Reprinted by permission from
The Messenger, Diocese of Central New York

ECVA 2003
By Susan Dixon

When you attend your normal service in an Episcopal church, what do you see? Does your church have a work of art that gives the service meaning for you or helps you to understand a Gospel story? Do you notice how the vestments the clergy wear highlight parts of the liturgy? Do you know if there are any artists in your church? Does your church own any work made by an artist from your community?

These and many other questions occupy the minds of the people involved in The Episcopal Church and Visual Arts, an organization formed to explore issues related to the visual arts and the church. This group, which includes several members of the Diocese of Central New York, works to find and lift up Episcopal artists, to give them an opportunity to form a network, and to encourage Episcopal churches to become conscious about the visual arts and even to commission work from artists. To do this ECVA began with a conversation among several interested people who decided to launch a website as the most effective way to reach people quickly across the country. ECVA launched its first exhibition in Advent of 2000 and has launched an exhibition each quarter since then, all drawn from the work of Episcopal artists.

This liturgical year began with an exhibition of artistic responses to the collects of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. An example from this exhibition is Barbara Desrosiers, Seraphimatic Contrail. Barbara draws upon her experiences as the wife of an Army chaplain stationed in Korea to create mixed media pieces inspired by Korean spiritual traditions. In Seraphimatic Contrail she shows us the energy path of the seraphim.

This Lent ECVA featured a number of visual representations of the Stations of the Cross assembled as a teaching exhibition by its curator, artist and Episcopal priest Thomas Faulkner. This exhibition shows artists working in different styles with curatorial commentary that places these styles in historical context. John Moody’s Stations use the forms of bare branches as abstract focuses of meditation.

Other exhibitions have included the themes of the cross, darkness and light, icons, banners, responses to September 11th, illumination, and community stories. The most recent exhibition, Lift Up Your Hearts!, explores the particular gifts of the Episcopal Church as seen in the work of Episcopal artists. Because the exhibitions are not physical. they can stay on the web, so they are always available.

The website also includes articles, resources, and a registry of Episcopal artists. A recent addition to this registry is Beverly Wirth, a liturgical artist and member of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Syracuse. Beverly believes, in the words of Isaiah 60:13, that the call of the liturgical artist is "to beautify the place of the Lord’s sanctuary."

Beverly joins artists who work in as much variety as there is in the Episcopal Church. Some use traditional figurative techniques, others work with abstraction; some work alone in their studio while others create in the context of a community. ECVA board chair, The Rev. Gurdon Brewster, works in a studio close to his home in Newfield and then casts his bronzes in a foundry in Vermont. ECVA board member Catherine Kapikian is working with members of Grace Church, Baldwinsville, in the diocese of Central New York to develop a piece called the Holy Spirit Tapestry. Dozens of parishioners are contributing to this work.

Recently ECVA was invited to work with the National Church Center to transform the hall for this year’s General Convention into a space for worship – and on a limited budget. The response was to use projected images to create an atmosphere for worship appropriate to the theme of each day's service.

This is a particularly appropriate time for all this activity to occur. Our culture is growing increasingly visual, which provides an opening for an explosion of artistic creativity. ECVA’s work is drawing not only artists, but writers, critics and teachers who can help reconnect us with the imagery that surrounds many of us in our churches but whose meaning may not be so familiar. Do we all know why a pulpit may be in the shape of a bird? Why a pelican in a stained glass window is tearing her breast? Why Episcopalians traditionally love Gothic architecture?

The Episcopal Church, with its rich heritage of art and imagery, is poised to grow into a new generation of creative interpretation. Artists at their best are visionaries, literally showing us a way into new understandings. You can become a part of creating this vision. ECVA began as a conversation among just a few people and you could begin in the same way – find the artists and put your heads together. Contact us for suggestions or to send ideas. Join the ECVA listserv. ECVA extends an invitation to anyone who wants to be a part of this inquiry, in any role – including simply asking questions.

(Now, about that pelican…?)

Susan R. Dixon, ECVA Program Director



Seraphimatic Contrail
By Barbara Desrosiers



First Station –
Jesus is condemned to death
By John Moody
(From his Stations of the Cross)


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2004 The Episcopal Church and Visual Arts