Monday, November 2, 2009

From the Shadow--The Art of Trudy Babchak

A Sharp Focus

The format of this continuing feature changes as I talk to individual artists and entrepreneurs in Ellicott City Historic District and beyond in Oella, just across the Patspsco River. In the last feature on Oella Mill, Trudy told me that she was a resident artist there from 1998 to 2002. The Mill has now been rehabilitated into residential rental apartments. With Trudy Babchak the format was just turned upside-down as we e-mailed each other and I made a decision to include portions of our conversation in this blog. A targeted sampling of her art is featured then--a sharp focus. A novel could be written about this talented and prolific Maryland artist, but since I write poetry, the idea was immediately nixed.

Formally, I met Trudy fairly recently in her current professional role as Assistant Director, Columbia Art Center; she has been in that position from August 2006 to the present. Her professional resume is long and impressive as is her exhibition listing, some of which will be excerpted here. Later, we visited the Mill together; I took the photo, above--when she wasn't looking--inside one of the beautiful apartments.

The important element here is Trudy Babchak's story, in her own words, and its relationship to her art: She writes with clarity, honesty and power:

"I am a second-generation survivor of World War II and have lived in the shadow of the Holocaust all of my life. I am assimilating my past with that of my mother and father; and my lifestyle of gifts and freedom with their lifestyle of fear and persecution.

My relatives were all killed in World War II by the Nazis. My mother and father survived the concentration camps and were liberated from Auschwitz in 1944. They returned to their hometown, Lodz, Poland, to reunite with any remaining family. Finding no one, but recognizing each other, they decided to marry and start a new life. They relocated to Germany (having been given restitution and housing in post-war Germany) where I was born. The only future for the Jews was for them to marry, procreate, and live on.

My mother, father, and I came to the United States when I was 3 years old. Growing up, I always questioned why we were different; why my parents talked with unfamiliar accents, had blue numbers tattooed on their arms; and why they were acquiescent, quiet, and submissive. Why was I different from my classmates and their families? I was ashamed of us and kept my new friends away from my “old-world” family. I was ashamed of the peculiarities of my parents and of my foreign sounding name (Gertrude Wolkowitz). I grew up shy, not wanting to be noticed, and trying to blend in.

I have many questions about my parent’s lives as teenagers in ghettos and concentration camps. They never talked about the war years in order to protect me and my brother. They carried their memories within themselves. Everything I paint, whether happy or sad, reflects my growing up in this background. Their depression and joy comes out in my paintings."

This painting by Babchak appears to be lyrical in tone--little girls dancing in white dresses in a Spring-green setting. But I soon learned that the image came from a calendar from the Holocaust museum featuring children during the war.
Says the artist: "The picture I related to was of three girls in white dresses, holding their arms up on a French mountain top at a convent. These Jewish girls were being hidden among the Catholic girls. My thought on these was that they appear to be happy, but aren't aware of the terror that is going on around them and that they probably never will reunite with their parents and family. Grief and pain behind a happy, playful exterior."

One Example of Her Art, & The Story
Trudy Babchak continues: "This interpretive room was created in 1448 Gallery in Baltimore. The table has only one place setting at it. That is for my mother. She is the only one who survived from her family. The rest of the table is empty.

The table is set with some of her dishes. Her family is represented by the paintings on the walls. My mother is the little girl seated with her hands crossed on a red background. Her brother is the little boy. The adults are her parents and her aunts, who raised her.

These images are from the only picture I have of her and her family before the war. In doing my research on the internet, I ran across a book called "And I Still See Their Faces". It was created from photographic glass plates found in Zundska Wola in a torn down photo studio.

These were pictures of unidentified people from before the war. The premise of the book was asking whether anyone could identify these people who had vanished. In looking through the pictures on the internet, picture 9 was of my mother's family. I have that picture and the family portraits are from it. You can imagine how surprised and shocked I was..."

Of her many paintings over the years, I was most interested in the Hang UPs-Tryptic that she shared, and I immediately e-mailed and told her they looked shockingly like meat, a little like Chaim Soutine's paintings of actual carcasses of beef. Right away, she wrote back:

"It is very interesting that you say they look like carcasses. My father was a butcher and I grew up seeing the carcasses hanging up in the freezer. I called these paintings Hang-Ups because they are hung up by their arms like beef. But I never put those two thoughts together. Now that you have drawn the comparison, I don't think this was just coincidental. I think I was relating back to my youth and pain--Meat hanging up, Women hanging up and Jews hanging..."

Do keep your eye out for more from this artist. One of her Hang-Ups is currently displayed at the Howard County Center for the Arts, in Ellicott City. Trudy Babchak is sure to surprise us with more of her memory and history-laden paintings that hold a key to the past for many people. Like all good art, when we walk away, we feel a deeper connection to one another--tenderness and compassion about what happened and the legacy we must collectively own.

Some Maryland Exhibitions, 2002-2006

2006 Under My Skin, Collaborative Exhibit, Gallery 1448, Baltimore
2005 Erotic Art, Gallery 1448, Baltimore
2004 Art Maryland 2004, Howard County Center for the Arts, Ellicott City
2004 Solo Show, Lost and Found, Columbia Art Center, Columbia
2004 Solo Show, Family Reunion, Gallery 1448, Baltimore
2004 Resident Spring Group Show, Gallery 1448, Baltimore
2003 Singular Sensations, Columbia Art Center, Columbia
2003 Solo Show, Hide and Seek, PaperRockScissors Gallery, Baltimore
2002 Leaving Eden, Anne Arundel Community College, Annapolis
2002 Solo Show, Three Tall Women, Trudy Babchak Paintings, Center Stage, Baltimore
2001 1000 Words, PaperRockScissors Gallery, Baltimore
2001 Reverence and Exultation, Fells Point Creative Alliance, Baltimore
2001 Self, Columbia Art Center, Columbia
2001 Solo Show, Trudy Babchak Paintings, Morris Mechanic Theater, Baltimore
2001 Solo Show, Paintings by Trudy Babchak, River Mill Gallery, Oella
2000 Unearthed: Mercy Revealed, PaperRock Scissors Gallery, Baltimore
2000 Readings 2, River Mill Gallery, Oella
2000 Solo Show, Memento Mori, Louie’s Gallery and Cafe, Baltimore


Cause for Applause, Employee Recognition Award, Columbia Art Center, Columbia, MD, 2006
Cause for Applause, Employee Recognition Award, Columbia Art Center, Columbia, MD, 2005
Grand Prize, Howard Community College Student Show, Columbia, MD
3rd Place, The Big Show, Fells Point Creative Alliance, Baltimore, MD

Blog content by Kay D. Weeks and Trudy Babchak
Photo of Trudy Babchak at Oella Mill, Kay Weeks
All other photos are the property of Trudy Babchak
Note from the blogger: I am retreating to Mexico from March 13-20.
During that time, I am re-posting the feature on Trudy's art
because it garnered more responses than any other I have posted
in the past. KDW on March 12, 2010


liz said...

I was deeply moved by this wonderful feature on artist Trudy Babchak. I felt like I took a journey into parts of Trudy's past and learned about her feelings and experiences growing up in a family of Holocaust survivors. Her works evoke so much emotion for us the viewers. This article was so engaging and well-written. It was a true privilege to read this blog and I walk away quite enriched. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Somehow messed that up. Scroll down
to read my post. Have no idea how .como got on there...scroll down. HN

Anonymous said...

Nina Lagervall said, in part:

I love love Trudy Babchak's work!...

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Kay Weeks said...

Don't you just hate getting a positive comment from ANONYMOUS?

I sure do. But thanks,
and consider me equally


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- Laura

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