Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Peace and Goodness at the Portiuncula Guild

Last week, printmaker Peggy Parker and I attended the opening reception for the Portiuncula Guild. Located in the small town of Bedford, Virginia, the Guild is a community gallery and a meeting place for artists who are working at the intersection of faith, spirituality, and creative expression. It is also the site of production studios for Mitchell Bond’s fused glass and Patrick Ellis’ liturgical and devotional art. As the guild website says,
The word portiuncula (Latin for little portion and pronounced port-see-UNcle-uh) comes from a nickname of a simple church that St. Francis rebuilt with his early followers. St. Francis loved and cherished this little church because it symbolized both the simplicity of lifestyle he wanted to model for his followers, as well as the healing power of shared work and community. This little church became the birthplace of the Franciscan movement. (http://portiunculaguild.com/1/category/all/1.html)
Presence, 2013, acrylic and copper on panel.
At this first exhibition, entitled Pax et Bonum (Peace and Goodness), most of the works were by local artists (including Patrick and Mitchell, of course), with a smattering of pieces by their friends from other places. It was fun to catch up with textile artist Celeste Lauritsen and her woodworker husband Jim, whose Tree of Life Studios are located in Gettysburg;  and to see the delightful work of Mickey McGrath, even though he couldn't be there himself. In addition to Peggy's visual meditation on the Canticle of Saint Francis, and my own painting juxtaposing the wounded hand of Christ with the hand of the saint bearing a similar mark, there were many images of Saint Francis himself, others of Brother Sun and Sister Moon, and still others that were less specific but nonetheless evocative of the saint’s love of God and of God’s good creation. I wish that I had thought to take some photos, or to write down a list of the artists, but I was having too good a time taking it all in – looking at the art, connecting with old friends, and trying to remember which person had made which painting or drawing or sculpture.

Surrounded with images watered by the deep springs of a common story, and by people laughing and talking and enjoying whatever was offered, the gathering was what the church is meant to be – a foretaste of heaven. From time to time, I was tempted to put on my art-professional hat and critique the works according to the standards of the international art world, but, I am glad to report, I resisted that temptation. Instead, I reveled in the fact that so many people were gathered to celebrate and support one another in their quest to be faithful to their calling as artists and as persons of faith. With a place to gather and to share what we make, we learn from one another, honing our craft and our vision not in the spirit of competition, but rather in the midst of caring community. I like to think that Saint Francis would have been proud.

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