“Menorah – in Memory of Estelle”. A Janet Shapero Rete-Chrome with a Catacomb Connection

Boston-area artist Janet Shapero is displaying recent works in her signature technique of Rete-Chrome at the Waltham Open Studios on November 4 & 5, 2017. Shapero's studio address is 144 Moody Street, Building 4, 2d floor, Studio 1. Artist Web site: www.janetshapero.com.

ICS founder, Estelle Brettman, was a friend of Shapero's parents, and traveled with Shapero to Sicily in 1978. The trip left a lasting impression on Shapero, who many years later created Rete-Chrome works incorporating Jewish motifs, like those on the ancient artifacts Brettman identified and photographed in archaeological sites around the Mediterranean. Shapero's account of her travels with Estelle Brettman is shared below (with permission of the author):

Menorah 1 – In Memory of Estelle - Image 30” X 10” Ground 42” X 13” „ 2013. 

"This Rete-Chrome features the silhouette of a menorah – a candelabrum with a central stem and three branches on each side. The menorah is an ancient and contemporary Jewish symbol. How does it relate to bones – and ossuaries, you might ask. Here is the story.

Estelle Brettman, a dear family friend came with me at the beginning of my second sojourn in Italy. My first year-long stay in Italy was as a RISD student on the European Honors program. I intended to return for another year to apprentice with Italian marble and wood carving artisans. The one year turned into seven – but that’s another story.

Estelle and I rented a car and visited ancient sites in Sicily. Although trained as a marine biologist, Estelle had a great interest in antiquity. At the time, she was a docent and lecturer on the iconography of ancient gems at the MFA, Boston.

While exploring the catacombs carved into the cliffs near the town of Palazzolo-Acreide, Sicily, we discovered something that dramatically altered Estelle’s thinking.

As we wove our way through a network of dark caves with only one flashlight between our guide, Estelle, and me, one of us tripped on a stone. When we directed our light to that stone, we saw the incised image of a menorah. It was as if it had been placed there for Estelle to find. This was a remarkable find as these catacombs were known to be Christian burial grounds – not Jewish burial grounds. The unexpected menorah propelled Estelle into an extensive investigation of Jewish Catacombs and shared Jewish, Early Christian and Pagan iconography. A few years later, Estelle founded the International Catacomb Society.

Estelle also created the exhibit Vaults of Memory: Jewish and Christian Imagery in the Catacombs of Rome, which consisted of photographs, inscriptions, and objects relating to Jewish, Christian, and Pagan funerary art in the Roman catacombs. The exhibition was shown in Boston, New York, Rome, and elsewhere.

Unfortunately Estelle died before she was able to complete the extensive scholarly manuscript that she was working on about the catacombs. In her honor, each year at the Boston MFA, the Estelle Shohet Brettman Memorial Lecture Series sponsors a talk on some aspect of the cultural, artistic, and/or religious history of the ancient Mediterranean world." (Janet Shapero)

Rete-Chrome – (Pronounced rět-ě-krōm): is derived from rete, Latin for net; and chrome, Greek for color. Unlike traditional paintings on canvas,Rete-Chromes take advantage of light and shadow that filter through the woven surface. I apply thin layers of pigment directly and indirectly onto an open-weave backing to construct images of varying translucencies. Ranging in size from miniature to monumental, Rete-Chromes have been widely exhibited as individual pieces, groupings, and elements in larger installations.