‘Homely’ ancient rock adds evidence of King David’s existence

House of David inscription

House of David inscription, part of the “Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age” exhibit at NY’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Meidad Suchowolski)

Dimly lit, the stone slab, or stele, doesn’t look particularly noteworthy, especially when compared to the more lavish sphinxes, jewelry and cauldrons one encounters en route to the room where it is installed.

Indeed, in a Twitter post this fall, art journalist Lee Rosenbaum described the nearly 13-by-16 inch c. 830 BCE rock, which resembles an aardvark or elephant, as “homely.”

What’s significant about this stone — on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of its “Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age” exhibit running through Jan. 4 — is its inscription: “the earliest extra-biblical reference to the House of David.”

My article “‘Homely’ ancient rock adds evidence of King David’s existence” appears in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA).

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Born in Houston, digital Advent calendar goes viral

Darcy Casavant Advent

Darcy Casavant knits in her favorite corner where she worked on the project for Advent digital on Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, in Houston. People are asked to post an image and meditation to represent a different word daily during Advent. On the fifth day, the word was ‘abide’ and she posted an image of orange yarn and a knitting needle and a mug with a photo of her daughter wearing a dress and tiara. (Mayra Beltran/ Houston Chronicle)

Not only does The Dude, of “Big Lebowski” fame, abide, but so, too, do whirling dervishes, Jewish prayer shawls, elf dolls suspended between Venetian blinds, and Bernini’s 17th-century sculpture “Ecstasy of St. Teresa.” That’s according to Instagram users across the globe who submitted photos to the Anglican Communion’s new digital Global Advent Calendar.

Advent season is both a time for solemnity, reflection and anticipation of Christmas, as well as, apparently, for texting, tweeting and Instagramming.

Instead of revealing chocolates or other prizes each day, the Communion’s calendar tasks the faithful with responding daily to a word – “abide” was the fifth day – and posting photographic reflections with the tag #AdventWord.

The digital calendar, which was conceived in Houston, has gone viral.

“It’s certainly the Anglican Communion Office’s most popular digital initiative,” says Jan Butter, communications director of the Communion in London. The Communion website saw nearly double its average monthly traffic of 34,000 hits last month as it prepared to launch the calendar, and it received 15,000 hits in the first week of December alone, he says.

My article “Born in Houston, digital Advent calendar goes viral” appears in the Houston Chronicle.

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The Women of ‘Letters to Afar’

Still from Polish home movie

Oszmiana, Poland. Still from Polish home movie c. 1920s-30s/YIVO Institute for Jewish Research


My review of the Museum of the City of New York’s exhibit of videos of Poland “The Women of ‘Letters to Afar’,” co-written with Chavi Moskowitz, appears in the Jewish Daily Forward.

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James Castle, subject of Smithsonian show, put ‘taught’ in self-taught

James Castle Untitled

James Castle. Untitled.
n.d. Found paper and soot. Smithsonian American Art Museum


My article “James Castle, subject of Smithsonian show, put ‘taught’ in self-taught” appears in the Washington Post.

“The 54 Castle works in the show, a 2013 Smithsonian acquisition, represent one of the largest collections of the artist’s work. The show’s prominence raises questions about how viewers should respond to self-taught art — which goes by aliases such as outsider, visionary, and folk art and involves figures such as Grandma Moses and Henri Rousseau. Can visitors be expected to ignore an artist’s biography, particularly in a field such as self-taught art, which suggests in its very title that context is vital?

Experts are divided on how museums should contextualize works such as Castle’s…”

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Donatello exhibition heading to Museum of Biblical Art in New York

Florence Duomo

Florence Duomo. Photo: Menachem Wecker

My article “Donatello exhibition heading to Museum of Biblical Art in New York” appears in the Washington Post.

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Mormon missionaries pound Italian pavements with chalk

(RNS1-nov11) Mormon missionaries draw in the street in Bologna, Italy. For use with RNS-MORMON-CHALK, transmitted on November 11, 2014, Religion News Service photo by Menachem Wecker.

Mormon missionaries draw in the street in Bologna, Italy. photo by Menachem Wecker.

My article, “Mormon missionaries pound Italian pavements with chalk,” appears in Religion News Service.

UPDATE: The piece has been picked up by Washington Post, Kansas City StarSalt Lake Tribune, Deseret News, Christian Century and Adventist Review.

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Marc Chagall: The French painter who inspired the title ‘Fiddler on the Roof’

My article appears in The Washington Post.

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Artist brings interior radiance to global stage in painting for World Meeting of Families

Neilson Carlin works in his studio in April

Neilson Carlin works in his studio in April

Neilson Carlin is pretty sure that he will soon have the opportunity to cross something off of his aesthetic bucket list: having the pope see one of his paintings.

“That’s obviously a dream come true for someone like me, who has devoted his entire career to serving the Catholic church,” said the Kennett Square, Pa.-based painter.

Anytime he has the opportunity to create art for a parish, it is a blessing, Carlin said, but he never contemplated the idea that “the Holy Father of the entire global Catholic church” would see his art. “As much as I’d hoped for it,” he said, “what’s the reality? I certainly didn’t think that would be the case.”

Pope Francis will see Carlin’s work in person if, as is speculated, he attends the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, planned for Sept. 22-27, 2015. Carlin is the commissioned artist, and his painting of the Holy Family will be on view at the meeting.

But even if the meeting can’t get on the pope’s busy schedule, Carlin says that Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput is bringing a digital version of his painting to present to Francis. “So if he hasn’t seen it yet, I’m sure that very shortly he will,” Carlin said.

Read more of my article “Artist brings interior radiance to global stage in painting for World Meeting of Families” in National Catholic Reporter.

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U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum adopts new rules to attract digital generation

US Holocaust Memorial Museum

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, as staff members and visitors alike are wont to repeat, is unlike other museums. The memorial to Holocaust victims, with its sobering galleries and artifacts, inspires the sort of quiet contemplation more associated with houses of worship than art museums. Even the architecture — particularly the atrium’s steel-ribbed ceiling — suggests visitors have passed through a portal to a different world than the one they left outside.

But a year after celebrating its 20th anniversary, as survivors age and the era without eyewitnesses looms, the museum has been forced to evolve. On Sept. 10, it launched a mobile app designed to complement a museum visit, effectively reversing a ban on smartphone use in its permanent collection. (The launch was so soft that several days after the app was live, museum staff members were still directing incoming visitors to turn off their phones.)

Museum officials say they will announce a reversal of the ban on photography in the permanent exhibit later this fall. The ban has been in place since the museum opened in 1993.

Read more of my Washington Post article “U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum adopts new rules to attract digital generation.”

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In faith-based communities, college completion may be uniquely emphasized

Growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1960s and ’70s, Odell Cleveland leveraged his basketball skills to land a college scholarship. The 6-foot-3 Cleveland would go on to earn a place in the University of South Carolina Upstate’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

“I’m one of those individuals who came from just a poor, poor background, and because at the time I was able to play sports in America, I was able to go to college, get an education. I saw that education itself helped turn my life around,” said Cleveland, now a senior pastor and chief administrative officer at the 4,000-member Mount Zion Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.

In addition to his church role, Cleveland chairs the advisory board for the college completion initiative Degrees Matter!, which receives funding from the Lumina Foundation, an Indiana-based nonprofit that tries to get more students enrolled in college.

He’s not the only one who thinks that houses of worship can partner with local postsecondary schools to preach the importance of higher education.

Read more of my article “In faith-based communities, college completion may be uniquely emphasized” in Deseret News.

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