By Maria Benevento
When Jenni Schlossman moved to Omaha for an 18-month National Endowment for the Arts internship at the Joslyn Art Museum, she expected to leave as soon as the internship, and her dissertation, were complete. She didn’t know that she would meet her future husband, settle permanently in Omaha, become president of the Alpha of Omaha ΦBK Association, and discover her niche as an adjunct professor, scholar of Jewish art, and artist.
Schlossman grew up in Maryland and “always wanted to be an artist.” A high school teacher introduced her to the field of art history, and she resolved to major in the subject at the University of Delaware after deciding that she preferred it to the art major. She earned her Ph.D. in American Art History from Rutgers University and moved to Omaha in 1993 for the Joslyn internship. She has taught as an adjunct professor for the University of Nebraska Omaha, Bellevue University, Metropolitan Community College, and the College of St. Mary’s. She currently teaches online introductory art history courses for Rutgers University.
As she discusses on her blog on the Jewish Art Education website, Schlossman initially did not want to become a Jewish art historian of Jewish artists, feeling that would be too “limiting” and preferring to focus on “women artists and the Feminist movement.” She also noted that Jewish artists are far from being a cohesive group, and many do not focus on Jewish themes in their artwork, although “if your art is personal it has something to do with your religion and your background.”
However, she became increasingly comfortable with studying Jewish artists after she realized that it gave her a “niche” and a venue to share her scholarship. For example, she presented her paper “Visual Art as a Pathway to Prayer” at Creighton University’s Klutznick Harris symposium on “The Spiritual Dimensions of Judaism” and gave a paper on “The Influence of Judaism on the Art of Chaim Gross” at the Midwest Jewish Studies Association Annual Meeting. Schlossman’s work on Jewish artists also allows her to continue focusing on her other areas of interest, including women artists and contemporary and 20th century American artists.
Creating art is also an important part of Schlossman’s life, and in recent years, she has even begun to exhibit some of her own work. For example, her painting “Never Forget: To Life” is included in Unraveled, a traveling art exhibit sponsored by Project Interfaith. The piece depicts the Hebrew word Chai, which means life, inside a Star of David and represents her decision “to celebrate life while remembering those who lost their lives in pogroms and the Holocaust.” Her paintings and sculptures have also been included in group shows at the Omaha Jewish Community Center, the University of Nebraska, Omaha, and the Caesium Gallery.
A strong proponent of the value of art in education, Schlossman has volunteered as an art teacher in her children’s classrooms, serves on the Board of Directors for Jewish Art Education, and enjoys teaching art history at the university level. While she almost exclusively teaches introductory courses to students who will not become art historians, she believes the subject is valuable and that its lessons can both enrich the lives of her students and be applied to any area of study. “When you go to an art museum, most people stand in front of a painting for six seconds.” Studying art history forces people to spend longer looking at painting, learning “patience, discipline, and writing skills” as well as gaining a greater understanding of various cultures. Her students “learn how to look at a painting and say something about it” other than whether or not they like it. “Art is incredibly important and has to be part of the curriculum of schools,” Schlossman adds. “It’s not a throw-away subject.”
Photo at top: Jenni Schlossman’s painting Never Forget: To Life, part of the “Unraveled” Traveling Art Exhibit.
Maria Benevento is a senior at Creighton University majoring in Theology and American Studies. Creighton University is home to the Beta of Nebraska Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.