At 79 years old, Lorraine Deift is as passionate about art as she was as an 18-year-old commercial art student (now known as graphic design) at the Technical College in Bree Street in the late 1950s. She has spent the last 40 years working at the JAG as a volunteer guide in an effort to share her knowledge with others. Through unconventional teaching methods, which include a tour of the JAG and a yoga session, Lorraine is able to impart her decades worth of knowledge with the young and curious minds.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I was born in the year 1940 in Johannesburg. Growing up, I was always fascinated by art. After I matriculated, I trained as a commercial artist [now known as a graphic designer] and was preparing to go to Paris for a year to further my studies. I decided to go to Durban for holiday before that, and was introduced to my future husband - and that was that! I have two beautiful daughters and two grandchildren who live in North America.
What was your first interaction with art?
JAG and art books.
How did you become involved with JAG?
I saw an ad in the Fair Lady magazine saying that JAG needed volunteer guides. I then reached out to the museum and was interviewed by Rochelle Keene. I then joined a training programme for volunteer guides which at the time was under Jillian Carman.
How long have you been working with JAG?
For 40 years. I have worked under 5 JAG Directors and Chief Curators - Pat Senior, Christopher Till, Rochelle Keene, Clive Kellner, Antoinette Murdoch, and currently, Khwezi Gule.
What drives people to volunteerism?
For me, it’s my passion for art and my love for children.
What have been some of your highlights when it comes to your relationship with the JAG?
JAG acquired a gouache sketch of Gerard Sekoto's "Yellow Houses" on paper and I helped paper restorer Gerda Engelbrecht to restore the work. It had been glued to a piece of cardboard and required hours of meticulous scraping with a surgeon’s scalpel to release it from the cardboard. That was so satisfying!
I have also trained 4 intakes of new guides over the years [including the guides for Africa Remix], and I have co-authored the Dumile Feni Resource Book. Some of the most memorable exhibitions have been Willem Boshoff's “Blind Alphabet”, "The Nose" by William Kentridge, and an exhibition by James Webb titled “MMXII”.
Tells us about how you became involved with the Lapeng Day Care Centre?
The outreach program for Lapeng, which is situated in the Joubert Park precinct, was established by myself, Bea Katz and Tiny Malefane 7 years ago. We have always funded the program ourselves, but we do have two wonderful benefactors to whom we are extremely grateful.
What have been some of the highlights you’ve experienced in sharing your love for art with young children?
We were working with clay during a session with the children from the Lapeng Day Care Centre. A melancholy little girl was slapping her lump of clay around, aimlessly. I asked her if I could help her and I made a little animal. When I handed it back to her, there was a glimmer of awareness in her eyes. She suddenly broke out into a huge smile as she realised the possibilities that the lump of clay presented. This is what you can do with clay! I love that children are so exuberant and curious, and are not afraid to show it.
What is the role that art can play in our society today?
I've always believed that art mirrors life.
You do relaxation/breathing/mindfulness exercises with the kids from Lapeng crèche when they visit JAG tell us about your thinking regarding this?
One of the things I am passionate about is yoga. I have been a practitioner for many years and am very aware of its benefits. By doing elementary asanas with the children, I hope to instill something that will resonate with them as they get older. The yoga complements the art, settles the children, and allows them to be more aware when we do the tour.
Do you have something we can tell prospective Friends of JAG?
The JAG collection is simply amazing. By entering JAG from the south entrance into the Phillips Gallery you can literally "feel" the energy coming off the walls. How great it is to be part of this wonderful institution!