Think "religious art" means velvet paintings of Jesus? Think again. The Episcopalian Church is known for encouraging the creation of original art with sacred themes, even works on the daring side. (In 1984, Manhattan's Cathedral of St. John the Divine got flak for exhibiting the sculpture "Christa," a female crucified Christ figure.)
In 2000, these creative impulses gave birth to an organization called the Episcopal Church & Visual Arts (ECVA). Its stated mission is "to encourage artists, individuals, congregations and scholars to engage the visual arts in the spiritual life of the church."
Burlington's St. Paul's Cathedral just formed a chapter of ECVA, only the 10th in the nation. The church is celebrating its commitment to the arts through May with a show that features more than 58 spiritually themed works in various media by local Episcopal artists. Notable among them - particularly because it stands 12 feet tall - is Melinda White-Bronson's "Good News Angel," a plaster/mixed-media sculptural installation.
Show organizer and parishioner Judith McManis says another highlight of the show is a group of icons by Zachary Roesemann. "They're the real deal. Not 'icons lite.'" Then there's the unsigned "mystery painting," which was discovered in the cathedral during a cleaning session. The congregation is selling it via silent auction. "We're calling it 'Easter Bunny,'" McManis says, "but it's a very different interpretation. Some people think it's just strange beyond words."
McManis' liturgical fabric art has already appeared in three ECVA exhibits elsewhere. She says members of the fledging Vermont chapter hope to hold an annual show and host "meet the artist" gatherings around the state. They'll also set up a website "so people can interact with each other and find us as artists."
For now, McManis is encouraged by the turnout of about 65 people at the show's April 29 opening. "The whole premise of the show is the expression of people's experience of spiritual things," she says. "And, boy, that varies all over the map."
"Art and Spirit: Expressions of Our Spiritual Connection" is on view at St. Paul's Cathedral in Burlington through May. Reception during First Friday Art Walk, May 4, 6-9 p.m.