Some artists work in one medium, focus on one place, or highlight one theme. Fair Lawn artist Jeffrey Packard — who calls the upcoming display of his artwork a “group show and more” — is not one of them.
Mr. Packard, who is known in the Jewish world for his work in “shul beautification” — designing, among other items, stained glass windows and more than one aron, ner tamid, and Holocaust memorial — is known outside that world as well for his paintings, prints, and watercolors.
Among his Jewish works are a Holocaust memorial in Glen Rock, a display for the Talmudic Research Center in Passaic, and the bimah at Shomrei Torah: The Wayne Conservative Congregation.
“Shomrei Torah’s sanctuary is the jewel in our crown,” reads the congregation’s website, noting that Mr. Packard designed and built the structure in 1987. The artist also has a number of pieces in Teaneck and Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
In Fair Lawn, the artist’s own synagogue — also named Shomrei Torah, but Orthodox and under the helm of Rabbi Benjamin and Shevi Yudin — bears witness to Mr. Packard’s talent and passion for Jewish themes. Asked to create all the artwork in the synagogue, he designed the shul’s stained glass windows as well as the ark, eternal light, and lectern. He also worked on the synagogue’s Holocaust memorial, dedication plaque, and mikvah mosaic.
Among his favorite projects are on-site installations. “I love them and have done many of them,” he said, noting that he made a few miniature golf courses, 2 feet by 2 feet, for his Hebrew school classes.
In addition to working with art media, Mr. Packard also worked with children, “teaching all through the years from 1994 until fairly recently.” Working in a Reform synagogue in Washington Township and Conservative shuls in Park Ridge and Woodcliff Lake, the Orthodox artist has shared his passion for art with students all over Bergen County.
Perhaps most meaningful to him was an installation he made to be displayed at the gate to Auschwitz.
“I used blown neon tubing made in a factory and transported to Poland,” he said, adding that he was accompanied by “an older gentleman, a survivor and a videographer.” At the top of the tubing were the words “Thou Art,” a constant refrain in Mr. Packard’s work.
The Fair Lawn artist started painting when he was 2, and “my mother put a brush in my hand,” he said. “She was a great artist and guided me in all ways. I do everything to applaud and thank her, may she rest in peace, for the love and guidance she afforded me.
“I couldn’t help making art — I was driven to it,” he said, recalling that “painting outdoor scenes and scenes of the Alamo were a love of mine.”
He thinks that his desire to make Jewish art arose “when I was inspired and deeply moved by the Lubavitcher rebbe.” After having met him, “I began to feel that I had something to say.”
Mr. Packard was born in Passaic. He and his family moved to Fair Lawn when he was 5; and after he graduated from high school there he went to Cornell University. He and his wife, Kathi, married in 1976, and he began to sell textile designs. “It was a living,” Mr. Packard said. After about three years, he was done with that. “I felt that I had to try and make a living doing artwork,” he said.
In fact, he had never given up his art. While at Cornell, he made the first in his series of illustrations for weekly Torah readings. “I would read the parsha and make a piece of artwork,” he said. He is now finishing his third series of parshat hashavua works.
Mr. Packard made aliyah in 2007. After six months, he came back to the United States. “It was a trying time,” he said, noting that his wife and children hadn’t made the journey with him and he had chosen to return. The couple have three children: Adam, 35, Rebecca, 32, and Samantha, 29. While he spent some of his time in Israel making art, “I made my living there doing phone connections.”
On his return, he went back to work at a yeshiva in West Hempstead where he had taught previously.
Then, six years ago, he had a stroke. “I can still make art,” he said, noting that he now paints with his left hand. While most of his work was done before the stroke, “there’s much more to come,” he said. “I’ve been reborn with my left hand and can do just about everything.”
While his work has been wide-ranging, Mr. Packard said his art generally has been distinguished by his use of symbolism and a sky motif — often, literally, making pictures of a sky. About two years ago, he decided to focus solely on Jewish themes. Still, his upcoming exhibit at Fair Lawn’s Shomrei Torah is likely to feature many of his earlier, non-Jewish paintings and installations, as well as his Jewish work.