from the working life and devoted himself to becoming a sculptor.
First, he took classes and rented space at Stonybrook Fine Arts in Jamaica Plain, where he and Sherry live. Then he built a studio for himself in his garage, acquiring all the tools he needed for his work: a plasma cutter, welding torch, and more. He works for three or four hours each day, creating and assembling his large and small steel sculptures.
Drawing on his years of Jewish study – he belongs to Jewish men’s groups, attends retreats, and is currently enrolled in the two-year Me’ah learning program at Hebrew College. He and Grossman also serve on the board of the Community Hevra Kadisha of Greater Boston (the burial committee).
Spivack creates work that often visualizes unfamiliar texts and ideas. For instance, “13 Qualities: The Mussar Series,” refers to the Jewish path to moral development, a process for building and strengthening character by focusing for a period of time on a personal quality such as patience, humility courage, friendship, or joy, and considering how one’s behavior, attitude, and beliefs around this quality either optimize or create problems in day-to-day life.
Spivack is one of more than 45 artists who will display their work through Nov. 4 at the ninth annual Flying Horse Outdoor Sculpture Exhibit on the campus of Pingree School in South Hamilton. His piece, “13 Attributes,” is a sculptural reflection on a Yom Kippur prayer.
The prayer describes the 13 attributes of God, Spivack explained, and is a central part of Yom Kippur liturgy, repeated at least two or three times during services. “It is very powerful,” said the artist. “Not only did God give the Ten Commandments, but he also gave people a way to repent when they have sinned. I think that is too often overlooked in the story. I’ve been haunted by it in a positive way since I was a kid, and I wondered for a long time what kind of sculpture I could make that would reflect this.”
His other piece in the exhibit, “Guardian of Memories,” is based on a story of a soldier confronted by man in his unit who is anti-Semitic, and the outcome of their relationship.
Whether his sculptures have Jewish themes or not, Spivack thinks they can resonate with viewers of all backgrounds. “People can understand the work comes from a place of artistic expression that is deeply spiritual for me,” he said. “That is what a lot of art is about.”
The Flying Horse Outdoor Sculpture Exhibit runs through Nov. 4 and is free and open to the public seven days a week during daylight hours. Pingree School is located at 537 Highland St., South Hamilton.