After discovering and admiring an art form in Israel a few years ago, Rae Antonoff returned to America and taught herself how to do it.
It's not just any art medium. Micrography – also known as micro-calligraphy – is a demanding, yet rewarding craft that was developed by Jews hundreds of years ago.
Antonoff scripts impossibly small Hebrew words to create an actual piece of art inspired by women of the Jewish Bible, the books of Genesis and Exodus and a series based on the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.
Antonoff, who has received her Certificate in Jewish Nonprofit Management, recently led High Holy Day services at Adath Yeshurun Synagogue in Aiken. Services concluded Wednesday with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Antonoff brought a portfolio of her work to a breakfast following the evening service, which fascinated members of the congregation.
“It is a type of calligraphy,” she said, “but the lettering is much smaller. It's also a different training process, with each traditional letter as an art form.”
Micrography is not well-known outside of Israel. What separates Antonoff from other artists is her use of color. One of the very few micrographers using color in the United States is David Moss. He has created an entire Haggadah – the text used in the Passover Seder that tells the story of the Jewish people's escape from slavery in Egypt.
For Antonoff, her artwork is directly related to biblical stories of her choice, such as D'vora and Yael, inspired by Judges 3:5. According to the artist's website, D'vora prophesied that a woman would defeat Sisera, the leader of an enemy battling the Israelites. After a battle, Sisera encounters Yael at her home, and then she slays him after he falls asleep, effectively ending the war.
Antonoff said with a laugh that her earliest micrography efforts were not every good.
“Actually, they were absolutely horrible,” she said. “I had to learn how to draw out the shapes and how to fit the text into them. The technicalities aren't that hard, and once you learn how to write the Hebrew script, it's not so physical. It's really about how you imagine it.”
Others might disagree about the physical aspect of her micrography work. Her pieces on the women of the Bible series took seven to 10 hours. More ambitious projects with multiple people and scenes can take 25 hours or more. There is no margin for error. Antonoff has tried bleach and other remedies, but that hasn't worked well. If she makes a mistake, she starts over. Fortunately, that has happened only rarely.
“For me, it's really meditation,” Antonoff said. “I get to play around with texts in class and then get them to come alive. Once I do the drawing, I can copy the text after putting on nice music. Detail work has always been kind of a thing for me.”
She and other artists currently have a show at a gallery in Los Angeles. Antonoff is completing new works for a solo show next spring.
Prints of her micrography, as well as jewelry and crochet pieces, are available through her website, www.raeandesigns.com.
Editor's note: This version of this story has been updated to correct Antonoff's education. The Aiken Standard regrets the error.