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Thelma Dorfman Shares Her Love of Asian Art at Griffin Gallery Lecture

Thelma Dorfman is widely acclaimed for her lectures at the Institute of Asian Studies, International Christian University in Tokyo, Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Jewish Lecture Bureau and the Life Long Learning Society at FAU.  She will be giving a gallery talk about the magnificent art of China at the Griffin Gallery on February 14th.  The Rickie Report was honored to interview Mrs. Dorfman for this article and we know that anyone who has been married for 65 years must have some good advice to share on Valentine’s Day! We look forward to being at her lecture and seeing her in costume.

Griffin Gallery Ancient Art

Presents  Guest Lecturer

Thelma Dorfman

Formerly of the Metropolitan Museum

 Art Far East Department

Thursday, February 14, 2013, 5 P.M.

Gallery Center608 Banyan Trail   Boca Raton, FL 33431

561.994.0811

Qing Vase

Qing Vase
This Picture Greets Visitors as They Leave the Elevator

This Mixed Media Piece by Thelma Greets Visitors Leaving the Elevator to Enter The Dorfman’s Home

Getting off the elevator in a condominium, The Rickie Report staff was immediately transported to another world.  Spending the afternoon with Thelma and Jack Dorfman was more than an educational experience.  It was a delight!  Objects d’art from their travels around the world populate their home, each with a special story that would keep anyone mesmerized.  We urge you to go and listen to Thelma’s lecture at the Griffin Gallery because we don’t want you to miss this opportunity!

Recent Sculpture by Thelma

Recent Sculpture by Thelma

Thelma Dorfman is not only an art collector, but a true artist herself.  As she showed us the large bust she sculpted, she expressed her frustration with getting the piece smooth enough to her liking.  From the outset, it is clear that Thelma has high standards.  She is mostly self-taught because her mother thought being an artist was “nonsense” and wanted Thelma to be a teacher and play the piano.  Thelma followed that track, teaching all ages from kindergarten to college.  She is especially proud of creating innovative programs in music and art for gifted students.
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A stained glass window hanging, the hand painted breakfast table which matches the Mottahedeh platters on display, the paintings and the sculptures all caught our attention.  Thelma Dorfman continues to let the artistry in her being emerge into everything she touches!  Noticing her lovely top, we could see it was originally a Asian scarf which she transformed into a one-of-a-kind blouse.  “I’m a crafter”, she tells us, “I’m always into everything!”
Thelma with one of her first sculptures

Thelma with one of her first sculptures

Married for 65 years, The Dorfmans have traveled the world!  Seeking out small villages, towns, and little known areas to the general public.  They regaled us with stories over tea, some of which we will share here.
From the Dorfman's Travels

From the Dorfman’s Travels

 

When foreigner visitors were few and far between, The Dorfmans explored China’s Gobi Desert and Buddhist Caves in Mongolia. With no modern hotels available, they mingled with the people of each country they visited. She explains, “This area was the last great hurdle before Marco Polo entered China.  Dunhuang, the city of “The Singing Sands” was the last terminus of the Silk Road before entering ancient China in the West-East connection.  In addition, from the North-South connection, Buddhism arrived from India to Dunhuang, then turning east to China.  For two thousand years, this outpost with its fabulous grottos and Buddhist art, was hidden in the desert sands…and rediscovered in 1900!”

Painting from Thelma's memory

Painting from Thelma’s memory

As we looked at various paintings, Thelma would tell us what country they had visited. Sometimes she paints from photographs but she usually paints from memory!  The details included in these pieces of art are often intricate.  The faces of the people are captured brilliantly.
Thelma and Nien Cheng

Thelma and Nien Cheng

Thelma shared stories about her friendship with Nien Cheng, author of “Life and Death in Shanghai”. The Dorfmans played a major role in safekeeping Thelma and Nien’s 10 year long written correspondence. Jack Dorfman is a retired trial attorney who immersed himself on the Board of Directors of Florida Atlantic University’s Life Long Learning Society.
Thelma's Office, with Newspaper Clippings, Files and Montages

Thelma’s Office, with Newspaper Clippings, Files and Montages

How does this couple keep track of their travels?  Thelma makes montages from each trip, including museum passes, tour tickets, a coaster from a local restaurant and more memorabilia.  These collages are framed and decorate their home, especially Thelma’s study, where she has neatly categorized boxes for each topic she lectures about.
Thelma has a graduate degree from Columbia University and was on the staff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. When the King Tut exhibit came to the Museum, she engrossed herself in everything she could find about Egypt. Eventually Thelma led her first art and archeology tour from the Museum to Egypt in 1979/80, returning three more times.
Working originally in the Far East Department, Thelma began planning the Japan exhibit.  The Dorfmans became friendly with a family from Japan who was in the U.S. through the United Nations. In the 1980’s they first went to Japan, traveled to China and then to India. With this background, Thelma was a prized employee for the Museum, as no one had been to China at that time.  She helped  the interns with their research, since she had actually been there and they were working only from books!
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Thelma gave lectures about their travels not only through institutions of higher education, but she showed us a newspaper clipping that announced her lecture at B. Altman & Co!  She spoke about “Buddhism and its role in the arts; bronze, jade, sculpture, calligraphy, woodcuts, lacquer and their influence in Chinese art and Western culture”.  Before her lecture, there was a Farberware demonstration on “Cooking Chinese Food in the Electric Wok”!
According to www.metmuseum.org, “The Museum’s Chinese Garden Court is based on a small seventeenth-century courtyard that is part of an actual garden, known as Wangshi Yuan or the Garden of the Master of the Fishing Nets, in Suzhou. In 1980, using this existing garden as a model, Chinese craftsmen created a replica in the Museum using man-made and natural elements crafted or found in China and assembled with traditional construction tools and methods. The building of the garden court was the first permanent cultural exchange between the United States and the People’s Republic of China and was the first of a number of Chinese gardens to be built in North America.”
Painting by Thelma

Painting by Thelma

Thelma oversaw this effort due to her vast first-hand knowledge.   She explained that ” everything is built using not one nail! The joints are dovetailed so everything can breathe and the wood won’t crack”. She went on to tell us how the Museum supplied the plumbers and electricians working easily with the Chinese craftsmen.  They were housed at a hotel on 81st Street and on weekends, Thelma oversaw cultural exchange activities, taking the Chinese craftsmen went bowling or touring New York City.
The Asian Art Galleries were built in much the same way, with all of the materials, craftsmen and plans coming from the “mother country”, Japan.  A year later, the Topkaki exhibit was ready to be built, with small alcoves for silversmiths, rug makers and other craftsmen.  A snafu with the workers resulted in having no native demonstrators and only pieces of literature. Perhaps, when you meet Thelma at the Griffin Gallery she will give you the details!
Jack built this box to protect this art piece

Jack built this box to protect the art piece

The Dorfman’s travels since the 1950’s have taken them to more than cities, buildings, sites and countries.  Going on the Orient Express, taking their children to Greece, Israel, Egypt and exploring on their own around the world has enriched this couple beyond measure.  While they have brought back quite a few keepsakes that decorate their home, their most precious souvenirs are the people they encountered and the relationships that were built and still exist.
She lectured at the Heritage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.  When she arrived, the paintings were stacked against the walls and lying on the floor, “It was not what is is today”, she says.  The focus of her lectures was French Impressionism, as the Hermitage has one of the largest collections in the world.  She tells us that the Czarina had a man stationed in Paris, who would buy every piece of art he could.
Table Set for tea. Far right is vase of Thelma's Hand made flowers with glass seed beads

Table Set for tea. Far right is vase of Thelma’s Hand made flowers with glass seed beads

At the time, the Impressionist painters were not admired by their peers or the public, so these pieces of art were relatively inexpensive and plentiful. That is how the Hermitage came to own them all.  Thelma knew all about French Impressionism through the Japanese print.  She explains,”The Impressionists were so overwhelmed and awestruck by the Japanese concepts! They used the flat color, the strong diagonal and cropped images to create their own work in a new way.”  She titles her French Impressionism lecture, “That Parisian moment of magic that created a language of art that ignited all that came after”.
Thelma shows us the photo of Mrs. Lee, the last person of the five Jewish clans living in China.  She goes into a number of theories of how these kosher, practicing Jews came to China.  The Protestant missionaries tried to help the clans survive by purchasing their wares and their relationship with the Moslem community was so friendly, that the local mosque is built from timbers purchased from these Jews.
Painting of Mongolian Child

Painting of Mongolian Child, Daggers from Morrocco

As we wait for the water to heat for tea, Thelma shows us the numerous Japanese dolls that were given to her as gifts.  Some are ceramic, others glass, a few more precious ones are ceramic and were made by doll makers.  Thelma is not the only creative person in the household.  Jack beams with pride as he shows off the Grandmother clock and bookcases he put together himself.  And we noticed a clarinet on the porch, which Jack practices.  He enjoys delving into scientific research and appreciates all eras of history. Some of the lamps in their residence are vases or statues bought during their world adventures which Jack made into functional lighting pieces.
Part of Thelma's Asian Doll Collection

Part of Thelma’s Asian Doll Collection

She is particularly fond of her Buddha sculpture, which she made herself. A photo of her taking part in the Tea Ceremony brings more stories and fond memories of their visits in Japan. As we wend our way through their home, anecdotes are recalled and shared with humor. Their most recent trip to China was in 2000.
Close-up of Thelma's Sculpture

Close-up of Thelma’s Sculpture

As she shows us her first sculpture, she emphasizes that she did it for her own enjoyment.  You can see how she used the grains of the stone to emphasize the movement of the clothing’s drape.  We see their wedding photo, taken at B’nai Jeshurun in New York City.  The portrait of her teacher, who posed once a year, for his students of the New York Art League is prominent. She could only attend one night a week, as she had young children at home.  The teacher, Dickinson, made an impression on Thelma.  
Thelma's Rock Garden

Thelma’s Rock Garden

Thelma continues to paint and has a massive collection of sea shells from all over the world which she makes into dioramas and rockeries incorporating statues and other objects. As we prepare to sit down to tea (savories and sweets with dainty cups and floral napkins), Jack points out the floral arrangement on the table.  We’re fascinated to learn that Thelma made these glass beaded flowers herself when she was part of a Japanese women’s handcrafts organization!
Thelma is available for lectures to groups and organizations.  She welcomes invitations to share her stories and plans these educational talks meticulously. After Thelma’s presentation at the Griffin gallery, she will have special balloons situated around the Gallery and walk the guests through so they can see art and artifacts about which she has spoken.
For more information about The Griffin Gallery or Thelma’s upcoming lecture, please visit: www.griffingallery.net  or email griffingallery18@yahoo.com.  The exhibit is sponsored by: Beiner,Inkeles & Horvitz, P.A. 2000 Glades Road, Suite 110, Boca Raton, FL, 33431  (561) 750-1800

For coverage of your events, to place an advertisement, or speak to Rickie about appearing in The Rickie Report, contact The Rickie Report at:

Rickie Leiter, Publisher

The Rickie Report

P.O.Box 33423

Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33420

Rickie@therickiereport.com

561-537-0291

 

To read previous posts, click TheRickieReport.com and scroll down.