by Len Lear
If you happen to walk by Jyoti, an excellent takeout Indian restaurant at Germantown Avenue and Nippon Street in West Mt. Airy, you just may see some artistic young people creating beautiful outdoor murals, thanks to an after-school program through Mt. Airy Art Garage, run by one of the area’s most beloved and gifted artists/art teachers, Meri Adelman.
Adelman, 60-ish, whose own work is currently on exhibit – along with the work of other local artists – on the walls of LeBus, a one-year-old restaurant at the corner of Ridge and Midvale Avenues in East Falls, has shown in recent years what courage can do to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
The Newtown, Massachusetts, native, whose brain tumor forced her to leave the position of Robert L. McNeil Curator of Education that she held at Woodmere Art Museum from 1992 to 2005, has been drawing since she was 11 years old. She exhibited and drew only in black and white until a benign brain tumor was removed in 2005.
Told by doctors to expect nothing to change except maybe needing some rehabilitation, it was dramatic when her voice was transformed permanently. She also remains somewhat off-balance, but “the faster I walk the steadier I am. If I walk too slow, I’m more likely to walk into something.”
In an earlier interview, Adelman told me, “Being in a wheelchair and drooling really shook me up. Luckily, I can use my own legs now, and I only spit occasionally, but hey, so do camels … You might say it blew the top of my head off, or as I like to say, ‘popped my cork.’ I even have a painting of that. It’s like an ongoing hallucination; everything is more intense than ever before.”
Adelman is still as busy helping others as anyone who never had a brain tumor. In addition to helping young people paint murals, she works in the clay studio at Center in the Park in Germantown, where her teacher is Jimmy Clark, a highly esteemed potter. (You might say he is an artistic Harry Potter.)
She also creates art at Six Senses Collaborative Clay Studio on East Mt. Airy Avenue with the help of Cornelia Keitzman, owner, artist and teacher. She also teaches at Mt. Airy Learning Tree and at Six Senses. (Check out the website.)
“You can come and make a bunny as part of the Clay Bunny project,” she said. “You make a bunny for free, and after they’re fired, they sell for $5. All money raised goes to help women and girls involved with sex-trafficking and modern day slavery.”
Adelman has also shown her paintings and clay work at the 3rd Street Gallery and was in a group show at Settlement Music School in Germantown through May 4. She painted portraits in the first exhibit (November, 2017) of “Souls Shot: Portraits of victims of gun violence,” at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, which is now in its second round of portraits shown at different sites.
Who are Adelman’s own favorite artists, past and present?
“Old favorites are Alice Neel for the honesty and immediacy of her portraits and plusher use of Black Line. Arshille Gorky for showing me how to get around the rectangle. Cézanne for continually untwining and retwining the difference between the second and third dimension. All artists contribute something to my understanding of space on the flat surface.”
What was the hardest thing Adelman ever had to do?
“Daily existence. This is a kind of existential response. It’s really hard to keep going every day. To do what one does best without wondering about its purpose and why.”
What is the best advice Adelman ever received?
Which talent that Adelman does not have would she most like to have?
“More, more, more. Of course I want to be more talented in every sphere – singing, writing, painting. Mostly, energy until the end of my time would be really helpful.”
If Adelman could live anywhere on earth, where would it be and why?
“I think the answer is Mt. Airy. It’s where I choose to live. It is a lovely community protected somehow from the harsh realities of the U.S. I have a great group of friends here and people I admire, and there’s no place like home.”
If Adelman could meet and spend time with anyone on earth, who would it be?
Adelman also has two sons she is proud of, Ben and Zev.
For more information, contact Adelman at meriadelman.com. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org