Leila Holtsman used gesso and broad panels of steel to tell the story of the Temple of Dendur, what began as an ancient Nubian temple, got its name after a flashy Roman makeover and is now part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection in New York City.
“I’m trying to tell the story of three different points of the temple’s life,” said Holtsman, who chatted with Patch from her metal studio in Beltsville, Md.
The panels Holtsman created are part of a three-artist, mixed-media exhibit on view at BlackRock Center for the Arts. The theater is hosting a reception Saturday, May 14.
Holtsman said the work featured in the Germantown exhibit are studies for a 120-foot work she’s spent a year developing for an upcoming solo show at Artisphere. She said power and sacrifice were common themes for Dendur. Storyboarding and mockups have helped her organize the concept visually, she said.
“I’ve got well over 100 images going into this piece,” she said. “I’ve got a palette of five, six colors, photos that I’ve purchased that I couldn’t take myself. I’m telling three stories in a frame of how all this came about. It’s a lot to keep up with.”
This fascination with ancient temples started at an early age.
Holtsman of Garrett Park, Md., grew up in Maryland, but her parents were globetrotters. She spent 10 years of her childhood living in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Arabic was her first language, she said.
“When you live there, it really is another world,” she said. “You walk through things that have been left the in the same places that they were built 5,000, … 3,000 years ago. There’s something that takes over your soul, turns you into a romantic and makes you want to protect them and appreciate them just they way they had been left.”
It’s only recently that decided to devote all of her energy to being a full-time artist. Holtsman said she thought her world travels would have led to a government job, working for the U.S. Department of State, perhaps. She has a degree in international studies and Russian from University of Virginia and an MBA from University of Maryland. Yet, she left a job with the Red Cross.
She has no regrets.
“I was quitting a really great job,” Holtsman said. “In terms of the way people look at it here, it was a really desirable job, great paying, great benefits. It was interesting. Because I was leaving that, I thought it was really important to move on to something I really wanted to do. It was part of finding my voice.”