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Brushstrokes of the Spirit

C. Brosh

Her striking works of art are recognized across the globe, yet her inspiration comes from within. Naama (Kitov) Nothmann embraces her artistic talents and directs them to bring her closer to her creator.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

painting of housesHer spacious studio in Johannesburg overlooks flowering trees and a sparkling pool of water. Chirping birds add to the ambiance of serenity. Naama Nothmann sits before a canvas, paintbrush poised, inspired not only by her tranquil surroundings, but by something much farther away: loving parents who steadfastly believed in their children; a warm, welcoming home in Yerushalayim; and a simpler time when joy and spirit triumphed over physical adversity and poverty.

Born in 1943 to renowned educator and author Eliyahu Kitov and beloved teacher Hinda Rivkah, Naama’s early years were suffused with unbending faith and a love of the land of Israel. Although her husband’s business took them to South Africa (where a two-year sojourn turned into 25), Naama’s wistfulness for her homeland endures through her artwork.

“My father oft repeated, ‘In This World, that which a person doesn’t own is his greatest asset, as this lack endows a person with the greatest possible potential — the potential for aspiration, for yearning to turn what he doesn’t own into his own.’ This is exactly what I felt throughout all these years in Johannesburg. Eretz Yisrael, the warm, loving embrace of my childhood, the people, the magnificent vistas — all that I miss so desperately — these are also my most precious personal resources, especially relative to my art. This lack, all that I’ve been missing, cultivated within me a desire to reclaim them, inspiring me to develop my works here in Johannesburg.”


Nurturing the Creative Spirit

Naama grew up with a pencil in hand, using every opportunity to express herself through art. “I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember — during class, recess, and everywhere in between!” she exclaims. “I drew poster boards for school, for the nurses’ room, and for anyone who asked. I also spent much time at home drawing.” She wasn’t alone as she sketched — sisters Ruti (Ben Arza) and Rucha (Kitzes) shared her love of art, and the three of them spent many happy hours together absorbed in a world of crafts.

This familial delight in all things art was no accident. Rabbi Kitov encouraged his children to develop their artistic expression as a way of sharpening their minds. “Abba believed that constant creativity in any field hones the thought processes,” Naama recalls. Rabbi Kitov demonstrated this himself — he was always looking to invent more efficient processes, even for the simplest household tasks. For example, Naama speaks of his ingenious method for washing dishes and laying them out to dry quickly in the smallest amount of space (a talent that resulted from cleaning up the weekly kiddush he hosted at home for the members of his shul).

“I’ll never forget how he once created artistic cubes out of semolina — a food none of us particularly favored — so we’d like it better,” Naama continues. “There’s no doubt that Abba was my primary source of inspiration.” The innovative antics of father and children frequently disrupted the perfect order of the house, but Mrs. Kitov, a spirited woman, took pride in watching her brood expand their imaginations.

With her father’s encouragement, Naama took courses in graphics and art. He invested greatly in her development, purchasing state-of-the-art graphic instruments (since computers were not yet the popular graphic tools they are today) and specially ordering Graphis Annual, a Swiss art journal featuring the works of highly talented artists.

“My father deeply enjoyed and took pride in every step of my progress. He took special interest in my work, inquiring about my studies and homework, and furnishing me with a plethora of ideas that we spent hours nurturing together.” This attention was not merely academic; he was a caring father who used every opportunity to show his love for his children. Naama relates, “When I would return home from school in Tel Aviv on the last intercity bus in the cold winter months, he always prepared a bowl of hot water so I could soak my freezing feet.”

After Naama graduated, her father allotted a niche in his office in the old Beit Ha’Am building on Jaffa Street for her to open an art studio. Here she received education in matters beyond art. “The hours I spent in that studio in Abba’s presence were key moments in my life,” Naama states definitively. As the two worked alongside each other, “he often discussed his writings with me, occasionally sought my advice, and always complimented my ideas. I was also witness to his fascinating conversations with his many friends.”

Since there were few religious graphic artists at the time — and even fewer who could understand the needs of the chareidi populace — Naama’s business flourished. In time, Naama gained a positive reputation in other sectors and completed work for government offices, hospitals, even Tel Aviv University. “I designed many a book cover, logo, wine label, and even a special font for the dibbur hamaschil [header text] used by the Talman Talmud Bavli,” she shares. Naama also used her talent and experience to introduce others to the field she loved, founding graphic courses for Bais Yaakov girls. At the time, her classes were the only option for frum young women who aspired to develop their artistic talents.


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