Descriptive words

A psychology text I read many years ago talked about how small children often use very specific and personal imagery as descriptors, not realizing that the person they are speaking to may not have any idea what the child is speaking about. In the example used, the child was shown a photograph of a puddle of water. The surface of the water was ruffled by the wind. The child described the puddle as reminding him of "sheet".

The adult tester was assuming a freshly ironed sheet on a freshly made bed and felt that the child's answer was incorrect. The child was thinking about his crumpled sheets in the morning.

When I read that so many years ago, I imagined the child's face close to those crumpled sheets just as his eyes were opening in the morning, those wrinkles close up to his opening eyes. I found his description wonderfully evocative.

Although that psychology book assumed that those sorts of deeply personal descriptors are replaced by more general, universal ones, I have found in my work with clients that often those short hand descriptors are the key to my designing a successful piece for a client.

For the past while I have been working with Elisa. our discussions of what her tallit needs to be have been taking place over a period of several months, in person and by email. In an early conversation she had mentioned that she loved the look of filigree and she wanted the stripes on her tallit to have that look.

Mary Katherine suggested that I take a look at commercially available stencils. This was a brilliant suggestion and and last week Elisa came over so we could decide which stencil was the right one to purchase. We found a lovely one .

Then Elisa said what for me was the magic word.She said, " I think the look I am going for is old shul." In some ways it is as personal a description as the boy's "sheet". Unlike that cranky tester, I knew what she meant.

There were several great periods of synagogue construction in this country. One was just after WWII. That was the great era of low slung suburban synagogues. There was a previous great era of synagogue building that ran from the late teens until the Depression. Those synagogues were ornate and were decorated in Victorian Moorish grandeur.

By the time our generation inherited those buildings, they had faded from their moments of glory. The red velvets and the golds had mellowed and faded.

So I stencilled a wine colored shantung with a bronze-y gold. At first it ended up looking like Christmas in Florence, but I toned down the brightness of the gold with a little blue. I think the result is "Old Shul".

Unfortunately, my camera and my editing tools couldn't get the coloring right, so assume that instead of the washed out mauve you might be seeing on your screen that you are instead seeing the gold stencilled on a rich wine red.


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