Mt. Airy artist exhibits COVID-19 and Floyd-related works

Posted 8/7/20

Hoenig and her friend, Theresa Maebori, are seen at a vigil in support of the Black Lives Matter movement on Mermaid Lane in front of Chestnut Hill Meeting on June 7. by Len Lear Rebecca Hoenig, 61, …

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Mt. Airy artist exhibits COVID-19 and Floyd-related works

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Hoenig and her friend, Theresa Maebori, are seen at a vigil in support of the Black Lives Matter movement on Mermaid Lane in front of Chestnut Hill Meeting on June 7.

by Len Lear

Rebecca Hoenig, 61, who grew up in Germantown but has lived in Mt. Airy for the last 30 years, is a full-time artist and art teacher whose work has won countless accolades and been seen in numerous exhibits all over the Philadelphia area. And her whimsical sculpture of “Daisy the Pig” has caused thousands of smiles from those who have seen it on the roof of the Market at the Fareway. “She is still on the roof,” said Rebecca, “unless pigs really can learn to fly.” (The life-size pig sculpture was auctioned off several years ago to benefit the Chestnut Hill Community Fund and Philadelphia Zoo.)

Lately, though, Hoenig has attracted attention with her powerful images on theartblog.org, which asked many highly respected artists in the region to contribute their works to “Artists in the Time of Coronavirus.” The ongoing virtual exhibit can be seen on the artblog website. Hoenig's compelling pieces, “I Can'T Breathe” and “Wear Mask,” for example, with obvious contemporary relevance, are not likely to be forgotten by those viewing them. So we asked Hoenig about them:

•What kind of response have you gotten from these images?

“I have had a number of positive responses from friends and family, including a few people who normally do not reply when I send them links to my art.”

•Since your recent works deal with the major contemporary issues facing the country, how do you feel about all of the demonstrations since the killing of George Floyd?

“I have felt both grateful and sad. Grateful that people are finally waking up to the centuries of injustice and racism in our country, and sad that so many non-violent protesters have been hurt by the police and National Guard. While I am a fine artist who is working on becoming a children’s book illustrator, I have found it difficult to work on the illustrations for my portfolio during this tumultuous time in history.”

•Have you been in any of the demonstrations?

“I did participate in two vigils organized by Quaker meetings in the area. The first was on June 7 on Mermaid Lane that was organized by Chestnut Hill Meeting. It was a lovely event where we simply stood (or sat) in silence facing the street for an hour while holding signs like Black Lives Matter, etc. I put two of my works of art on either side of a sign that I held. As people drove or walked by, almost all of them gave us positive feedback — honking horns, peace signs, encouraging words, etc. It was very moving to have a silent meeting for worship in public.

“The second vigil was on June 28 at Germantown Monthly Meeting, where I am a member. A small group of us gathered on the porch of the meetinghouse while 100 names of people murdered by police or vigilantes (like Trayvon Martin) were solemnly read. After each name, a large bell was struck. I was moved to tears and grateful to be a part of honoring the victims.” (The reading of victim names was organized by a staff member at the American Friends Service Committee.)

•You have quite an unusual technique in these paintings that I have never seen before. Would you please explain it?

“I used stencils for the text and multiple applications of frisket (masking fluid) before painting with watercolors. My application of the paint was very raw and fast and furious without any conscious thought. I used plastic straws to blow the frisket and paint around in a nod to the difficulty of breathing. I actually felt a bit light-headed as I lay on the floor blowing the paint and frisket around as quickly as possible before it dried. I had only used this technique before while teaching watercolor classes up until the pandemic at Allens Lane Art Center. It reminds me of something called spin-art that we used to do when I was little, where you place paper on a rotating surface like a phonograph turntable and squirt paint on the moving paper to create fun designs.”

•Have you been doing your traditional teaching at the Art Museum, MALT, etc., by Zoom or other platform?

“Unfortunately, I have not been teaching in the past few months. I did teach the last few classes of my watercolor class on Zoom back in March. I also did a free pre-recorded collage class available through The Center on the Hill website. I retired from the Philadelphia Museum of Art back in September.”

•How else has the pandemic affected your work?

“It has been interesting to see how much procrastination I am capable of now that I have all the time in the world to make art! I have really had to force myself to work on my illustration work, and I think it is partly because it does not seem very meaningful in the context of all the current suffering around the world.”

For more information, visit rebeccahoenig.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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