Sardis Plantation resident, Ginny Reel, 41, is an artist who specializes in creating artistic ketubot, Jewish marriage contracts.
“Ginny began as an artist and sought out Judaism and Jewish art as her life,” said her husband, Temple Beth El’s Rabbi Jonathan Freirich, 43.
Growing up in Austin, Texas, Reel’s family didn’t have many resources, but her mother always made sure Reel had art supplies and classes. Reel took her first art class at age 4 and had her first home studio at age 9.
When Reel was 14 years old, her family moved to California, and she attended the School of the Arts in San Francisco. Her art teacher, the late Marsha Pannone, recommended Reel for the America-Israel Friendship League (AIFL) program.
“When I applied, I didn’t even know how to spell Israel,” said Reel. “I think that’s why they accepted me.”
The AIFL program was designed to bring non-Jews from around the country to Israel and promote friendship and knowledge, said Reel. At age 16, Reel went to Israel and stayed with three families in three cities during one month.
“It was such a fabulous program,” said Reel.
Reel continued on her educational journey receiving a Bachelor of Art’s degree in Women’s Studies and Theater at Middlebury College in Vermont. She also studied to convert to Judaism before she got married to Freirich in 1996.
Getting married felt “big” to Reel, so she designed her wedding dress and made their wedding invitations and ketubah (singular of ketubot).
“I didn’t know any Hebrew or calligraphy (at the time), so I made a collage by cutting up our text and numbering the slips of paper, then gluing them to a large canvas,” said Reel.
It was so big that they almost couldn’t get it out of the house to the wedding.
Soon after their wedding, the couple moved to Israel to study at the Hebrew University.
At the time, Reel was trying to do anything but art because she thought, “Real people do not become artists.”
However, in between learning Hebrew and Arabic and attending graduate school seminars on history and culture in the modern Middle East, Reel would sneak home to paint.
After a friend asked Reel to design a ketubah for her, Reel realized there was a market for making custom ketubot, which fit in with her lifelong fascination with illuminated manuscripts.
“Illuminated manuscripts are handmade books, before the time of printing presses,” said Reel. “They are hand-painted, decorated, embellished, often with gold, paints made from precious stones.”
Reel gave herself a year to learn and has been selling original, commissioned pieces since 1999. In 2012, Reel started selling her reproductions online giving customers the options to customize texts and personalize the pieces at no extra charge.
“Ginny is an incredibly talented artist,” said Temple Beth El’s Rabbi Judy Schindler. “I would describe some of her ketubot as mystical, others as magical, and others as simple and elegant works capturing the natural beauty of our world.”
One paint technique Reel likes to use is “gouache” – opaque watercolor, because it is very color-saturated, bright, and intense. Soon Reel will be doing laser-cut designs, and she is looking into doing metal prints.
“A ketubah is what makes a Jewish marriage,” said Reel. It’s a legal contract that has been around for about 2,000 years. Two witnesses sign it. “Signing usually happens in a small private ceremony before the public ceremony,” said Reel.
“A traditional ketubah lays out the terms for a husband’s support of his wife in their marriage and for his commitment to provide her with funds if the marriage were to terminate,” said Schindler.
Couples today may use traditional and/or egalitarian language. Reel can suggest texts or couples may provide their own.
“Whenever anyone chooses me (to make their ketubah), I’m honored,” said Reel. “It’s an unusually intimate piece of art that they will have for their whole lives together.”
Marissa Brooks is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marissa? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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