Church calendar features Episcopal artist's work

December 3, 2009

A mixed-media creation by an Episcopal artist who has worked with biblical and liturgical motifs for several years was chosen for the cover and inside page of a Canadian church calendar. Carolyn Coolidge Brown, whose paintings based on the Annunciation and symbols of the Holy Spirit hang throughout the Desmond Tutu Conference Center in New York, said she received "an odd e-mail" earlier in the year about a search for artists to illustrate a 2010 calendar. "I had never submitted in a competition before, she said, "but I had created these birds and thought, 'They are perfect for Pentecost. I'll just send it in.'" Her painting, You Knit Me Together, is included in contemporary art depicting the gospel story from 10 artists from the United States, Canada and England. The calendar includes Scripture readings from the common lectionary for Sundays and special days, descriptions of the Christian seasons, suggestions for ways to celebrate them and liturgical colors for each season. Both the Christian Seasons Calendar and its publisher, The University Hill Congregation, are unorthodox in many ways. The congregation belongs to the United Church of Canada but deliberately owns no church building and worships in the Chapel of the Epiphany at the ecumenical Vancouver School of Theology on the University of British Columbia campus. The calendar opens with the season of Advent, beginning with the first Sunday on Nov. 29, and turns not with the 12 months of the Gregorian calendar but with the rhythm of the Christian seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter and the Season after Pentecost. One calendar page for the Christmas season runs from Dec. 25 to Jan. 5. Brown used chalk, charcoal and acrylic paints, creating a collage element for her art, featured on the fifth Pentecost calendar page, from Sept. 5 through Oct. 16. Author Diana Butler Bass in her book A People's History of Christianity describes how the Christian Seasons Calendar aids in rediscovering Christian practices of hallowing time. She writes: "The University Hill Church publishes the calendar 'to enable the retelling of the life and story of Jesus Christ.' It encourages people to live differently from the dominant culture. They see 'living in God's time' as an act of subversion." Episcopal author Phyllis Tickle calls it the calendar for Christians -- "the mark, instrument and proof-positive of our dual citizenship in both secular and liturgical time." Brown's three years living in New York with her husband and two daughters while he studied at General Theological Seminary were significant in her development as an artist, she said. "Moving from Memphis to New York was a culture shock. The religious aspect of my art evolved due to the atmosphere of living in a seminary [the family lived in an apartment on the seminary grounds] and then having the Metropolitan Museum of Art right there and then [seeing] historic art, especially the Renaissance paintings. "We were in an urban place as well as a spiritual place," she said. "I became interested in all the symbols that were around me, and, being female, I was drawn towards Mary. The symbolism is so rich, and being able to study that in the Met enabled me to create a series on the Annunciation." That evolved into her symbolic paintings of the Holy Spirit and birds, she said. "It just evolved out of that, and it keeps evolving. You open yourself to the universe, and the universe responds." Brown's art has been displayed in Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, a publication focused on mixedmedia techniques that includes paint, photos, paper, fabric, collage items. Her art can be seen at her website. The Christian Seasons Calendar, $14.95 (less for 10 or more copies), can be ordered here.

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