Mary's Flowers in Contemporary Art
March 25 – June 9, 2017
This display of Marian art is part of the University of Dayton Libraries' Mary's Gardens exhibit. While the Mary's Gardens exhibit is open through May 10, 2017, this display in the Marian Library Gallery will remain open through June 9, 2017.
The 24 oil paintings in this exhibit, by Cincinnati artist Holly Schapker, are an attempt to bring together, in a harmonious way, three facets of Marian art: nature, history, and spirituality. The exhibit is an inviation to visio divina, a meditation about Our Lady, and her meaning for us, as tradition and new insights suggest.
Holly Schapker on the Art of Mary in Creation, History and Spirituality:
In her faith, Miriam of Nazareth was a grace-filled woman to whom God has done great things. She received an extraordinary message early in her years, “Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God.” That favor meant a complete change. The Jewish girl of Nazareth experienced an extraordinary life, and was eventually gifted with God-given power as our intescessor and mediatrix on earth and in heaven. When we honor Mary, we are celebrating the mystery of the living God and the perfect disciple. It also reminds us that God wants a similar graced relationship with us.
When Jesus on the cross entrusted his mother to the care of John, the “disciple whom he loved,” and him to her, she became the spiritual mother to us all. This fact has allowed all of us, including artists throughout art history, to claim her as our own with the freedom to express our devotion to her in our various interpretations and greatest accomplishments. Christianity is challenged by the fact that we are all so familiar with the Bible stories, and we forget the life they bring to our daily lives. Art helps us to see these stories in a new and fresh way which opens our hearts to receive God’s loving Word.
Many of my works pay homage to the masterpieces of great painters of their time. It is my desire to honor these artists for their work, and to continue their efforts of celebrating creation with my own contributions. I like to think that I am contributing to the ongoing conversation among artists across time and space with my imperfect and yet God given talents. My paintings in this collection portray Mary in a multitude of times, cultures, styles, and ethnic characters to show her ‘omnipresence’ through the Holy Spirit.
My approach has been to trust the creative process and allow the brush to guide my hand. The time in front of the canvas usually follows a period of Centering Prayer or Lectio Divina. I often listen to the rosary and contemplate the mysteries in the studio. At times, I feel more like a grateful witness to the creation of my work rather than the creator.
Flowers are a beautiful symbol of the ‘divine feminine,’ and there are numerous kinds that have generated delightful legends throughout the centuries regarding Mary’s life story and mysteries. Each of my paintings pertain to one or more flowers which give reference to a particular moment in Mary’s life. They all provide an opportunity for us to use our own imagination, and to contemplate Mary’s experience here on earth. Research for this body of work included reading and studying the book, Mary’s Flowers: Gardens, Legends and Meditations by Vincenzina Krymow.
In the end, my study of Mary has further reshaped my image of our Creator from one of dominance to a God of overflowing goodness, loving kindness, and unending mercy. I hope each viewer experiences this same devotional joy in recognizing the good news.
In the exhibit...
This is a small sample of the 24 paintings, along with accompanying text, that are in this must see exhibit. The text accompanying each painting includes an excerpt inspired by the book by Vincenzina Krymow, an artist statement, and a psalm verse that is an invitation to share the prayer and spiritual mentality of Jesus and Mary.
The tiny flower is said to have sprung up wherever Mary’s foot touched the earth when she was on her way to visit her cousin Elizabeth. – ARTIST STATEMENT: How wonderful it must have felt for Mary to meet another woman who truly understood the extraordinary circumstance of her life, pregnant with God’s child! Elizabeth’s greeting confirmed Mary’s whole existence as the humble believer. Mary’s commitment to be in a “Theo drama” rather than an “ego drama” is manifested in the joyful song of the Magnificat. This painting is inspired by an early French Renaissance painter, Jacques Daret (c. 1404–c. 1470), who created an altarpiece of the Virgin in Arras which includes the Visitation. The columbine flowers expand beyond the borders as they remind us that God has no boundaries. – Praise the Lord, my soul; I shall praise the Lord all my life. (Ps. 146)
A young shepherd girl named Madelon followed the shepherds to Bethlehem to see the Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes. Her heart was moved, and she wept because she had nothing to offer Jesus. The archangel Gabriel took Madelon by the hand and led her out into the night. Gabriel touched the frozen earth with his staff. Immediately, creamy white blossoms flushed with pink sprang up everywhere. The maiden filled up her arms with the flowers and ran to decorate Jesus’ bed. – ARTIST STATEMENT: It seems we all delight in finding our inner child at Christmastime with an openness of heart and a sense of awe. Madelon reminds us that we are encouraged to “become like little children” (Mt. 18:3). This is why I decided to portray this scene in the style of a children’s illustration. This painting is derivative of a painting of Our Lady of Altagracia, patron and protector of the people of the Dominican Republic. The portrait is kept in the Basilica of Our Lady of Altagracia in the city of Salvaleón de Higüey. Its creator is unknown, but the painting was brought from Spain by two brothers, Alfonso and Antonio Tejo, early settlers of the island. The style has surreal tendencies showing fantasy and bright colors such as in the works of Jewish Russian painter Marc Chagall (1887–1975). – I wait for you, O Lord; I lift up my soul to my God. (Ps. 25)
The flower is said to resemble the star of the east that pointed to the birthplace of Jesus. The star shone brightly in the night and guided the shepherds to the place where the Newborn Jesus lay, then broke into little pieces, scattering white blossoms everywhere. – ARTIST STATEMENT: I was once asked what is my North Star. What is it that guides me to Christ? As Pedro Arrupe said about falling in love, “It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” I painted this piece in a contemporary style because we look up to the heavens for inspiration and continue to receive an awesome abundance of guidance from above. Scripture is my North Star giving me divine direction. The light in the painting is directed from above, and I used my brushwork to show movement as we are always in a constant state of flux. Although Mary’s face is realistically detailed, the piece is influenced by post-impressionist French painter Edouard Vuillard (1868–1940), stressing flat lines and low-toned patterns because repetition is key on our spiritual path. – Praise him, sun and moon; give praise, all shining stars. (Ps. 148)
A German legend says that Our Lady would go berry hunting with the children on June 24, St. John the Baptist Day. – ARTIST STATEMENT: This painting is inspired by The Virgin and Child with Saint John by Italian painter Bernardino Luini (1480–1532). Mary’s face has some expression of fatigue, and yet she is teaching us about trusting amid the darkness of not seeing the goal. The strawberries, a symbol of the “fruit of her womb,” invite us to taste and see the goodness of God in Jesus Christ (Ps. 34). God wishes to give each one of us his favor. We take as our model the Blessed Virgin Mary and ask for her kind faith. The painting’s choreography shows that the Immaculate Conception does not extract Mary from the challenges that come with daily life, but when we are aligned with God, we are in a powerful forcefield. – The Lord will guard your coming and going both now and forever. (Ps. 121)