love of art, art for love

Artist Profile: Anita Vaughan, Celebrant

In Artist Profile on January 15, 2010 at 11:56 pm

Thank to you, Anita Vaughan, for taking the time to speak with us about your experiences. We look forward to reading your blog to learn more. Next time we’re in Chicago, we hope to meet up!


What does it mean to be a celebrant?


A Celebrant creates ceremonies that celebrate various milestones in people’s lives, which is why we’re known as Lifecycle Celebrants. In my case, I mostly work with couples to create personal, unique wedding ceremonies.

One way a Celebrant ceremony is different from most others, is that a Celebrant tells the couple’s love story. I include anecdotes about how they met, what they love about one another, their plans for the future …. what ever they choose to share with their guests. 

Also, I’m in constant contact with the couple when I’m working on their ceremony and they have complete control over the end results.

How do you integrate different faiths into your ceremonies?

When I’m working with an interfaith – or intercultural – couple, it’s important to honor both of their backgrounds. I spend a lot of time researching traditions and rituals from the different faiths or cultures, so I can offer suggestions of what to include in the ceremony. Quite often, couples are surprised by how beautifully their backgrounds can be blended in a wedding ceremony. 

You write on your website that you use a questionnaire as a means to get to know a couple better. What kinds of questions do you ask?

 I use the questionnaire as a tool to help me create the ceremony and make it personal. I ask the couple to each complete the questionnaire separately. I ask LOTS of questions, such as:

How did you first meet?  How did you feel about your partner at that time?

How did you propose or accept the proposal?

What does your partner do that always makes you laugh?

In what ways has your life changed since meeting your partner?

Are there any special customs or traditions from your background that you would like to include in the wedding?

What is your favorite type of music? Favorite performer? Song?

We are a gay couple looking to publicly declare our vows. Do you have particular advice for us?

The best advice I can offer is to say, “Be true to yourselves.” In other words, your ceremony should reflect your individual personalities and beliefs, as well as your shared love story. It’s your day, it’s your ceremony – you should have it be exactly the way you want.

How does being a celebrant affect your private life?

I have come to realize that I’m doing exactly what I was meant to do. I feel so fulfilled – and happy! When I’m working on a ceremony, especially the part where I tell the couple’s story, I can’t help but think of my own love story. I think about my husband, and how happy we’ve been for the past 16 years. I am constantly reminded of how fortunate I am!

Besides that, I have met some fascinating people! I love meeting new couples and getting to know them through the process of creating their ceremonies. People share their very personal stories with me and I feel a great responsibility when I’m entrusted with such a sacred gift. It’s my duty to honor these precious love stories by creating the most fitting and personal ceremony.

What was one of your favorite details from a wedding that you recently officiated?

I have had several ceremonies that are favorites because of interesting rituals incorporated in the ceremony. One favorite was a pagan ceremony this past summer that included a handfasting, as well as invoking the four directions. I also had another ceremony this summer that included lovely Hindu rituals. There have also been several couples that I really connected with, who will always hold a special place in my heart.

But, my favorite was my friend’s wedding this past Halloween. It was so amazing to work on her ceremony, but it made me a little nervous, too! Especially since I knew many of the guests!

One of the best parts was that my daughter was the flower girl – or flower witch, since it was a costume ball! My family was at the wedding, and it was the first time they saw me perform a ceremony. And afterwards, I put on my Bride of Frankenstein costume and got to have a great dinner and dance the night away!

What would be your dream wedding to officiate?

That’s a tough question, since I’ve already had the chance to be a part of so many amazing weddings. But, to be honest, my greatest wish is that Illinois would legalize gay marriage. Then, my dream wedding would be a LEGAL gay wedding here in Chicago.

For more information, click on Anita’s website or read her blog.


Artist Profile: PasukArt by Sonia Gordon-Walinsky

In Artist Profile on October 20, 2009 at 11:50 am

Sonia Gordon-Walinsky with one of her original, hand-written and painted ketubbot (Jewish marriage contracts). Sonia  Gordon-Walinsky2009

PasukArt by Sonia Gordon-Walinsky

What kind of artwork do you create for weddings?

I create two kinds of artwork for weddings- ketubbot and PasukArt.

PasukArt, as shown above, is my unique creation of Torah artwork that connects a couple’s names with a biblical verse. This artwork is inspired by the rabbinic tradition of ascribing each person a name pasuk- a biblical verse that begins and ends with the first and last letters of one’s name. This beautifully hand-painted artwork is a uniquely meaningful wedding gift that inspires a personal connection to Torah. Along with the artwork I also present a scholarly description of the verses and their connection to the couple’s names.  The verses may be presented under the chuppah, along with the ketubbah, or at another appropriate time.

I also create hand-written and painted custom ketubbot and ketubbah prints. The ketubbah is central to Jewish weddings as the legal contract of the marriage and can also be an expression of the couple’s commitment to each other. My ketubbot bring the couple’s aesthetic into their wedding ceremony and into their home.

After the wedding, your ketubbah or PasukArt will remind you of your wedding day and bring you joy throughout your marriage. At my wedding, our rabbi advised us to read our ketubbah whenever we needed to be reminded of the blissfulness of our wedding day love, and grounded in the promises we made to each other on that day.  

I imagine that many customers have an idea of what kind of ketubbah they have in mind, but difficulty explaining their vision. What kinds of questions do you ask to help learn more about their ideas? 

In my conversations with a couple I try to get a sense of their style and translate it into artistic elements. Often, the partners have different styles that I work at blending together in their ketubbah, making it a true expression of marriage! 

I ask the couple about the kinds of colors, shapes, and textures they are drawn to, and what emotions they want the artwork to elicit.  For example, if you want to feel calmed and happy when you look at your ketubbah, what colors — bright or dark, and particular colors—do this for you?  Perhaps you can figure this out by looking at the artwork on your walls, or the colors you choose to wear.  For the design, do you like floral or geometric, angular or smooth shapes, or a combination?  Would you like your ketubbah to be simple or very detailed and ornate?  If you have strong, vague or no preferences–  it’s all great.  With whatever information I have, I start sketching your ketubbah.  We discuss the sketches together and hone in on the design that you like the most to ensure that you are happy with the finished artwork.

I also consult couples on selecting the ketubbah text that’s right for them. 

How does your personal experience with weddings inform your wedding business?

My husband and I got married a little over 3 years ago, so the planning for our wedding is pretty fresh in my mind.  In my experience as a bride, the most frustrating part of planning our wedding was dealing with vendors and trying to get accurate information about their services and price.  Drawing directly from that, I am upfront about what artwork I create for what costs. Custom artwork can be expensive, but I try to work within a couple’s budget, and have come up with some creative solutions to do so.  I’m aware that it can be a stressful time for the couple, and I do everything I can to make my part of it enjoyable and to bring a sense of holiness to the experience.

When did you begin doing art and how did you get into religious artwork?

I grew up with my mom’s ceramic studio and my dad’s piano studio in our home.  Music, dance and visual art were (and are) as much a part of my life as food. By the age of 10, I was seriously enthusiastic about prayer. 

Throughout my childhood I was engaged in art and prayer, but it wasn’t until I reached college that I really combined these two passions.  I attended List College, the undergraduate school at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, where I studied Jewish literature, and was especially focused on liturgy.  It was at this academic level of analyzing the Hebrew texts that I was inspired by their beauty and moved to create artwork with them.  It’s been over 6 years since then and its exciting for me that there is an endless pool of sources from liturgy, Torah and beyond for me to draw from for my artwork for years to come.

What is your dream commission?

Each PasukArt painting is a journey of research and creation, and is so fulfilling.  I have created PasukArt for all sorts of celebrations- birth, b’nai-mitzvah, marriage, anniversary, conversion, graduations, special events honoring clergy and synagogue functionaries-  and I love people’s reactions to the artwork and the text. I feel that PasukArt enriches celebrations and also has the potential to comfort those in need of healing.  My dream is to continue creating PasukArt for all sorts of life-cycle experiences for individuals, couples and communities and through my artwork to have a positive impact on people’s relationship to Torah. 

How do you integrate art into your everyday life?

My artwork is a part of my spiritual practice. Every chance I get to sit at my table and work is nurturing to my soul.  Every week I have many projects going on, in addition to drawing and painting, these often include translating Hebrew and Aramaic texts, and creating graphic design materials for marketing.  Thankfully, I find these all very enriching and that’s what makes my profession and my passion one and the same.

How can people commission artwork from you?

You can go to my website or just give me a call at (917) 822-7963.

If you’re in New York City on November 18, 2009, you can come by the Heschel School Market Fair from 6-9pm to buy prints.  Email me at pasukart(at)gmail(dot)com for more info.

Artist Profile: Odarka Polanskyj Stockert, Harpist

In Artist Profile on June 3, 2009 at 9:29 pm

©2009 Ferdinand JimenezWe’re sure you’ll enjoy learning more about harpist Odarka Polanskyj Stockert as we did!

You are a harpist who plays at weddings and at other venues. Can you share a little bit about how you became interested in music and how you learned to play so beautifully?

I actually was introduced to the harp via the public television Channel 13 broadcast of the Mr. Rogers show when I was a young child. I studied the harp with Leone Paulson of South Orange, NJ from the age of  seven, and played in The Paulson Harp Ensemble for many years and spent summers in Ireland studying the Celtic Harp. 

How do you help couples to choose the best music for their unique ceremonies?

Well, I like to learn a bit about them, their backgrounds, where the families come from ethnically and religiously and will often pick out music the grandparents might enjoy as well as the young couple.  I’ve had great success with melding traditions of different ethnicities and religions and even will often write something especially for the occasion.

What kinds of questions do couples usually ask you?

I often am asked to make musical suggestions music or song selections especially in complex multicultural weddings, but also I get brides who want alternatives the traditional selections. 

The harp is a large instrument. How do you set up in various venues (outside, up stairs, etc.)?

Well, usually I require handicap access (or at least a small stair count for the larger Wurlitzer Harp I play), but I also have seen an increased interest in the Celtic Harp being used for weddings and that is much more portable and can be carried up a flight of stairs etc. if necessary.  It is also what I often recommend for outdoor weddings and smaller venues.

What was the most unique wedding(s) you ever played at? 

Ooh this could get me in trouble! Do I have to answer that?  Yes, I have played some unique weddings, but I would hate to choose one over the other!  Every one of them is unique and a representation of the love of the two people. 

How does art play a role in your business?

I feel that the whole experience of hearing a harp in a beautiful setting is in itself a work of art.  A kind of performance art that creates an environment that the client is looking for.  The most creative aspect is the music I write on request for some of my clients.  I love doing that and a finished piece of music results with a special dedication for the couple. 

How does art influence your life? 

This is a big question.  I live it every day, pay attention every day.  It is something very hard to describe how one goes about embracing an artistic life.   But it is really about seeing the beautiful things that surround us, not taking them for granted, but taking them in and developing more art, whether it is music or poetry or a painting, it is all the same thing to me.

If you are married, could you share a detail or two about your own wedding?

Sure. I had a very ethnic Ukrainian wedding at St. John’s Church Hall in Newark, New Jersey.  Our biggest requirement was a band and a dance floor , I love dancing tangos and waltzes and I remember asking the Ukrainian Band Tempo to keep the polkas to a minimum and of course the ceremony music which was largely provided by musicians I have met along the way.  It was seventeen years ago so I don’t actually remember that much but people still remember it as one of those really memorable ethnic weddings.  I am so glad I kept so many of the old traditions, because as time goes by we see less and less of them. 

How do people learn more about what you do?

They can visit my websites:  (request to me added to my email list here on contact page) –   NEW songs! (New CD!)  This new CD features a piece I wrote for a wedding last year called “Love in The Mist” and is available on ITunes. itunes! The title ID is Love in the Mist and the artist is my Songwriting duo: Slight Imperfection.

They can also come hear me play live at Cafe Monet in Millburn, NJ on most Sundays at 6pm:


Celtic Harp Music at Cafe Monet


Sundays  6:00 pm


Cost: No cover, BYOB


Cafe Monet

309 Millburn Ave

Millburn, NJ 07041


Reservations recommended (973)376-8555 (Please confirm music for this evening when calling)