Temple Adat Elohim
You are here:Home > About Us > TAE In The News > Artistic Touch: Sculptor finds signs of inspiration

Artistic Touch: Sculptor finds signs of inspiration

By Nicole D'Amore on August 11, 2011 Ventura County Star
Oppenheimer is the featured artist in the "Food 4 Thought" exhibit running through Oct. 10 at the Galleria at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts, presented by the Arts Council of the Conejo Valley.
Oppenheimer has had her own share of challenges in life. Born to a developmentally disabled mother and an abusive father, she spent her first seven years in Germany and the next eight in foster care in the United States.
It was a difficult childhood, she said, but art was a refuge. "I would draw in the dirt, making up a story," she said. Later, in school, there were crayons.
"I loved color," she said. "I could draw and make my life beautiful. On a piece of paper, I could express myself. I had control over something in my life. That was my food; it fed my mind, body and soul." She returned to Germany alone at 15.
Saturday evening child care services will be available at the temple, provided by the religious school and early childhood center teachers at a charge of $5 per child.
"I got a hotel room and went to a newspaper to take out an ad looking for a family," she said, laughing. "I was so nave." But that inspired the newspaper to do a human-interest story on her. Touched by the story, people came forward to offer a foster home.
"It was the first time I had boundaries it was so amazing," she said. She worked as a nanny for a family and finished high school in Germany. Pursuing her dream to become a teacher, she earned a degree in English and German at the University of Heidelberg, then returned to the United States to become official foster parent for her two younger brothers and sister.
"It was a theme of rescuing and being rescued," Oppenheimer said. She taught at Bellarmine College Preparatory School in San Jose for seven years until she became ill with fibromyalgia.
After Bellarmine, she was hired as head teacher at Escuela Pacifica in Santa Cruz.
"At Bellarmine, I was head of the German department," she said. "At Escuela Pacifica, I taught everything."
After her siblings were on their own, she bought 10 acres of land in Big Basin to "save the redwoods," she said, and built a home there.
Then fate intervened again and Oppenheimer was in a serious automobile accident resulting in six herniated disks.
While recuperating from the spinal injuries, she did her first sculpture. Titled "Serenity," it was inspired by a neighbor.
"Her husband was demeaning because of her weight," Oppenheimer said. "When he saw the piece, he said she was beautiful. I said, 'So is your wife.' That showed me the power of art."
After the accident, she needed help maintaining her property.
"I couldn't even pick up wood," she said. The man she hired was deaf and communicated through sign language.
"He could do everything he was like a horse," she said. He also taught her to sign.
For his birthday, she sculpted a figure signing "Inspiration."
"He said, 'She is talking to me.' He had never seen a sculpture in sign language," she said. "Nobody was doing art for deaf people."
She met her future husband, Michael Rosen, when he came to California to visit a colleague of Oppenheimer's. He was living in Minnnesota and working as an American Sign Language interpreter. After a two-year cross-country courtship, they were married in August 1997 and lived in Minnnesota.
Oppenheimer continued sculpting despite ongoing pain. She became aware of other groups of people who were often overlooked. She did a series of deaf African American breast cancer survivors and when she found there were few hospices for deaf people, she sculpted an ethnically diverse group of people sitting together and communicating through sign language.
She participated in a show for the deaf community in Minnesota and was overwhelmed by the response.
"Some women actually cried and they said, 'Don't ever stop doing this,' " Oppenheimer said. "They appreciated what I was doing. I had a purpose after being disabled."Everybody has to be needed," she added. "Giving and receiving are the same thing. You can't give without someone receiving, and you can't receive without someone giving. It's the circle of life."
She has produced more than 40 sign language sculptures and continues to show her work. Her pieces have won awards, including best of show and people's choice at international competitions. She was named Most Accessible and Active Minnesota Disabled Artist in 1997 and was a featured artist at the 1998 Minnesota State Fair.
Eventually, the cold Minnesota winters took their toll, so Rosen took an early retirement and the couple moved to California in 2006. Oppenheimer was delighted to find that one of her neighbors was Rebecca Dubowe, a rabbi at Temple Adat Elohim who happens to be deaf.
Since becoming acquainted with Dubowe and Rabbi Ted Riter, Oppenheimer has gotten involved in the temple, creating special tiles for people in need of healing.
"Clay keeps my soul alive," she said. "Everything I am studying goes to clay. It's how I process everything."
She sells her work at the Hummingbird and the Honey Bee, formerly the Akashic Bookshop, at 1414 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks.
A reception for the exhibit, which features 13 artists, is planned from 4 to 6 p.m. Aug. 20 at the Galleria, 403 W. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks.
(Your shopping cart is empty)