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Mothers of Invention

May 12, 2000|MAGGIE BARNETT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The late sculptor Louise Nevelson once said artists should never have children.

A single parent herself, she said the conflict in responsibilities was too great.

But then we wouldn't have the current exhibition mounted by the Los Angeles Printmaking Society at the Lankershim Arts Center in North Hollywood showing the work of artists who happen to be mothers and daughters.

From an exquisite finger-painting by then 5-year-old cancer survivor Lauren Voogd to the bold woodcuts and relief prints of veteran printmaker and author Ruth Leaf, it's clear a passion for art reigns.

Admittedly, being an artist and a mother or being raised by an artist mother can be tough, but there are rewards, many in the show said.

Ceramist Anita Lerner said growing up in the late '50s with her mother, Leaf, was difficult: "I wanted her to iron my dresses, but she didn't. She was in the basement covered with ink and wearing jeans. No one else's mother did."

Later Lerner grew to appreciate the difference.

"I think she was a good role model for me," Lerner said, "She really was a feminist."

Lerner said her mother's work influenced her choice to become an artist.

"I'm sure my mother had a lot to do with who I am. She got so much joy out of [her art]. She couldn't wait to get up in the morning. I think I envied that."

Landscape architect Gabrielle Newmark said it was extraordinary for her and her sister Kara Newmark, an architect, to grow up with a mother making prints and painting. "I think we always knew it was special," Gabrielle Newmark said.

Their mother, Sheila Newmark, said she always gave her daughters art supplies but never coloring books.

"They were taboo," Gabrielle Newmark said.

Jean Burg, co-director of the Lankershim gallery, said she was surprised to see certain similarities between the works of mothers and daughters even in different media and styles. "We didn't realize until we were hanging the show how much of an influence there was," Burg said. Sometimes it's obvious, such as the choice of subject matter for printers Julita Jones and her daughter Melinda or the palette shared by Kara and Sheila Newark.

Others are less obvious. Belle Osipow and daughter Lisa Bloomfield play with concepts in their work.

Donna Westerman and her daughter Johanna Westerman Rhodehamel share a fascination with line. Rhodehamel's book illustrations are very different from her mother's spare abstractions. But an early etching of Westerman's done when her daughter was a child has distinct similarities to the delicate fairy-tale drawings her daughter later developed.

Meryl Marshall's mixed-media paintings are in the show alongside paintings and a lithograph by her mother, Nita Corinblit. Marshall has only recently taken up the brush, but, she said, her mother has been a huge influence on her day job as chairwoman of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

"Having her be an artist has always made me sensitive to the risks of creativity," Marshall said. "As I rose through the ranks at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, it made me eager to champion the artist and the artistry of making television.

It sensitized me to those elements, especially at a time when the focus was on the business side and deal-making." But being raised by a mother who is talented has another side, she said: "It can be challenging. It took me a long time to trust my own voice."

It's a challenge for mothers, too. Leaf, who has been making prints for 56 years and is the author of a widely used textbook on printmaking, said she didn't get much sleep when she was raising her two daughters.

"I have memories of my husband coming down to the basement at 3 in the morning saying, 'Haven't you had enough yet?' " she said.

Leaf said she regrets not being more involved with her daughters' lives while they were growing up, but, she added, "They always knew where to find me."

Perhaps the greatest challenge has been faced by Vinita Voogd, who abandoned full-time graduate studies 15 years ago when daughter Lauren was born with a rare brain cancer.

Her linocut showing a house being threatened by a tsunami wave and people flying through the air, Vinita Voogd said, is a metaphor for her struggle.

"This is how I feel about my family sometimes," she said.

But, inspired by her daughter's courage, she has found satisfaction in combining her talents and her concern for young cancer patients.

As president of the Los Angeles Printmaking Society, she organized an exhibit last September to benefit the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation of Irvine.

Sheila Newmark thinks juggling the work of mother and artist pays off in other ways. She and daughter Gabrielle agree that they have a special understanding and trust.

"When you're doing something, you can call each other for moral support," Gabrielle Newmark said.

"At least your family understands," Sheila Newmark said.

And, she added, "Your child gains what you have and takes off from there."

DETAILS

The exhibition "Generations: Women's Work," curated by Donna Westerman, Thursday-Saturday, 2-5 p.m., through June 11 at the Lankershim Arts Center Gallery, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 752-2682.

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