Don Harrison, the editor of the San Diego Jewish World website (sdjewishworld.com), whose motto is ‘There’s a Jewish story everywhere,’ mailed me some time ago and asked me to contact a woman called Becky Guttin who would be coming to Israel in order to prepare a sculpture in Jerusalem. Don’s site reproduces the monthly column I write for the AJR Journal in London under the heading ‘Letter from Israel’ (www.ajr.org.uk) and thought it would be a good idea if I interviewed the lady concerned and wrote a piece about her. I was in France at the time and the lady in San Diego. We e-mailed one another a few times and agreed to try and meet once we were both in Jerusalem. Believe me, getting together was no simple matter, as she had a busy schedule, and was subject to the timetables dictated by other people who are also involved in setting up the sculpture (architect, engineer, contractor, etc.), and I’m not always available either.
We finally arranged to meet while I was on volunteering duty at the Israel Museum. I’m allowed a coffee break during my weekly 4-hour stint, and I decided to make use of it to meet Becky. Thus it was that on a Sunday afternoon I walked into the Museum’s café wondering how I would identify the person I was supposed to interview. i hadn’t needed to worry. A petite lady with short dark hair and amazing green eyes called out my name as I entered the cAafé, even though we had never set eyes on one another before. “You just looked like someone who would be called Dorothea,” she said to me, and won my heart in an instant. That was how I met Becky Guttin who had come to Israel to supervise the construction of her latest sculpture, a structure which she defines as a ‘mini-amphitheater.’ It will join several other of her pieces, which are to be found in the towns of Carmiel, Rishon Letzion, Afikim, and Ma’a lot Tarshiha in Israel.
Becky, who was born in Mexico City, now lives in San Diego, and her sculptures are to be found in towns and cities all over the world. Thus, countries such as Italy, France, Israel, India, Seoul, Spain and Luxembourg, amongst others, all boast pieces that are her work. The mini-amphitheater that is currently being built in Jerusalem’s Nayot neighborhood constitutes the culmination of six years of bureaucratic procedures and delays caused by political events (wars in Lebanon and Gaza), following the Jerusalem Municipality’s initial acceptance of one of the three projects proposed by Becky, at their request, in 2006.
The process of finding exactly the right location for the sculpture also took time, Becky told me. She visited Israel several times, checked various locations that were proposed for the project, but was not satisfied with any until she was shown the park in the Nayot neighborhood, abutting the Valley of the Cross. She claims that she immediately fell in love with the place. The time involved in obtaining the necessary building permit as well as personnel changes in the Jerusalem municipality also contributed to the six-year delay between inception and execution of the project, which, according to Becky, combines the Mexican, Jewish and American elements of her life and background. An aerial view of the amphitheater shows a series of pyramid-shaped colored triangles which combine to form a Star of David.
The most important aspect of the amphitheater, according to Becky, is that there are no gates or locks, and it is open to everyone. Becky hopes that it will become a popular site where people can come and congregate, hold poetry readings, perform music, hold family celebrations, or simply sit and enjoy the place.
Becky has an engaging personality and conveys a sense of youthful vitality that belies her age (she has three grown-up children). Her father, Rafael Mareyna, who accompanied her on this trip, is himself a painter, and Becky maintains that she grew up in his studio and that it was there that she learned about art. After starting out as a teacher of Hebrew and Yiddish in Mexico City, she took a sabbatical, rented a studio, and began to produce sculptures. One exhibition led to another, and one invitation to another, so that by now Becky has acquired an international reputation and is inundated with requests for her sculptures from every corner of the world.
Today Becky has her own studio in San Diego, an extensive website (beckyguttin.com) and produces jewelry and pictures as well as sculptures. She hopes that the official opening of the sculpture will take place early in 2013, and, like her, I’m looking forward to attending that event.