One might not expect an art exhibit to be found inside a cemetery.
Naomi Rabinowitz, however, thinks she has found a superb location to display her glass work — The Center at Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens.
“Whenever people hear that I do all this work in the cemetery, they are like, ‘really?’” Rabinowitz said. “Then they show up and they are amazed.”
Rabinowitz’s exhibit, titled “Off the Page,” is scattered across the walls of the Center at Maple Grove, a space that features benches, stained glass windows, classrooms and an indoor waterfall.
Rabinowitz creates wall art and wearable necklaces from glass that is found in a range of colors.
Her inspiration comes from her favorite artists — abstract creators including Wassily Kandinsky and Georgia O’Keefe — crafting colorful blocks with “bold, bold colors” through doing multiple layerings of glass upon one another.
The exhibit is dedicated to Suzanne Bagley, a close friend of Rabinowitz’s who died in 2014 and is buried in the cemetery.
The center also allowed her to give a flute concert on July 16, which she dedicated to Bagley.
I’ve been looking for an opportunity to do something that was dedicated to her, because we always dedicate events to somebody,” Rabinowitz said. “When they said July 16, everything came together, because it was Bastille Day and she was French.”
Before she became a full-time artist and art teacher, Rabinowitz had a 29-year career as a journalist with Soap Opera Digest.
She moved to Kew Gardens from Long Island, partly to be closer to museums and other sources of art.
“When I was growing up, since I lived on Long Island, we spent almost every weekend in the city and my parents would take me to museums all the time,” she said. “So I had a pretty solid background in just appreciating art. I always enjoyed drawing. I always enjoyed making crafts.”
When Rabinowitz broke her leg in 2010 and was out of work for four months, she was searching for something to do.
In this free time, she began looking at blogs and YouTube videos for how to make jewelry. Soon after, she began selling her creations on Etsy.
“People actually started buying my work, which was really shocking,” she said. “People were buying things that I made.”
When she lost her job at Soap Opera Digest in 2012, Rabinowitz was conflicted about whether she should try and find something new.
Eventually, she decided to head in another professional direction, and take art more seriously as a source of income.
She began taking art classes full time at the 92nd Street YMCA and the Brooklyn Glass, falling in love with glassware and enameling.
“What I like about glass is that it is transformative,” she said, continuing to describe the qualities of glass that make it intriguing.
Rabinowitz layers the glass to create a multi-colored piece that may surprise even her.
“I don’t know what color it’s going to come out. I don’t know what texture it’s going to end up. It’s always a bit of a surprise. I like that after all these years, and all these firings, that I could still be surprised by the end result.”
In 2015, when looking for work in the arts, Rabinowitz began giving flute performances for senior homes.
While it is something she was doing voluntarily, it soon blossomed into an opportunity.
A senior citizen, Judith, at the center had purchased a necklace from Rabinowitz, and Helen Day, a member of the Center at Maple Grove, noticed.
“Helen saw Judith wearing the necklace that she bought from me and was intrigued, and asked her about it,” Rabinowitz said. “She told her, ‘Tell her to give me a call because we do art classes in the cemetery.’ When Judith told me, I thought it was a really strange opportunity. But why not?”
Rabinowitz began teaching glass classes in 2016. Now, her full time job is teaching glass classes throughout the tri-state area, primarily to senior citizens.
“Off the Page” is part of the Center’s “Friends of Maple Grove” exhibit series. Rabinowitz’s art will remain in the center through August 12.
For more information about the exhibits or the center, visit www.maplegrove.biz.