A continuation of Jessika's visit to the home of renowned folk painter, Renate Dollinger.
They [the shtetl paintings] tell the stories like the marketplaces, and the dinners, and the sabbaths, and the holidays - Tashlich … where you throw the sins in the river and the ducks all come … When the High Holidays are in October/September, the first day of Jewish New Year, we go to the rivers or to wherever the water moves - the ocean too, actually - and we throw bread, hunks of bread in for the ducks. But with each hunk of bread, you say the sin that you want taken away. You know, you’ve heard of “scapegoats”? Those are the “scapeducks”. They eat the bread and take the sin in. They don’t care.More recently, in addition to the historical scenes of Eastern European life, Dollinger has painted a number of large Biblical works. Coming from a deep-seated place of inspiration, these Biblical paintings have, in a sense, formed the latter years of the artist’s personal life as well as her artwork. She relates a divine understanding achieved when she was quite sick in the early 2000s. She called for help, and it came in a surprising form:
I even had Yesus coming. He came, honestly. Made the lightning strike me. He really came. Stood there, scared me half to death!
I said “Are you the real one?”
He said “Yes” - had a very deep voice.”
(She repeats the word in a deeper, husky voice.) “Yes.”
I say, “How many are there?”
I said, “Just you?? And you came?”
“You called me.”
I said, “Yes I did. So you come? Do you come any time somebody calls you?”
“Not always,” he says in that deep voice.
But anyhow, in the end, we made this big deal that I was going to do 8 paintings - Bible paintings - of his choice, of their choice. And, I did. And I said I want 8 years of perfect health. That was the deal. Then came the end of it. Then it was 2012. So 2012, I came to the end of the 8 years. You see, I’d done all of the paintings.
He came again, and I said, “Can I have an extension?” (She laughs.)
He said “How long?”
I said, “As long as I paint.”
And he said, “Well, as long as you paint the Jewish things because very few people know a bit about us and we get forgotten. We will be forgotten in the future.”
But I painted again and again that world, thousands and thousands of paintings. And so, he said, “If you continue to paint, we won’t pick you up.” I said, “Well, how long now?” “Can’t tell you.” (She laughs with me.) “We don’t tell” And since then, he came back and he said that he wanted to be painted - but he didn’t come in person; he was just a voice in my ear. And, so then I painted him, and that’s the painting (indicates the portrait of Jesus in her bedroom, near the foot of her bed). He told me every little bit, except the eyes - he did the eyes, he said. I said, “Do you want a brush? Go ahead,” I said. He said, “I don’t need a brush.” I said, “You don’t need a brush?” He said, “I don’t need a brush, Renate.” [He] got a little irritated. Can you imagine that should happen? That’s exactly what he looks like, only he didn’t wear those clothes. He was wearing clothes just like you and me, when he came.
I had a problem, health problem. I couldn’t swallow or breathe, and so I thought I was dying, and then he came.
(Referencing the portrait of Jesus, which hangs at the foot of her bed alongside a number of the “Memories” paintings) Even a Catholic priest came from Boulder, Colorado, to take a photograph of it. He said very few people get to see him.
(I mention that I’d never heard anything like this before) You’ve never heard that before? I thought it was common, that he goes all the time.
(I say I’ve heard of people seeing angels or saints) But not him? Oh, he’s a very real man. And he’s very nice, and funny. And he has a sense of humor. He really does. But he can get very irritated too.