Tallahassee Talks with Brien Sorne Radio recently hosted a conversation with multiple Florida State University professors regarding the book titled Two Regimes: A Mother’s Memoir of Wartime Survival. The conversation focused on accompanying art underneath a house in North Florida over fifteen years ago, and Florida State University’s Department of Art Education Professor and Chairperson, Dr. Dave Gussak was able to speak about his involvement with the project.
The book Two Regimes contains Teodora Verbitskya’s memoir along with paintings by her daughter Nadia Werbitskya, edited by Mimi Shaw and Kelly Bowen. Both the manuscript and the artwork are quite historical and have global significance. It illustrates the story of how three women survived the chaos of war and destruction before, during, and after World War II. Verbitskya and her family witnessed 7,500 Jewish murders in their Russian hometown, and illustrated this in the painting titled “Hell’s Threshold.”
In order to continue the project, an additional $25,000 is needed. At least $7,000 was donated from private groups in south Florida this summer, but the Foundation is still accepting contributions.
To find out more about supporting the project, contact Sheila Costigan at 850-487-7881, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fifteen years ago, a discovery was made by Mimi Shaw in the most unorthodox of places. To her surprise, uncovered underneath a house in North Florida were worn, old manuscripts, sketches, and paintings that each told a story about the suffering and survival of a Russian Holocaust victim. After purchasing this collection in an estate sale, Mimi, along with academics and historians, worked diligently to piece together what turned out to be a fascinating look into a turbulent time in history.
After translating the newly discovered artifacts, Mimi was able to discern that the works chronicled Teodora Verbitskya’s experiences during Stalin’s Soviet Union and in a Nazi-run labor camp. She also learned that Teodora’s daughter, Nadia Werbitzky, was an artist who created powerful works documenting her experiences. Immediately, Mimi knew that this freshly discovered information must be shared with a larger audience.
In 2009, because of his work with the Florida State University Holocaust institute for Educators, Dr. Gussak was asked to assist in the creation of an art show and later a book showcasing the works. Dr. Gussak has stated that, for him, this project was more passion than work. Those involved in this project are working on incorporating the artwork discovered by Mimi Shaw into Leon County Schools to teach K-12 students about the Holocaust.
With the help of Kelly Bowen, a friend that worked alongside Mimi, and the Foundation of Leon County Schools director Sheila Costigan, a $25,000 Culture Builds Florida grant was written and approved by the legislature this summer. This grant will partially fund the restoration of more than 130 Werbitzky paintings, traveling school exhibitions, and musical puppet shows for students, from kindergarten through third grade.
David Gussak, Ph.D., ATR-BC., is a Professor and the Chairperson for The Florida State University Department of Art Education. He has presented both nationally and internationally on art therapy in forensics and served as a visiting professor at universities across the country. He also served as Director-at-Large on the Board of Directors for the American Art Therapy Association and received a Distinguished Research Award from the College of Fine Arts.
Dr. Gussak’s research and studies focus on how people can and have used art as a coping or therapeutic method in stressful situations and lectures every year at the FSU Holocaust Institute on the art from that time period. In some cases the surviving pieces may have been the only voice that the victims had, and could eventually be the only evidence left of that time in history. In his essay “A Brief History on the Art of the Holocaust,” Gussak writes:
Despite, or because of, atrocities of the Holocaust, incredible artistic images emerged. The haunting and evocative representations give voice to what really happened during these atrocities…The brave souls who retaliated with only art materials risked death to guarantee that their stories endured. Those who survived are compelled to convey their experiences through art.