In my early 20s I spent eight semesters in Italy spread out over six years. During that period I embarked on a spiritual journey from an academic encounter with Catholic art to being received into the Catholic Church and receiving Confirmation and First Communion in the Cathedral of Orvieto. On this Feast of Corpus Domini, 2022, I share this short essay from while I was preparing for Confirmation in 2001 and a more recent video in which I share the importance of the Eucharist in my journey to the Catholic Church.
The complex architectural space of St. Matthew’s Cathedral was particularly challenging. For instance, a variety of materials (mosaics, marble, plaster, gilding, wood) cover Historic St. Matthew’s Cathedral in DC. How do I paint each element in a way that contributes to the whole painting? How do I communicate the shimmering array of textures and colors within this beautiful cathedral?
My newest Marian painting “Interrogatio: Inquiry” depicts that moment of questioning “How can this be?” when the angel announced the Christ’s coming to Mary at the Annunciation. Mary’s vulnerability before God is represented here by the nude female figure. The grand space of the architecture represents God’s overpowering presence. The architecture also becomes a metaphor for Mary herself, often referred to in medieval texts as the Temple or dwelling place of the Lord because of her role in the Incarnation.
After I painted the Historic Church of Saint Rose in Perrysburg last year, a local family suggested a painting of Saint Joseph Parish across the river as a special anniversary gift. Her parents were married at St. Joseph Parish in Maumee, Ohio. Since they are still parishioners there, she thought a painting of the historic church would be a memorable gift to celebrate their years together. The architecture of churches communicates the eternal, where God comes to earth…
One of the miracles of creative collaboration is the momentum it creates, continuing to create new work beyond what was originally envisioned. After the model session, once my drawing was photographed and titled and shared, Olivia wrote this poem in response to the drawing.
A few days before Easter 2019 we all watched in shock as fire enveloped a great monument of Christian architecture, Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris. Just a few days before I had discussed with my two homeschool co-op classes about Pope Benedict XVI’s charge to be “custodians of beauty”. In his address to artists in 2009 he tasked artists with the responsibility of being “custodians of beauty”. I strongly believe the call is to all of us.
In 2016 an earthquake and aftershocks crumbled many parts of the town of Norcia, birthplace of Saint Benedict, founder of Western monasticism. The Monks of Norcia and their rebuilding become symbols of hope in the Catholic church.
Last spring a friend approached me wanting to gift a print of the church to her daughter for First Communion. I thought it was a great idea and got busy. I published pictures of the watercolor in progress and set up pre-orders for prints of the painting and it was a big hit!
These new paintings have become my own reflection on the work of rebuilding tradition. One commemorates the Basilica as it looked before the earthquake. The second depicts it in its currently ruined state. One painting was commissioned by a Catholic, the other by a Protestant, and so together they are a witness to the influence of the great Saint Benedict on Christian life.
Orvieto was the birthplace for the feast of the Eucharist, called Corpus Domini, and one of the major feasts of the Catholic church. The Cathedral of Orvieto holds a treasure – a number of them, really, including frescos by Luca Signorelli, Gentile di Fabriano, and Fra Angelico. But its spiritual treasure is a relic from the Miracle of Bolsena, the miracle which was the final impetus in the church’s decision to institute the festival of Corpus Domini: “Body of the Lord”. This feast is a reminder to artists and non-artists alike that Art and Beauty can model the Incarnation in the world.
What is the purpose of “copying” a work of art? Franklin Enspruch phrases it like this in a review of Wendy Artin’s series of watercolors of the Elgin Marbles: “She is at once paying the sculptures due homage, studying them for artistic clues, and using them to reach upward in ambition and scale.”
Somehow, in entering in to someone else’s creation, one often emerges at the other end with a clearer, renewed sense of voice and direction.
I am pleased to be able to share the completed painting for Saint Thomas Aquinas Parish in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. I worked on this painting through the spring and finally finished in July. I love being able to share my love for church architecture with a living community. The painting has been printed into notecards for sale for the benefit of the parish.