A consecration with cross collaboration

November 21, 2008

When C. Andrew Doyle is consecrated a bishop coadjutor in Houston on November 22, he will receive all the trappings of his office, including episcopal vestments, a Bible and a pectoral cross.

 

For the newest bishop in the Diocese of Texas, his cross -- a gift from the clergy and people of the diocese -- will be special one. It is the result of weeks of close consultation and planning with Nancy Denmark, a local jewelry artist, who has now created pectoral crosses for a half-dozen men and women who have been consecrated bishops. Doyle, who has a fine arts degree from the University of North Texas and paints watercolors, took a keen interest in the cross's design as it developed.

"As a member of the Fellowship of John the Evangelist, I've worn the fellowship cross in my ministry," he said. "People frequently remark on it and it gives me an opportunity to share about the fellowship. But more importantly, it gives me a chance to teach about St. John's gospel because the cross is created with images from John's gospel."

Doyle said he wanted Denmark to create a teaching cross for use in his episcopal ministry. "The grape vine, one of the images on my fellowship cross, is on the pectoral cross, together with other images that are important to me and symbolic of the gospel. The shape of the cross is an ancient one and happens to be the shape of the pectoral cross of my friend, mentor and bishop, Don Wimberly (whom Doyle will eventually succeed as diocesan bishop). The flowers each represent the resurrection, but also serve to remind me of my wife and children who are big gardeners. The Good Shepherd is a key image for my role as bishop. These images will be both a reminder of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the people who have shaped my life and continue to do so, and my vocation."

Working through the artistic process
"Some of my other cross commissions were collaborations, but this was much more so," said Denmark. "I wondered going into the project if it would be a hindrance or a blessing to my own artistic process. I usually prepare my clients to come to the first meeting with an open slate without fixed ideas. In this situation I said that I would come to the meeting with no preconceived ideas or suggestions. He gave me great guidance and direction without controlling the process. Great qualities for a bishop."

Denmark said that they both remained open to new ideas that "flowed in" during the design process. "The elements that stuck from the first meeting were that he definitely wanted a teaching cross with a Christ figure on it, and he liked the budded cross shape. In that first meeting he suggested incorporating resurrection symbols, possibly flowers. He said he liked the 'arts and crafts style,' which I interpreted as the stylized organic images of nature."

Denmark then embarked on a research process which she does for most of the designs she has created since 1980 when she began designing and crafting Christian jewelry. She chose four botanical symbols and suggested "The Good Shepherd" as the Christ image. Doyle himself contributed ideas for the lion and lamb at the feet of the Shepherd and the vines to complete the space. Until this project, Denmark said she had never created an image of Christ, nor made anything so ornate. "The addition of the lion was a fun thing," she said, recalling the process of collaboration. "My shepherd had two lambs at Christ's feet and one in his arms. The next morning I checked my email and [Doyle] had replied with a copy of the drawing with scribbled notations, one of them being "Crazy idea! What if one of the lambs was a lion? The idea that the shepherd is the one that brings peace to the flock?"

"My first reaction was yes, 'Crazy idea'!", said Denmark. "But then, immediately I thought, 'But I like it!' So that became a beloved and unique element of the design."

Denmark, a member of the Episcopal Church & Visual Arts, said she uses only precious metals, sterling and 14K gold in all her work and often incorporates gemstones into the designs. She has now created 55 designs since the late '80s when she heard a stewardship sermon that caused her, she said, to "create this body of work for the glory of God."

"With that first calling [to be an artist], I committed to give each piece a story, or scripture explanation, to help the wearer communicate their faith to others with words, as well as the visual design. One of my favorite quotes, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, is 'Tell everyone around you of the great love of God. When all else fails, use words.' It's my goal as an artist that each jewelry piece stands on its own as good design without the attached symbolism. It is also my goal that the symbols will communicate without words."

This often results in perfect strangers being drawn to comment on the design, opening a door for the wearer to share their story of faith, she said. "My ministry is sharing the love and glory of God through my design. I hope my work reflects that it is inspired by a source greater than me…I also trust in the Source from whence they [my ideas] flow. It is an ever-flowing fountain for anyone who chooses to drink. I hope to be a faithful and obedient servant to the work, as a co-creator with God, my inspirer."

Further information about Nancy Denmark's Christian jewelry is available here.

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