Inspired and inspiring

Artists-in-residence find creative homes in churches and cathedrals
June 19, 2009

James Tinsley recalls biking up steep Cedar Street in Berkeley, California, four years ago when he stopped to catch his breath. "I heard the sound of a pipe organ," he said, "and I had the experience to know that it was an exceptionally [good] sounding instrument. And it was in tune!"

Tinsley went to the door of nearby All Souls Church, rang the bell, and yet another opportunity opened for the 60-year-old trumpet player whose international professional career has spanned four decades.

"I found All Souls by accident," said Tinsley, who had just returned to Berkeley to care for his ailing father. His career has seen performances with the Boston Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra, as well as with jazz musicians Chick Corea and Stanley

Today he is artist-in-residence at the Episcopal church, playing at recitals, at weekly services and at jazz vespers, as well as at other venues throughout the San Francisco Bay area.

"As a trumpet player, you want to play in churches because that's where pipe organs are," said Tinsley, who played in historic Roman Catholic and Anglican churches in Canada, accompanying organists on the famed Casavant organs. "And you have great acoustics. The traditional church is not a church for the hip and groovy built for P.A. systems."

Tinsley has become a part of the fabric of the church community, said the Rev. Kristin Nelson Krantz, associate rector at All Souls.

"James adds a real richness to our worship life," she said. "Many parishes only hire brass musicians for special services throughout the year, but James is with us week in and week out."

The Rev. Philip Brochard said that Tinsley's music had attracted newcomers who are now members of All Souls. Woven into church life scores of other artists – musicians, singers, dancers, textile designers, painters, acrobats and even mimes – find a home in Episcopal cathedrals and churches with the designated title "artist-in-residence." For some it means an honorarium when they perform; others find valuable studio space in an atmosphere conducive to their creativity. But all contribute in some way to the vitality of their community's worship.

More than 35 years ago at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York, the artist-in-residence program was founded by James Parks Morton, then the cathedral's visionary dean.

"It was thought – and proven – that having artists on the cathedral close would benefit the cathedral, the cathedral's community and the artists," said Lisa Schubert, vice president of the cathedral's events and communications.

"Artists benefited by being members of a close community and, in many cases, having a home base.

The cathedral's program provides time and space for artists, free from pressures; it offers a place for daily public worship and a community center. It also provides public access to an artist at work. Participants have included Ralph Lee, designer of masks and giant puppets; high wire artist Philippe Petit; musician Paul Winter; singer Judy Collins; and a number of dance and theater ensembles.

Some artist-in-residence endeavors, such as Paul Winter's "Solstice" concerts, have become institutionalized throughout the years. Other artists offer their art on a project basis. As part of the Maundy Thursday vigil at the cathedral this year, poet-in-residence Charles Martin teamed up with other poets and translators for the 12th-anniversary public reading of Dante's Inferno.

With the cathedral's recent rededication, Schubert said, a program called Close Reading: Spotlight on Cathedral Arts was launched that envisions the cathedral as a total work of art and will bring the most important works of art in its collection into public rotation.

Across the country in Kenmore, Washington, a community on Seattle's north shore, exists one of many artist-in-residence programs that simply evolved.

"With my husband, Wade, I began attending Redeemer Episcopal Church about four years ago," said Angela Rockett, a multi-media artist. "And about two years ago, I began to work with the parish's arts committee to design new hangings for the large wall space behind the altar."

After Rockett designs the proposed new art, other committee members join in, repainting old canvases that are 15 feet tall and 5 to 8 feet wide. "It just started growing," she said. New hangings have been produced for each liturgical season in the past two years.

As an artist who uses acrylic paint, paper and fabric, Rockett needed space and was offered a vacant room in the undercroft, which she accepted eagerly.

"It is a great space with big windows, concrete floors and good storage space for canvases," she said. With degrees in Gothic and medieval art and in illustration, she began to paint full time five years ago.

She also has spearheaded shows in the church's nave for local artists for two-month shows three or four times a year. "It's a free space for artists to show their work," she said, describing submissions she had received from as far away as Canada, Florida and England.

The Rev. John Fergueson, rector of Redeemer, described the abstract art as "a new kind of iconography.

"Our hearts get pretty traditional after a while, and this is a way of seeing things through a new set of lenses," he said.

Rockett agreed. "It's not literal painting that I do," she said. "I may see one thing, others may see something else. That's very exciting and proof that the spirit is moving."

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