The Humanity of Annette Fettman’s Art

by Annette van de Kamp-Wright
Editor of the Jewish Press

Every day, the children at the Pennie Z. Davis Childhood Development Center play outside (well, when the weather allows, that is). When they do, they get to hang out with an intriguing figure: a colorful J. Doe, beautifully decorated by local artist Annette Fettman. Those kids may not know it yet, but that’s a big privilege.

Annette, wife of Cantor Leo Fettman, is one of Omaha’s most treasured and versatile artists. She came to Omaha approximately 37 years ago (but who’s counting?) and for years worked in the kitchen at the Rose Blumkin Home under the supervision of Rabbi Nadoff. She studied art at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the Chicago Academy of Fine Art, UCLA, Creighton, and Bellevue College.

Over the years, she has left her mark on this community. In fact, it’s kind of impossible to go anywhere without at some point being confronted with something she created, and we are a better community for it. From the bronze Mezuzah at the entrance to the JCC Theater, to the beautifully painted Peace bench at the Blumkin Home; from the touching sculpture at the Institute of Holocaust Education, to the aluminum Holocaust remembrance sculpture at Beth Israel, her influence can be felt everywhere.

Much of Annette’s art carries the emotional connotations of remembering the victims of the Holocaust. Her husband, as we all know, is a survivor, and has spoken about his experiences many times throughout his life. The aluminum sculpture at Beth Israel in particular was created with cantor Fettman’s parents, Jacob and Fani Fettman, in mind, as well as other members of their family who perished in Auschwitz alongside them. The six Yahrzeit candles represent the six million; one candle is hidden. In addition, her Zachor sculpture is used every year during Omaha’s Yom HaShoah
commemoration.

“The heat and the gas released in the casting process reminded me as I worked of what happened to my husband’s family,” she said at the time. “The walls in the sculpture represent the Jewish people and their faith, which remains standing strong despite their persecution.” The sculpture was submitted for the 1981 National Holocaust Memorial Competition, and was one of 89 works by artists from throughout the United States to be shown at a special exhibit in New Jersey.

And then there’s her house. Filled to the brim with sculptures, paintings, and Judaica, it showcases exactly how versatile Annette is in what she creates. “I like to try new things all the time,” she said, and it’s evident in everything you see from the spice boxes to Mezuzahs to the beautiful clay glazed Tzedakah boxes. But what leaves the biggest impression is the humanity of her sculptures, and the resilience they show. Art that is heavily influenced by such terrible history could very easily become dark
and depressing; yet whatever Annette creates has an undertone of hope, and continuance. The message is clear: this happened, and it is horrible, and yet we are still here, and we are still human. Many of her sculptures remind us that each one of the six million has a face, a name, and an identity. At the same time, her many Judaic themed sculptures remind us that Jewish life continues; ritual items like Mezuzahs and Shabbat candlesticks are not a memory, but a sign of a continuing and vibrant Jewish life.

Next time you visit the Blumkin Home, I recommend taking a minute to sit on Annette’s blue bench. It was donated by Barbara and Stan Widman, and is located right outside the computer learning center, and it carries a message by Rita Paskowitz: “Every language has a word for peace. Why not say it in yours?”. It’s a good message, and one we can all get behind.

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