Paper Quilts Unleash Local’s Youth


By Domenica Farishian

Looking for the secret to staying young? Zelda Tanenbaum, an 85-year-young Westbury artist apparently has unlocked the fountain of her youth, and it’s all about finding your passion.

“My art is really exciting to me. I love doing it.” Tanenbaum explains with an exuberant zestfulness that defies her age.ZeldaTennanbaum_052814A

While Tanenbaum has dabbled in all sorts of art forms for her entire life, it is the art genre that she herself created and found later in life, that brings her the most joy. “I always wanted to make quilts and I finally started to do it at 70.”

Hers are not your typical tapestry- made quilts however. “All my quilts are made from handmade paper.” Each handmade piece of paper, Tanenbaum explains, is meticulously embossed with the fabric of her choice using her prized etching press that she bought years ago.

Tanenbaum says she created this particular art form for two very simple reasons. The first being, she had always wanted to make quilts, the second, and perhaps more important reason, “I don’t know how to sew. I discovered a way to make quilts without sewing.” Tanenbaum laughs.

Her one of a kind art pieces are intricately woven together to create a wall hanging that looks just like a fabric made quilt. Each of her designs are inspired by the people she says have been most influential in her life. “All of my quilts are dedicated to the wonderful women in my life,” she says.

It is probably no big surprise that the women in her life are her true inspiration. When the 18-year-old newly high school graduate went to her parents with her original dream of becoming an architect her mother was all for it, but her father wouldn’t have it. “He told me girls do diapers and dishes.”

That statement didn’t hold Tanenbaum back from pursuing college though. She enrolled at Hunter College and studied Art. During her college career Tanenbaum studied everything from oil paintings to photography. She joined the Art Students League rubbing elbows with some famous artists of the day.

After graduation she took a day job selling hats, and by night she began teaching part-time at the studio out of her home she shared with her new husband, Irwin. She found her students through the connections she made at Hunter College.

Soon after she and Irwin decided to start a family. Even while raising her three daughters Tanenbaum kept busy, not only as a teacher, but as a constant student of art. “I was always going to art school and always learning more about my craft.”

Besides her love of art, Tanenbaum’s love of Architecture continued, that translated into another side career as an Interior Designer. “I spent years and years doing interior design. I just love it.”

It was on one of her many hunts for the perfect decorative item for one of her interior design clients that Tanenbaum found the piece that would change the course of her art career. “I saw this etching press and I became fascinated. I knew I just had to have it.”

In addition to etching her handmade paper quilts. Tanenbaum also decided to make invitations. The first set for her grandson’s Bar Mitvah, a decision that turned out to be fate. “The next thing I knew I got a call from Brides magazine to make invitations to appear in the publication.” To this day Tanenbaum doesn’t know how the magazine learned about her work.

Her handmade paper woven invitations were featured in the magazine back in 2005. Tanenbaum was shocked to see how it spiraled from there. “My phone started ringing off the hook with brides from all across the country.” Each caller placing an order for invitations similar to the one featured in the magazine.

The next thing she knew Tanenbaum was creating cards, announcements, and even her very own business cards.

There are no signs that even now Tanenbaum is ready to slow down. Last year, not long after her 84th birthday, she joined Westbury’s newly formed Art Council. “The Westbury Council for the Arts.”

“We’ll see what happens next,” says the ever-youthful artist.

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