Psychologist Maria Jutasi Coleman didn’t mean to revive her Holocaust images from childhood. When she and her partner moved from Phoenix to retire in Bisbee five years ago, she began taking ceramics classes at Cochise College. Creating sculptures depicting the Holocaust “just happened,” Coleman told the AJP. “I was having fun taking classes. This sculpture just came out of me. I became motivated to tell my story.”
Coleman was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1935. She had to wear a yellow star on her dress or coat from age 9. In 1944, her family was forced into a ghetto, followed by a directive to move to a work camp.
“My mother tore the yellow stars from our clothing,” she says, “and risking everything, we fled from the ghetto, climbed a mountain and hid in a refuge until liberation by the Allied Forces.”
Coleman and her mother returned home and later escaped from Soviet-ruled Hungary to Austria. She immigrated to the United States in 1962 and received a Ph.D. in psychology from Union Institute & University in Cincinnati. Coleman married, and has two children and four grandchildren. Her career as a therapist took her to New York City, the Bay Area and Italy, before moving to Arizona in 2003. Along the way, she says, “I developed a certain sensitivity to trauma.”
For more than 60 years, “I have been silent about the experiences, losses and feelings of my childhood, a period of my life permanently marked by the genocide I survived,” writes Coleman in an artist’s statement online at www.mariacoleman sculptor.com. “The ceramic sculptures I make bring to light the images I have carried hidden in my soul for many years. My sculptures are made of dust of the earth, as my beloveds, along with 6 million other Jews, have since become. When people, young and old look at what has emerged from my unconscious, I hope a flag of warning arises that says, ‘Don’t let this happen again anywhere!’”
Her experiences have poured forth in more than 50 pieces of Holocaust art. Several years ago, a group of students from a sociology class at Cochise College invited her to exhibit her work at a Holocaust memorial there. “People had a very strong reaction to the sculptures,” half of which are now on exhibit at Douglas High School; the other half are in a shed built on her Bisbee property. Her work has been displayed at the Tucson Jewish Community Center and at the El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center.
Producing her Holocaust sculptures “was very cathartic,” says Coleman. “I did a lot of speaking. Then I decided I didn’t want the last part of my life to be taken by the Holocaust, like the first part of my life was.”
Currently, Coleman is working on a tile mural of a flamenco dancer and guitarist with an orchestra of animals around them. She’s also making sketches of girls around the world, hoping to bring awareness to the abuse of girls and women worldwide.