I’ve been cleaning out and organizing my studio, and came across this small piece I made a few years ago. It was a challenge to myself to try using embellishments, like beads and buttons in a thoughtful way, after rashly stating that I just didn’t like that kind of stuff on my artwork. I tried it. I liked it. Quite a lot. So I’ve never offered it for sale, preferring to keep it for myself. In fact I liked it so well that I made another similar piece that I also kept and have hanging in my studio. I think of her as my own little studio patron saint.
Why, you may wonder, such “saintly” images? I’m not Catholic or even conventionally religious, but I am slightly obsessed with a particular type of religious art. Images of saints.
It might have begun very early. When I was 4 years old my sister was born at the Catholic hospital in our town. In those days 4-year-olds were not allowed into the wards, so when my father was taken in to see my mother and newborn sister I had to remain in the waiting room. A kindly nun came to sit with me and asked my name, I replied that I was Terry Ann, but my real name was Teresa. She seemed very excited to tell me that Teresa was the name of her very most favorite saint! She selected a large children’s book from the bookcase and thumbed through it until she found a chapter about St. Teresa, the Little Flower, with a beautiful picture of a young girl with roses in her hair and a halo behind her head, looking heavenward, very sadly. Then she read me the sad story. When I left she told me to remember St. Teresa, who was my special saint because we had the same name. I remember this all so clearly, and mind you, I was only four years old. I did remember Teresa, and as an older child I sought out books about saints. I especially loved the sad ones, where they died young and suffered greatly, inspiring all they knew with their bravery and piety. But most of all, I loved the very similar pictures, of their sweet, uplifted faces.
Is it any wonder that I fell in love with the Russian Orthodox icon paintings of saints?
I especially love the Greek icons, with their big eyes and long, straight noses.
Years later when we began to travel in Latin America, I discovered “Santos” the sculptural equivalents. They have the same, otherworldly look.
I simply love these images. I posted photos in a blog post of Santos we found in a hotel, that was a converted convent in Nicaragua here. Another magical find was a workshop in Ecuador where Santos were repaired, posted here.
So my little button embellished saint is now hanging in my hallway and I’m wondering if I need to make some more. Real saints or imagined? Like I said, it’s not a religious thing for me, but I am drawn to the idea of people being elevated, empowered and remembered simply for being good. The world can always use a little more goodness—right?