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Who's Who: Janet Lipkin, Artist and Teacher

On weekdays we feature a chat with someone who lives or works in El Cerrito.

Who's Who: Janet Lipkin, Artist and Teacher

Name: Janet Lipkin

Age: “My spirit is that of a young artist”

Occupation: Art teacher at l, professional artist

About you. I am an art teacher. I’ve been here (at Tehiyah Day School) for 17 years. I’m also a professional artist. (We) created — years ago in the late '60s, early ‘70s — the “art to wear” movement. It didn’t exist, the word "artwear," before my friends and myself in college were crocheting garments. … In that realm I’m collected in major museums — the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the de Young Museum here in San Francisco, the Oakland Museum, the Museum of Art and Design in New York. And I just got a phone call that a piece is probably going to be bought by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I’m a working artist as well as an educator. In '92 I started doing printmaking and monotypes.

Does that comprise the bulk of what you do in your life as an artist? Yes. Until two years ago, I only worked here (at Tehiyah Day School) three days a week. I taught adult printmaking and adult painting. I was also able to work along with my students, but I’m full-time here now, so my own studio time is condensed. I’m working all the time.

Are you a local to the area? I once was not local. I grew up on the East Coast; I went to Pratt Institute for Art. I finished in '70 with honors. I moved here — to Berkeley first in ’71 — left, came back in ’73 and stayed. I moved to El Cerrito because I was priced out of the market in Berkeley, and I’m very happy. I love my house. I’m right down the street and I have two studios in my house.

The sad part of my story is my husband passed away a year and two months ago. That’s why I’m working here full-time. He was a photographer. We did a book of his work. His name was Barry Shapiro. He was the principal of MacGregor High School in Albany and the Albany Adult School, until he got ill and he had to retire. He passed eight months after that. In his process he went through photographs of work that he had done. A show came, through connections. … It’s basically images of all around the Bay Area and Hunter’s Point from 1972 to 1982. [His book is A Dangerously Curious Eye: The Edge of San Francisco, Photographs by Barry Shapiro 1972-1982].

With Barry I raised two teenagers and we have six grandchildren. And then we had two of our own children. Four kids altogether, but generations apart.

How did you end up at Tehiyah? I was a mother and I was a professional artist doing my art to wear, that whole history of mine — I had many jobs, I ran companies — when I had two young children and my husband was also a freelance photographer. … Having the two young children was too much if I had a show. … I couldn’t put both things together. I started volunteering when one of my children was in kindergarten at , in the art room. … Then, I started an artist-in-residence over here two years later. It worked great because I had my own professional time to create. Really I’m a die-hard artist.  

Tell me about your summer art camp for girls? I started working with Laura Raboff. That was the art teacher at Prospect Sierra at that time. She’s still there, but only one day a week now. We became friends. Our kids were both in kindergarten together. Over time we became colleagues because she’s a fine artist too. Ten years ago we started this camp, Pleiades' Palette, to empower girls. The journey of being an artist as a woman is a hard journey. Although it’s improving, we wanted girls to know they could be artists. Each week we focus on one artist. It is super wonderful. The great part about it is that they’re like little soul sisters. … We have to beg them to go to lunch and recess and beg them to stop working.

You don’t have to be Jewish (to attend). We have kids from 20 schools. We just run it here. My focus here is as a Jewish educator, but I don’t just do art related to the Jewish culture and Jewish life. I teach about all artists, all cultures, the general curriculum. 

[For my art class] I pick one artist every year to focus on. Sometimes it's related to a show that's happening in San Francisco; sometimes it's an artist I've just learned about. 

Why my (art) program is so great is parents have to give 30 hours to the school, and I have dedicated volunteers teaching the kids one-on-one. I feel supported and creativity is very supported.

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