This week’s Torah reading, the double-header that finishes the fourth book, finishes with the well known episode of בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד. The daughters petitioned and were granted the right to inherit their father’s property in the absence of sons as heirs, albeit with the caveat that they retain property right if they marry within the fold of their father’s tribe. Wikipedia depicts their plea with the following graphic:
But my incomparable friend, Jeffrey Packard, presents a more intimate and nuanced portrait of the five daughters on his facebook page. Packard’s depiction captures the spirit of what might have gone on behind the scenes. He writes that the five sisters lost their father, and something had to be done.
While the sisters have become emblematic of women’s rights, we can envision that they each had their own personality and perspective that had to be melded into a unified approach. There likely was fuzziness at the boundaries of this story, as commentaries to the Torah hint on the matter.
In reply to one of his many facebook fans, Jeffrey comments: “I took some liberty in portraying John Singer Sargent”. From the Amazon description of a book about Sargent’s watercolors comes the following:
“John Singer Sargent’s approach to watercolor was unconventional. Going beyond turn-of-the-century standards for carefully delineated and composed landscapes filled with transparent washes, his confidently bold, dense strokes and loosely defined forms startled critics and fellow practitioners alike. One reviewer of an exhibition in London proclaimed him ‘an eagle in a dove-cote’; another called his work ‘swagger’ watercolors. For Sargent, however, the watercolors were not so much about swagger as about a renewed and liberated approach to painting. In watercolor, his vision became more personal and his works more interconnected, as he considered the way one image–often of a friend or favorite place–enhanced another.”
Packard softened his channeling of Sargent, and I can think of no better tribute to the ongoing evolution of Packard’s artistic creativity than the words used to characterize Sargent above. To borrow the phraseology, I marvel at Packard’s renewed and liberated approach. His vision continues to become more personal, with his weekly biblical portrayals interconnecting themes through a variety of spiritual motifs.