2004-08-06 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio

Rockaway Artists Alliance
by Susan Hartenstein

The Rockaway Artists Alliance has lost a dear friend and highly regarded colleague. Izabella Slobodoff died on July 20 after a long and courageous battle with cancer. Even if you did not know Izabella, even if you are not a member of RAA, you have been touched by her great artistry, her humanity and her devotion to excellence. You have, most likely, seen her last work, “Firefighter’s Helmet,” that sits at the site of Tribute Park at Beach 116 Street and Beach Channel Drive. Perhaps you have seen her work at RAA exhibits over the years.

Bella was an original member of RAA. I first came to know her five years ago, when she invited me into her home for an interview I requested in order to write a column about her. She was warm, generous, welcoming, intelligent, a prolific artist and dedicated to the highest principles of professionalism. In speaking to her about the inspirations for her work, it was clear that there was a powerful, direct connection between her mind and creativity and the essence of her subjects – whether human or not. Her sensitivity, intuition and technical prowess were such that she was able to capture that essence, both physical and metaphysical, within her subjects.

Bella’s apartment was filled with her artwork – paintings in several mediums; sculptures crafted from a variety of materials; a marionette; hand-painted decorative plates; frames she herself had made; and so much more. Though sculpture was, I think, her most “natural” art form, she was extremely versatile. Interestingly, her painted portraits seemed to me sculptural and monumental in nature.

A particularly breathtaking portrait she did of her husband in watercolor, fully exploits the transparency and subtlety of this medium, to reveal the fullness of character of the man and the structural strength and grandeur of his head. Bella operated in life under a disadvantage – she was deaf. Yet this, perhaps, contributed to the intensity of her connection to the essential elements of the people and things around her. Marina Callaghan told me that when Izabella was sculpting the head of Marina’s daughter, Kalin, it was as though the artist had Kalin “in her hands.” The spiritual interconnectedness among the three women present was extraordinary. It was, in Marina’s words, “a magical” experience.”

Born and extensively trained in St. Petersburg, Russia, Izabella came to the United States in 1992. She won many honors and awards in Russia and in the United States. Her work appears in various museums and public venues in her native land and now in America.

RAA’s upcoming tenth anniversary exhibition, “A Perfect 10,” has been dedicated to Izabella Slobodoff. The last sculpture she completed in her workshop in sTudio 7, a bust of her young grandson, will be displayed at the exhibit. All are invited to attend the opening reception on Sunday, August 8 from 1-3 PM, which will feature live entertainment. Come celebrate ten years of the RAA and the life of a dear friend and great artist.

We will miss this amazing woman very much. Appropriately, the final words of this column are those of Patrick Clark, founding father of RAA and its first president:

Izabella was a founding member of the Rockaway Artists Alliance and she maintained active membership from the start.  While in Rockaway she continued her long and productive career as a sculptor, spending much time creating exceptional, fine works at the RAA T-7 Studio at Ft. Tilden.

Her final work of sculpture will be the publicly displayed “Firefighter’s Helmet” on the firefighters’ tribute at the forthcoming 9-11 Tribute Park.

Late last November she was working for hours on the granite helmet sculpture in a freezing cold wind and I asked her why she just didn’t pack it up and wait until it warmed up in the spring to continue the work.  She told me that everyday being alive was a miracle and every day that she had the opportunity to work on her art was a great gift from God... and her eyes shimmered and twinkled as she spoke.

I will always cherish being inspired by her and having known her. I will always remember her magnificent, strong sculptor’s hands.  I’m grateful for having the opportunity to work with this great master on her last sculpture, and happy that the final work, the moving and important tribute to all of NYC fallen 9/11 Firefighters will be on public display in Tribute Park for all of us to go and cherish.

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