A new gallery of works by Episcopal artists, titled "Saints & Family" was launched this week on the homepage of Episcopal Church's web site.
The images and icons span the history of the Christian church, beginning with the announcement of the birth of Jesus through to the present decade. As with the preceding gallery, "The Faces of Christ," which debuted with the unveiling of the church's redesigned web site two years ago, members of the Episcopal Church and Visual Arts collaborated in the development of this new gallery.
"These images and icons of saints and Jesus' family invite us into an intimate space where we see the sacred and human come together in art," says the curator's statement that accompanies the gallery. "A mother holds her tender, holy child. A father fishes with his Savior son. Cousins comfort each other and point to a new way. An apostle pauses, inspired, imprisoned. An abbess and abbot lead their flocks wisely. A Cheyenne chief and Chinese priest embrace the Word. A freed slave leads us to deeper truths."
All who are depicted in the art are celebrated in the church's calendar each year, either on major feast days or in the propers in the Book of Common Prayer that commemorates the lives of martyrs, missionaries, pastors, theologians, teachers and monastics.
Five of the selections of art were featured in the Visual Prelude, a series of works from many Episcopal artists shown on a giant screen preceding daily worship at the 2006 General Convention last summer. All of the art has been created by members of the Episcopal Church and Visual Arts or for Episcopal worship spaces.
Many media used
"We have everything from wonderful woodcuts to stained glass, to icon paintings," said Brie Dodson, an artist from Fairfax, Virginia, who is communications and exhibitions director for the ECVA. "There's a multi-media piece, a watercolor with collage and boxes of 'Madonna and Child' by Christine Nicoll Parson. There are some traditional icons, such as Suzanne Schleck's 'Virgin of Tenderness' and some traditional icon concepts painted in a modern way, such as Laurie Gudim's 'St. John the Baptist' and Ellen Poisson's 'The Rev. Li Tim-Oi.'"
For six months, Mel Alborn, president of ECVA, worked collaboratively with Bowie Snodgrass, web content editor at the Episcopal Church Center, and Wade Hampton, art director, selecting the saints, composing the curatorial texts, and producing the online lay out. From the outset, they culled images primarily from previous ECVA exhibitions.
"The artists' subjects call us to listen to the wisdom of generations, inspire us to find Christ in our own lives and transcend time, inviting us into a spiritual encounter," said Snodgrass, who described the visual images as appealing not only for church "insiders," but to first-time visitors to the web site. "We hope visitors will be moved by the images in some small way and that they will resonate with their religious past."
She said the work of seven women and five men were ultimately selected from dozens of works. Four of the 12 images in the gallery appear randomly on the church's home page.
Dodson said the current exhibition is important to ECVA members because it continues to build on the work done in collaboration with the church's Office of Communication. "It seems that we are able to work more closely together. Before this exhibition, we had 'The Symbols,' a substantial body of work by four artists, symbols that reflect the concepts of Christianity and provided free to anyone who wants to use them."
"Because of that close working relationship, we were able to work on this. Our first exhibition, 'Faces of Christ,' on the church's web site was a huge step forward and brought us a lot more visibility and many more artists who are now participating with us."
Two other ECVA members -- Robin Janning, a writer and editor who is deputy director of communication, and program director Jan Neal, who brought her broad knowledge of church customs and history -- were consulted in the final editorial stages. "We were thrilled to have been involved with this and to have been asked for our input," Dodson said.
Artists get local support
Dodson said there are now about a dozen ECVA local chapters, either established or in some stage of development across the country, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Orlando, Philadelphia, New York and the states of New Jersey and Vermont.
"We are seeing a trend lately … parishes are telling us that they want to participate more fully in the liturgical year, participate in celebrating the church seasons and want to include the saints in their worship," she said. "We believe the 'Saints' exhibition ties in with that and will also tie in with our own exhibition to be launched in Advent, called "Feasts for the Eyes," with artwork depicting the major feasts of the church year.
"For the viewer, visual art enhances the worship experience. Many times it offers a new look at an old concept and in that way people who participate in worship can also deepen their understanding and respond in new ways themselves."