Painting the World Canvas
Needing some artful rejuvenation a while back (“creative caffeine,” my friend Becky calls it), I traveled to Kansas City for a visit with my dear friends and artist-heroes Peg Carlson-Hoffman and Chuck Hoffman. One afternoon in their enchanting studio, we spent time painting on a project that Chuck had begun while serving as Artist in Residence at Luther Theological Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The World Canvas Project invites folks—often in fractured communities—to gather together around the canvas. They each pencil a written prayer into a square of the canvas, then paint over the prayer. In word and in image, square by square, the canvas becomes a visual litany and a vivid sign of hope.
The World Canvas Project—which now consists of several large canvases traveling separately—has visited such places as Belfast, Northern Ireland and Mosul, Iraq. A new canvas was just begun in Bangor, Northern Ireland. In each place, as every square is added to the canvas, individual dreaming becomes communal prayer: for reconciliation, for peace, for beauty in a broken world.
Photo: Jan and Peg in the studio. Photo by Chuck Hoffman.
I’m learning all over again that when my mojo goes missing, I can always find it waiting for me in my studio. How easily I sometimes give up that creative time, give it away to other demands and distractions. Finally the artful ache presses hard enough, propels me back to the place where I plunge my hands into the paint again. The mojo returns, shimmering from my fingertips.
Where does your mojo make its home?
The word of the day is PATINA. I love the textures that the tools in my studio take on with use, the stories that the layers tell of what they have seen and where they have been. Part of what draws me toward the Benedictine path is its reverence for the tools used in the course of daily life, the items that help us move more smoothly through our work. In his Rule, Saint Benedict writes of how the cellarer—the monk responsible for the care and distribution of goods in the monastic community—is to “regard all utensils and goods of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar, aware that nothing is to be neglected” (Rule of St. Benedict, chapter 31). What we do at the altar is not separate from what we do in the rest of our daily life; the things we use in spaces that are clearly sacred invite us to recognize the presence of the sacred in the things we use elsewhere.
What stories do your possessions tell?
The (Prayer)Book of Tea
Each year, I travel across the country to the Grünewald Guild, a wondrous retreat center and art-and-faith community in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. For some years I taught a class there called Soul of the Book, in which folks created books that evoked something of the sacred text of their own lives.
I don’t always make something when I’m in the midst of teaching a class, but one year, I began to create a wee book as the week unfolded. Envelopes from our cups of tea became its pages; its text, words that emerged in our conversations around the table, scribbled down on scraps of paper and tucked into the envelopes.
Tonight I open the tea-book again, leaf through its pages, pull out the sacred scraps of text that I gathered at that shared table.
As I settle into time and space and art,
there’s part of me that’s feeling rescued
said one class member as she fashioned her book.
I’m really on a binge about being happy
said an eightysomething woman who also told us,
I’m going to make my mistakes into a masterpiece
and who asked us one day,
What do you see when you close your eyes?
Books are my parallel life.
Watching the silt settle until clarity comes around.
If someone were to say something nice about me,
I would hope it would be, “She lived in the mystery.”
If you were to create a book made from the ordinary objects of your everyday life, what would it look like? If you were to compose its text from the conversations you share in, what words would appear on its pages?
On the Eve of All Hallows
Ten years ago tonight, my husband and I had our first date. Fitting, no doubt, for a girl who loves this trinity of days of Halloween-All Saints-All Souls, and a boy who once starred in a Halloween horror movie. Over dinner this evening, on this All Hallows Eve, I talked with Gary about my friend Tammy. One of my best friends in seminary, Tammy was among my first artist-heroes. I wanted to be her when I grew up.
Tonight I told Gary of how Tammy’s heart fell apart one night as she and her beloved sat at the table, talking about where they might eat dinner. She slipped out of this world in such a beautifully and achingly ordinary moment, my friend who brought such artfulness and spirit to the everyday. It’s in the ordinariness that I most often think of her, and am mindful of her creative spirit that still lingers close—when my eyes light on a pottery bowl she made, or I see the big cardboard angel she created for me out of a refrigerator box, or am in a stuck place in the studio and wonder, What Would Tammy Do?
On this All Hallows Eve, who lingers close to you?
All Hallows Blessing
in the spaces between
in the corner
of our vision
in the hollows
of our bones
in the chambers
of our heart:
nowhere can they
how they move us,
how they move
made from the
tissue of memory
like the veil
between the worlds
that stirs at
the merest breath
and then is