Artist Kerry Vesper

Artist Kerry Vesper applies the first coat of finish to a large wall sculpture.

When the leadership at Congregation NefeshSoul decided it was ready for a yahrzeit board, they knew just who to ask.

Founded by Rabbi Susan Schanerman and Robin Manelis in October 2013, NefeshSoul tapped Kerry Vesper, a sculptor working primarily in wood.

“Kerry’s skill and artistry as a wood sculptor were known to many of us in Congregation NefeshSoul’s early days and we were delighted when he offered to design our ark, our tallit holder, shofar stand and now our yahrzeit board,” said Schanerman. “Kerry has left an indelible mark on our synagogue’s ritual objects.”

Vesper is married to Joyce Vesper, NefeshSoul’s Shabbat Oneg chair and a member of its board of trustees.

“I refer to myself as being Jewish by association,” Vesper said with a chuckle. “I was raised as a Protestant, but I gave up that religion decades ago. I really like the Jewish tradition. Of course, my wife is a practicing Jew. I enjoy going to the services and appreciate the traditions, even though they’re not my own.”

Vesper has plenty of synagogue experience. He designed and constructed an ark for Congregation Merkaz Ha’Iyr, in addition to a tallit rack and yarmulke holder for Temple Emanuel of Tempe.

Vesper’s award-winning work has been displayed in art shows, juried competitions and galleries across the country. His signature style is the use of layers of Baltic birch plywood and exotic hardwoods shaped into abstract forms, often attempting to mimic the appearance of other materials such as metal or glass.

For his art, Vesper draws inspiration from a number of sources, particularly the desert environment where he has lived since 1948.

“I like to say that the process I use of layering wood and then grinding and sanding it to create my sculptural forms mimics the way nature grinds and sands the strata of earth with her sculpting tools — wind, water and sand — to create mountains, canyons and rock formations,” Vesper said.

Vesper first tried woodworking while studying at Arizona State University. He continued to hone his craft while working for social service organizations, until becoming a full-time artist in 1985.

“Like many artists, I experimented with several different media, including clay, bronze casting and fiber glass, but finally returned to my first love, wood,” Vesper said. “Early in my career, I started experimenting with stacking layers of plywood to make bowls. They were simple at first and became more sculptural and more complex over the years.”

Around 20 years ago, Vesper took a local art consultant’s advice to make an abstract sculpture that could be hung on a wall. Eventually, these works would become his most popular.

The yahrzeit board is expected to be dedicated during this year’s High Holidays. JN

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