Toward Columbus: Artists enliven General Convention’s worship space

ECVA’s Visual Preludes artwork now online
June 5, 2006

As the General Convention prepares for Eucharist each morning, the bishops, deputies and guests will be greeted by music and artwork, known as Visual Preludes, projected on large screens as the congregation gathers in the worship space.

The artwork, solicited and curated by the Episcopal Church and Visual Arts (ECVA), in conjunction with the church’s General Convention Office, has been posted online at http://http:// for all to see.

The visual preludes will be used to create an atmosphere for worship appropriate to the day's theme. The days’ themes include Gracious Spirit, Spiritual Sight, For She is the Breadth of the Power of God (30th anniversary of the ordination of women), Friendship with God, Bread of Life, God's Work, Love Astounding, Wisdom of God, and All Things into Christ.

"The art you will see in the Visual Preludes ranges from contemporary realism to the purely abstract, with approaches from the contemplative to the confrontational," said curator and EVCA communications director Brie Dodson. "What unifies the work is this: Every piece in the preludes is a direct response to God. The breadth and depth of these responses speaks to the infinite wonder of the One who unites us all."

Curators Dodson, Jan Neal and Anne Wetzel selected art for the preludes from over 500 submissions sent in from more than 135 artists. Video Editor Dan Hardison created streaming meditations for each day’s worship in Columbus. Part of that work was to select music to accompany the rotating images. Several musicians, vocalists and composers gave permission to use their music for the Visual Preludes including Samuel Burke, Ron Clearfield, Ruth Cunningham, Issac Everett, Ana Hernandez and R.C. Laird.

Those multimedia presentations will be available on ECVA’s website in late June.

The Visual Preludes features the work of artists in the Episcopal community who range from a master gardener who grows the harvest for her magnificent altar arrangements, to a teenage photographer who has already served as a curator, according to Dodson. Some of the artists are professionals and include painters, stained glass and mosaic artists, sculptors, jewelry makers, calligraphers, icon writers, and fiber artists, many of whom have made liturgical art their career.

Others belong to Episcopal clergy families, or are themselves members of the clergy. Many are parishioners who offer their art to enrich their own worship life and that of their parish. For others, art is the way they connect with the Episcopal community, and in turn with God.

The use of the visual preludes began at the 2003 General Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

"The visual preludes have their origin on the stage of the opera," Mel Ahlborn, board chair and president of ECVA, said when EVCA called for submissions for the preludes. "The Rev. Canon Anthony Jewiss [deputy executive officer, Office of General Convention,] and the Rev. Canon Rosemari G. Sullivan [former executive officer and secretary to General Convention], now director of alumni/alumnae affairs and special events at the Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS)] were attending an opera performance that used projected imagery as part of the set design [and] both thought it was a worthwhile concept to incorporate into the worship space at the 2003 Minneapolis convention. So ECVA was approached, and board members agreed that the idea was brilliant."

ECVA called earlier this year for artists in the Episcopal community to submit images of original art for use as projected visual presentations at the 2006 General Convention.

"We're delighted to have the opportunity for an encore," said Dodson.

"One of art's charisms is its ability to lead us from degrees of the real to degrees of the abstract, guiding us from that which we know to that which we are seeking," said Ahlborn. "When informed by the world around us, art fuels a powerful reconciliation, transforming our ordinary living into extraordinary call to mission. Art viewing and art making invite the engagement of our eyes, heart, mind and souls across centuries and across cultures [and] in this way art leavens our personal recognition of our call to the work of God in the world."

ECVA began as a conversation among a few artists and supporters who sensed that this was a moment for an historic rebirth for visual arts in the Episcopal Church. From that beginning in the spring of 2000, ECVA has developed into a national visual arts community.

ECVA strives to:

  • Encourage visual artists in our church to use their creative gifts for the glory of God.
  • Encourage individuals to explore the opportunities visual arts offer in their spiritual journeys.
  • Encourage parishes and cathedrals to incorporate visual arts in their total programs.
  • Encourage conversations and research in issues related to the visual arts, theology and culture.