I’ve been pretty quiet here lately because A. My art time has been doing a commission I can’t really show. B. Memphis has had two weeks of ice storm, unprecedented snow (at least in my lifetime), and now water troubles. We’ve been boiling water for days with no end in sight, and I’m washing my face at the kitchen sink with leftover tea kettle water. And C. Mr. Darcy is on hospice care in the middle of all this. His cancer is back. I’m hoping for a little more time with him now that we finally have good weather, but time is definitely short.
Above is a small detail of the commission. I’m designing the logo for the 2022 Music and Worship conference at Montreat, a huge Presbyterian center in Black Mountain, NC. I went to youth conference there every year as a teenager, and it was a really special place and event for me. I’m delighted to be asked to do this project. It’s taken a lot of sketches to get to the right place, a lot of carving, a lot of colors and rollers to print it this morning (I bought a few more small, 2” rollers to be able to use a bu ch of different colors together on the one plate and keep them clean), and there will be a decent bit of digital work this week once it dries enough for me to scan it in. They’ll need different shapes for all the various platforms (wide web banners, a vertical for the booklet, a square for IG, etc.). It’s been more of a project than I expected, but I need to just know to factor that in for church work, and I’m happy to be doing it. Above is a small detail of the finished print, since I can’t show the whole thing. It’s so nice to have your work sought out.
One of the crazy fun things about having artwork at Dixon Gallery and Gardens is being able to go out and do a tour on various afternoons. For me, as an artist who works mostly at home in solitude, it’s great fun to get to dress up, go out in public, and talk about art, ideas, and where my work comes from. I love getting to answer questions and see folks interacting with my work. This year, of course, things are different, but Linley Schmidt taped me (outdoors in the cold, bless her, because I didn’t want to take off my mask indoors, and I’m terribly muffled talking with it on) in the gardens and shared this video for a virtual “tour.” It’s a little harder to just wind up and go without questions or feedback, but fortunately talking is one of my comfortable places. And I do really love the chance to have to put into words the less formed ideas floating around in my brain while I’m working. It pushes me and clarifies my own thinking. Being in this show is a huge honor, and I enjoyed getting to draw the through lines from the St. John’s gospel back through the history of marrying art and text.
Last year I was thrilled to get an invitation to be artist-in-residence for a worship and music conference. The themes were creation and Celtic Christianity, so right in my wheelhouse. Sadly the conference itself fell through (and would have by now anyway, if it hadn't before), but I tend to dive straight into ideas as I get them. So I did a bit of experimenting in paths that are not my normal art practice. I played with metallic acrylic paints in a series of self portraits, and I also did a small set of almost abstract (as abstract as I can get, anyway) paintings based on each day of creation. This very strange Easter felt like exactly the time to scan them in and share them. I think I'll put up one a day on facebook, but it's not bad to gather them all here to see together. I'll put them up on my liturgical sets page as well. Occasionally churches buy jpeg images to use in worship. It's powerful and uplifting for me to have my art used in worship by people I don't even know.
This project had an enormous personal impact on me when the Presbyterian Church U.S.A, inspired by the beauty and artwork of the St. John’s Bible, decided to commission artwork to illustrate the denomination’s new Book of Common Worship. I was lucky enough to be the artist to receive that commission, and it has been easily the most important project of my career.
The St. John’s Bible pages are huge. Far larger than I had pictured. They had a number of the painted pages, and (fascinating for me) they also had the collage mock ups that the artists did before beginning in on that actual vellum. The exhibition also included some Medieval French illuminated psalters.
Standing in that room with that long line of Biblical artwork made me feel enormously privileged to be a part of that line of artists through centuries who have interpreted and illustrated the Bible. The book I illustrated will never get the museum attention that the enormous St. John’s project has, but it is in use nationally and beyond for the next 25 or 30 years. I am deeply grateful to have been a part of it.
No photographs were allowed in the exhibition, which I was sad about. I would love to share the collages alongside the finished pages. It was a fascinating journey. But my partner kindly surprised me at the end with the Book of Psalms from the gift shop. I’m thrilled to have a small piece of it to bring home and to remember standing in that space that spanned time, belonging to a long line of artists who contributed to this ongoing work of retelling and interpreting the word. The Book of Common Worship was limited in colors, which suited my printmaking focus, so it has a very different feel. But here are a few photos of my illustrations alongside the St. John's Bible.
I've been painting like crazy since I got home, and I don't tend to push myself to sketch if I'm making art exhaustively in another direction, but I did finally get my sketchbook back out Sunday, and it felt good. I had biked to church and found myself with extra time, since I usually walk instead. I wanted to do a quick sketch of the chapel with the paraments I had sewn a few years ago. It turned into a muddy mess, though. So after church I cycled over to the park to spend a little time before meeting friends for brunch, and I decided to add trees. Trees make everything better. It was fun to sit on the other side of the park than I usually do -- faster to get there on my bicycle.
Then I continued on to Overton Square for jazz brunch at Lafayette's. All three of Di Anne Price's "boyfriends" now play with a guitarist there every Sunday. I so miss Di Anne on piano and singing her songs, but it's good to still have Sunday music with the guys.
I couldn’t get my camera to capture the blue that glimmers through the cathedral from the Chagalls all the way to the west entrance, so I tried in watercolor instead. Still not satisfying, but better. I also love the off centeredness of the crucifixion, with that white figure showing up on the right hand side, but the deposition and ascension above and below (though less discernible from far off ) to its left. Brilliant design. I did one more sketch of the whole bank of candles that people light and pray by. It was a worshipful space, and I tend to paint the things that move me.
I wish I’d taken time to sketch the 1930’s smaller rose window at the back. Mary is central, and she is surrounded in a circle by several biblical trees (a palm, a cedar of Lebanon, and an olive tree) along with the moon, the morning star, and the sun. I love creation being so central in surrounding and celebrating her. I would have chosen an apple tree to go along with the others, given both Song of Songs and that lovely carol “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree,” along with the connection from Eve through her son Jesus to correct the original wayward bite. But that’s a quibble. It’s a gorgeous window in its own right. I loved the mid century glass they added in the restoration all the way around. There’s some subtle and beautiful grisaille windows as well. I wish I could have done these windows justice, and I wish they would hire one good photographer and get good images to sell. I was deeply disappointed in what was on offer. But it was a gorgeous cathedral to be in, and I’m so glad I went somewhere new this year.
There's a lovely article in the Presbyterian Mission about the upcoming Book of Common Worship that I spent a lot of last year doing illustrations for. It's coming out in May in three different editions, all with my Tree of Life linocut stamped into the cover. I am beyond excited and can't wait to hold it in my hands. I'm going to have to get the smaller personal prayer edition as well as the desktop one. The third is for pastoral use during hospital visits, weddings, etc. -- also smaller to carry around.
I am deep in the midst of carving linoleum block prints to illustrate the upcoming edition of the Book of Common Worship for the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. There will be 15 prints about 5.5x8" plus another 13 or so tiny 1.5" ones. Plus 19 ink gesture drawings. It's definitely my biggest commission ever. Work is due in early July, so I'm nose to the grindstone until then. I can't share the full images, but my editor said it would be fine for me to show some process shots and details of the blocks as I'm working. Despite the modest size, I'm including as much detail as I can. The carving has been a lot of fun.
I have news! The Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., is redoing its Book of Common Worship, which they do every 25 or 30 years, and they have asked me to illustrate it. I am beyond delighted. I've done some illustration work for a couple of different publications for them in the past, but it was always journals or a year long study guide (for the Book of Revelation -- my first ever illustration job, and I dived into the deep end). Nothing that would be in print for a long time. I've been hoping recently to get to do more illustrations, and I am so excited to be offered this opportunity to work with Westminster John Knox Press. I'll be creating about 15 two color block prints, a cover plus a frontpiece for each main section of the book. The work will be due in June, so along with my March show I'll be having a busy spring, but I love having meaningful work to do, so that will be just marvelous.
(The print at the top is an older one of a church in Athens, but it seemed appropriate for this post.)
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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