This post’s title comes from the tagline for the Loyola University Museum of Art, a small museum hidden in plain sight off Michigan Avenue at the Water Tower in downtown Chicago.  The phrase succinctly expresses the museum’s mission to explore and promote the spiritual in art of all faiths.  While in Chicago last Saturday returning Michael to college, my birthday gift to myself was touring two of their visiting exhibits.  I highly recommend them if you’re in Chicago this fall.

I have been a fan of Janet McKenzie’s art for several years and so could not miss the opportunity to see 21 of her paintings in a display entitled Holiness and the Feminine Spirit.  LUMA’s press release sums it up well.  “McKenzie creates masterful paintings that celebrate all people, particularly women and people of color. In 1999, her painting Jesus of the People won the National Catholic Reporter’s competition for a new image of Jesus, and she subsequently received worldwide attention for her unusual interpretation of the image of Jesus. McKenzie has uniquely focused on the Holy Family and the Catholic saints, depicting them as people from many ethnicities and cultures, including Native American, Middle Eastern, African, and Asian. McKenzie challenges the predominant western interpretation of the Holy Family as blue-eyed and fair-skinned, suggesting that viewers of her work reconsider this standard.”  The images speak powerfully yet gently, as if from a deep well of silent strength, against the simple, Shaker-like setting of the gallery.

illustration for the 10 commandments, photo by Randy OHC via Flickr, Creative Commons license

Unexpectedly, I also found myself captivated by the exhibit of pages from the St. John’s Bible, an illuminated manuscript being created by hand through calligraphy and paintings by a team of artists.  Ultimately it will be seven volumes, each weighing about 35 pounds!  Commissioned by the Benedictine monks at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN, to mark the third millennium, the project has been underway since 2000 and is not yet finished.  Thirteen pairs of the two-foot by three-foot vellum pages from the Hebrew Scripture are on display at LUMA.  Among the full page illuminations is a depiction of the seven days of Creation, each day represented by a vertical strip on the page.  Computer resources have been used in the design process, but the illuminations are created using traditional materials like quills, black lamp ink, gold leaf, and egg yolk to mix the pigments.  Web surfing since the visit, I’ve discovered that many related materials are available for purchase, including commercially printed versions of each volume.  There’s something about seeing these large colorful pages that makes you want to get out art materials and try your hand.  In fact, after seeing a video about this project, a first grade class in Rochester, MN, was so taken with the idea of writing out the whole Bible by hand that they copied and illustrated the Gospel of John and sent it to St. John’s Abbey as a show of support.

Both exhibits are on display through October 23, 2011.