While visiting the Maine State Museum this month, you might be pleasantly surprised to find a beautifully crafted sukkah standing in the atrium of the museum’s entrance. Now, you might be perplexed as to why the sukkah was not constructed outside as you would expect, but it is serving a secondary purpose in addition to celebrating Sukkot.
Award winning Jewish artist Asherah Cinnamon installed the sukkah, titled: Dwelling Place: Sukkah, with the help of volunteers. Its walls are constructed from a weave of sustainably harvested branches and recycled materials. Cinnamon designed the sukkah as a piece of art that brings together faith, community, and the landscape of Maine.
Cinnamon’s parents, survivors of the Holocaust, inspired her to heal the world through her art. Cinnamon immigrated from Shanghai to the Untied States as a baby during WWII. In order to protect her from anti-Semitism, her father avoided sharing much Jewish tradition—making it easier to assimilate. Now, Cinnamon uses her artwork as a means to connect to her Jewish heritage and her family’s storied Jewish history.
Before becoming an artist, Cinnamon worked on social-justice initiatives, as an educator, trainer, and community builder for two decades. For Cinnamon, art school represented a continuation of her work in the community; her artwork is meant to engage the public in an impactful way—encouraging the community to feel as though they are sending positive energy into the world. According to Cinnamon,“the idea of community for me is in building something that brings people together.” Cinnamon’s installations function to heal both herself and the community.
Much of Cinnamon’s work stems from Jewish tradition, like the sukkah now in the museum. She has produced sculptures inspired by Jewish tradition and modeled after Hebrew lettering. Cinnamon says that her initiative to generate healing in the world is “all very much related to the values that I grew up with as a Jew: the ideas of equality, of democracy, and justice for everybody.”
Maine, as well as Judaism, figures prominently in Cinnamon’s work. She feels that Maine is the place in the world where she is most at home. From the winter frost, to the trees, to the rivers, Cinnamon loves Maine and strives to incorporate its wild landscape into her artwork. She feels that it is important to bring natural items into unnatural environments—to remind the community of the significance of the natural world.
Cinnamon’s connection to Jewish heritage, Maine, and her commitment to fostering community are exactly why the museum asked her to build a sukkah in their atrium. Not only is it meant to celebrate Jewishness with the museum’s Jewish patrons, but also reach out a hand of friendship to the museum’s non-Jewish patrons through education. The sukkah encourages visitors to learn more about Jewish culture, heritage, and tradition by taking a look at the new exhibit on the fourth floor of the museum: Maine + Jewish: Two Centuries. The exhibit focuses on the lives of Jewish immigrants and the story of their integration into Maine’s landscape over the past two centuries. It’s a celebration of Jewish heritage and hopes to answer questions from the non-Jewish public about Jews’ place here in Maine. The exhibition opened to the public on Friday, September 21st. It covers topics like why Jews settled in Maine, what religious life was like for early Jewish Mainers, challenges Jewish Mainers have faced, Jewish summer camps, and what careers Jewish Mainers historically took.
The construction of Cinnamon’s original 15’ x 14.5’ structure was supported by a 2011 Award from the Linda and Joel Abromson Foundation. It appears at the Maine State Museum courtesy of Southern Maine Hillel, a program of the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine.
Banner art: Meryl Troop and Arlene & Dean Bandes