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Associate Professor James Ibur Creates Mural for Jewish Community Center

May 18, 2009

Mrs. Nixon, Governor Jay Nixon, James Ibur, Michael Straenberg  

From left: Mrs Nixon, Governor Jay Nixon, artist James Ibur

and JCC Board President Michael Staenberg in front of

"Tikkun Olam"

Associate Professor James Ibur’s mural entitle “Tikkun Olam” (Repairing the World) was recently installed in the new Jewish Community Center’s Staenberg Family Complex indoor aquatic center. The ambitious 12 by 19-foot artwork was constructed of over 200 individual ceramic pieces and was inspired by two creation myths from UMSL Professor Howard Schwarz’ anthology of Jewish Myths “Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism”. In the first, “Upper Waters are separated from Lower Waters”, and in the second: “ The Shattering of the Vessels and the Gathering of the Sparks”, God sends 10 vessels filled with primordial light to Earth, which break and send “holy sparks” out into the world. Humans were created to gather the sparks by doing good soul works thus repairing the vessels and healing the world.

The planning and construction of the mural was complex and took months to complete. After consulting with Michael Staenberg (Chair of the JCC Board) and the “J” Team many times, Ibur evolved the imagery by shaping and sculpting over 3000 pounds of clay. He then cut the images into pieces which became more than 200 large tiles. The pieces were hollowed out to make them light enough to withstand firing and mounting on the wall and numbered for re-assembly. Then, each piece was fired, glazed and then refired and transported from Ibur’s downtown studio to the new building.
According to the St. Louis Jewish Light, “The result is an interpretation of Genesis, with layer upon layer of meaning. An enormous whale symbolically divides the waters below from waters above…. sea turtles, starfish, seahorses, crustaceans and even a serpent swim through the shimmering green water.”

Ibur explained that the construction of the mural was a monumental project and “the biggest piece of work in my life.”