Although the public can’t visit Berry’s Moon Gallery just yet, they can still experience a unique exhibit through online photographs.

Jewish tallits, prayer shawls, are hanging in the Moon Gallery and give visitors an educational, and sometimes moving experience of one of the world’s oldest religions and cultures.

The Berry College Department of Fine Arts and the Interfaith Council is hosting the first art exhibit of the semester that features a variety of Jewish tallits created by Ruth Simon McRae.

The exhibition (open only to Berry students, faculty and staff due to COVID restrictions) is open through Sept. 10 at the Moon Gallery. The Interfaith Council is a group of faculty and students who work closely with other departments on campus to help foster a welcoming environment at Berry College for people of all faiths.

“A tallit is a prayer shawl used in Jewish services and ceremonies,” Ruth said. “At one time, they were only worn by men. Now in most congregations, women may wear them as well. Being wrapped in a tallit gives the wearer a sense of privacy for prayer, and often a feeling of the sacred.

“All the tallits are handmade,” Ruth added. “Many of them feature different techniques from dyeing to handprinting to embroidery. Each one is almost a collage of different materials and techniques.”

She said this body of work combines her love of fabric — material — textiles with my spiritual life. The series started when her cousin suggested that some of the complex handmade textiles she was making would translate well into a tallit.

The intent behind the exhibit wasn’t just to showcase the tallits, she said, but to create an experience for viewers. Even the layout of the installation has a purpose.

“It does have the look of a Jewish structure,” Ruth said. “For example a wedding canopy or a Jewish temple or home. There are different structures that sort of replicate the home. The installation was partly related to that.”

Ruth said a friend designed the hangers the tallits are displayed on and her husband built them. She said traditionally the shawls are wrapped around one’s shoulders during prayer.

“Almost like a cocoon,” she said. “You drape it around you when you’re praying.”

The exhibit came about after Ruth showed her creations to friend and Interfaith Council member Dr. Michelle Haney.

“We’re both Jewish and she said she would love to do a collaboration with the art department to show the pieces,” Ruth said. “I’ve been taking classes within the art department for years so I thought it was a wonderful idea.”

Ruth said she is excited that the exhibit doesn’t just showcase her work but it’s a way for people to understand each other.

“Regardless or religion I think some people have an emotional response to the prayer shawls,” she said. “I’ve heard from people who are not of my religion who found them moving and interesting.”

Although the exhibit isn’t open to the public, anyone can view the shawls online at www.berry.edu/academics/majors/art/moon-gallery/ by clicking on “current exhibition.”

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