Seeing Anew

click on painting for enlarged detail and color

click on painting for enlarged detail and color

Seeing Anew: Melissa Casteel – oil on canvas, 11” x 14”

For a custom portrait contact me, or visit my Etsy shop online for details.

Painting Melissa was a pleasure – she has an intense expression and clear features that make for interesting portrait work. For this painting, I couldn’t help but think of Da Vinci’s female portraits. Melissa’s enigmatic expression, the classical draped neckline, and the waves of her hair, all recalled to me DaVinci’s subjects – a modern day Mona Lisa, or his Madonna of the Rocks, with her smooth face and rippling hair.

The color palette, on the other hand, is contemporary with the Impressionists or later. It’s a high key palette that emphasizes the morning light bathing the flowers and plants. The aerial perspective references DaVinci again, but is an urban setting -the kind of community space that Melissa so often designs for.

To read more about Melissa’s story, visit the blog post under “Community: History and Visions.”

Guerilla Gardening

Melissa Casteel

Seeing Anew: Melissa Casteel – oil on canvas, 11” x 14”

(For a custom portrait contact me, or visit my Etsy shop online for details.)

 

Landscape architect creates gardens and events to seed a spontaneous arts community

Melissa Casteel is a landscape architect and Principal of Mondo Land Planning+Design. In 2012 she partnered with community advocate Pat Tanner to co-found GROW, a volunteer organization for enhancing the downtown area and promoting community arts and activity. Melissa serves on the board of Main Street, and is the site designer and donor for Elm Street Cultural Arts Village.

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I moved to Woodstock because we wanted to live … where I could make a difference.

Melissa Casteel speaks in measured tones, her voice often serious. At first she seems an unlikely advocate for arts and spontaneity. We sit at the Crossings in downtown Woodstock, where the morning sun illuminates her dark hair against the bright flowers all around us, fruits of GROW volunteer labor.

Ann: What is ‘landscape architecture’? How does it relate to GROW?

Melissa: One definition of landscape architecture could be ‘designing the human experience.’ It means people interact in a public space based on how it’s designed. People usually aren’t aware of that. A small example might be the color of these chairs.” She points to the bright periwinkle chairs outside PURE. “People don’t think much about the color. But it sends out a subliminal message. If these were plain wood, the space would feel more ordinary. A bright color says, This is urban, this has energy.

GROW stands for ‘Green Reaps Opportunity for Woodstock.’ The original impulse was to improve the downtown area. We do most of the plantings, and we coordinate the watering and adoption of the planters by the businesses.

A different GROW project made Woodstock one of the first two cities in Georgia to participate in International ‘Park(ing) Day.’ It’s a movement to take a piece of land the size of a parking space and transform it for one day into a public park.

The first year we created a public garden, but the second year we did a live re-enactment of the painting ‘Sunday Afternoon in the Park’ by Seurat. That got a lot of attention. Groups in other places have made parking spaces into free health clinics, built art installations, done free bike repair shops, even hosted a wedding. The vision of PARK(ing) Day is to challenge people’s ideas about public spaces and inspire them to participate in the civic processes that shape it.”

Ann: What do you envision for GROW in Woodstock’s future?

Melissa: My big wish list is urban art – murals and sculptures. Chattanooga has done a great job of that. The Beltline in Atlanta is another model. They have art and events that create a sense of community.

I’d like to experiment with guerilla gardening. You go into a public space at night, transform it with plants, art, whatever. People react in the morning by using the space in a totally different way. An example of a guerilla project might be to tape out a huge hop scotch grid on a street during the night.”

Ann: What GROW projects have received the most notice?

Melissa: The Christmas balls! These were huge, multi-colored balls we put up in the trees downtown. They had a Dr. Suess feel, and the trees came to life. The public response was overwhelming. People driving through were so excited, they would stop to tell us these were the most beautiful decorations they had ever seen.”

Ann: What do you want people to know about GROW?

Melissa: We’re not just a gardening group! We’re open to all ages, men and women. You can bring kids. There are social activities. The common interests of the group are garden enthusiasts, and public art.

I moved to Woodstock because we wanted to live in a small community where our daughter could walk to school, where I could make a difference.

 

In her quiet way, Melissa is shaping this town with a unique vision.

 

Waking Up With Nightmares

Pat Gold portrait final

A History in Delta’s Customer Service Drives the Founder of Riverfest In Organizing Two Art Festivals in Cherokee

Pat Gold had 15 years in customer service with Delta before she chaired Cherokee County’s first Riverfest, held in 1985. Pat is pictured in front of the Cherokee Arts Center, where from 2011-2012, she was also Chair of Canton Festival of the Arts, held annually the third weekend in May. In the past decade, she has served in numerous community endeavors, including the Tourism and Main Street programs in Canton, as well as the Canton Planning Commission.

This story is part of a series featuring local leaders, volunteers and visionaries, some behind the scenes, who have had an impact on the community. For more on Gold’s story and the accompanying portrait, visit www.annlitrel.com

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If I have any creativity, this is it. You know, I don’t create art – but I can organize it.

Pat Gold offers this snippet about her part in Cherokee County’s first Riverfest, now approaching its 30th anniversary. The arts and crafts festival was conceived by her as a fundraiser for the County’s Junior Service League, a group whose mission is to help needy children and their families with direct aid and scholarships. Riverfest takes place every September in Canton’s Boling Park on the Etowah River, drawing attendees from across metro Atlanta and north Georgia.

Exuding brisk cheer and an air of capability, Pat escorts me into an empty classroom at the Cherokee Arts Center for our interview, offering more than once to help carry my bags, microphone and lights. She explains that her “current baby” is the Canton Festival of the Arts, a juried spring artist fair at the Arts Center, fast approaching the weekend of May 17 and 18.

Tell me about your role in Riverfest.

“Riverfest was started in the early 80’s,” she says. “Back then, craft fairs were fairly new but gaining in popularity. One horrible rainy morning, I got the idea of launching a crafts fair in the County as the Service League’s fundraiser. Judy Bishop and I took the idea to the board, and they gave us the green light.”

What were some of the challenges?

“It was a huge undertaking. We worked for two years to develop the first Riverfest.” She names the divisions of labor: the artist’s market, the children’s area, concessions, entertainment, advertising and PR. Each was organized by one of the core committee members, whom Pat lists as herself, Judy Bishop, Rebecca Johnston, Debra Goodwin, Lila Stevens, and Ann Rupel.

“Recruiting artists was a critical element,” she continues. “If you’re starting from scratch, you have to convince them that you are going to be successful.” She names local potter Ron Cooper as being “instrumental” in recruiting artists and getting the word out in the arts community.

Did you have any organizing experience before this?

“I had been working at Delta almost 15 years as an in-flight service coordinator. I grew up with Delta, and they taught me everything I know about customer service. Making a successful arts festival is all about customer service – helping the artists unpack, getting their things to their space, babysitting their booth when they want to take a break…everything to make it a good experience so they’ll come back next year. Without them, we don’t have a festival.”

How did Riverfest measure up to your vision?

“It was even better than we had hoped. Boling Park was a perfect setting. The Riverfest name was my husband’s suggestion – and it stuck.” She smiles. “The first year, we had 107 artists, 10,000 people came through the gates, and we earned a profit of almost $10,000. Of course, it’s grown since then.” [In 2013, the 28th annual Riverfest included 151 exhibitors, and earned over $70,000.]

Pat adds a personal remembrance. “As the opening day got close,” this organizer admits,” I was waking up with nightmares, imagining a festival that no one came to. I really didn’t relax until that first morning.” She shakes her head.

“When the first wave of people came down that hill, it was like a dream come true.”

A Global Ministry With Community Roots

A Burning Vision

A Burning Vision: Dr. Johnny Hunt – oil on canvas, 14” x 11”

(For a custom portrait contact me, or visit my Etsy shop online for details.)

 

Local Pastor Focuses on Small Things and Grows a Ministry That Spans Continents

Dr. Johnny Hunt is senior pastor of First Baptist Church Woodstock, serving a congregation of 17,000. Former President of the Southern Baptist Convention and author of numerous books and lecture series, Dr. Hunt is a leader in national and worldwide ministry efforts.

This story is part of a series featuring local leaders, volunteers and visionaries who have had an impact on the community. For more on the Dr. Hunt’s story and the accompanying portrait, visit www.annlitrel.com  

___________________

I never did anything big –

it was the little things.

Dr. Johnny Hunt sits at his desk signing stacks of his books – gifts to church youth, he explains. His hair is silver, but his eyes glow with the energy of a young man. He listens graciously as I explain the purpose of the interview – I am interested in visionary leaders and the stories behind their impact on community.

“I’ve led the Southern Baptist Convention, and I’ve been honored with some big positions,” he explains. “But I didn’t set out to have a big church. I never did anything big. It was the little things.

“I get a hospital list every morning, so those folks are uppermost in my mind when I walk through the halls on Sunday. Maybe I know your mom is in the hospital and I pass you in the hall on my way to give the sermon. I’ll stop and ask how your mother is, and we’ll pray together right there on the spot. I’m preaching to 5,000 people that morning, but praying with you might be the most important thing I do all day.

“I like to say, ‘I may do more ministry on the way to the pulpit that I do in the pulpit.’”

He gives an example of what he calls “small touches,” – for example, attending a dinner for over a hundred widows, when he made it his mission to make a personal contact with each of them. He explains that as he made the rounds of each table, laying hands and saying hello to them, that each woman had a story to tell. And so often a woman would say, “When my husband died, my social life fell apart.”

Dr. Huntsays that funerals are a priority – often the time of people’s greatest need. “I will move heaven and earth to be at a funeral. So often a congreagation member has never asked me for anything personally. I want to be there when they most need me.”

How do you explain your influence?

“You can’t lead people unless they know you’re serving them. You’re mobilizing the people to reach their potential. I’m a commander of a large army, and I need to lead them to conquer. But the conquering is, Let’s feed this community. Let’s clothe this community.

“The past year I’ve traveled around the country to mentor other pastors. I’ve met with Christian leaders in Cuba, in Istanbul… In Iraq, it’s estimated there are over a million Christians practicing underground. But I can travel like this only because of the strength of our platform here.

“I will preach here 45 out of 52 Sundays a year – I don’t fly out until after I preach on Sunday.”

How do you decide where to put your efforts?

“It’s not hard – you just listen. People will tell you what they need.

“For example, I’m very burdened and concerned with foster care. So I made it my business to get to know the folks at the DFACS office [Department of Family and Children’s Services] in Canton and find out what they need. We sent in bookkeepers and CPAs, got them a whole new bookkeeping and filing system.

“The meeting rooms for foster parents were so depressing, they’d discourage anyone from fostering a child. So we knocked out some walls, opened them up with light and windows – just made it a nice place to be.

“The waiting rooms were very noisy – families who come often have a lot of kids. DFACS said, ‘we need a playground for these kids’ – and it’s MAGNOMINOUS what we built them.” Pastor Johnny grins over his coined word.

What drives you?

“I have these little life statements that I assimilated over 30 years ago, and they really haven’t changed.

“I want to reach my own God-given potential. Charles Spurgeon, a preacher in the 1850s, said, ‘The average human has misjudged their capacity for God.’”

As I leave Pastor Johnny’s office, I feel inspired. I can’t help but notice I’ve joined the many who have received a personal gift from this man – a vision of service.

Suburban Pioneers

Suburban Pioneers

click on painting for enlarged detail and color

Suburban Pioneers – oil on canvas, 18” x 14”

For a custom portrait contact me, or visit my Etsy shop online for details.

When I was a small child, I drew constantly, and it was people I drew more than any other subject. But by the time I reached middle school years, I had stopped looking at my fellow man as a subject. I escaped into the quiet and peace of painting landscapes and still life almost exclusively. Aside from four years of foundational figure drawing in college, I dropped people and the human figure in my paintings for almost forty years.

Then as I entered my fourth decade of life, I became engaged in community projects. And when I returned to painting, I found, to my complete surprise, that I was interested in people once again as a subject in my art.

These are the questions that fly in at me when I engage in painting a person’s portrait:

What makes the person tick? What gets them up in the morning and guides their life actions? How much of that can be “read” in their face? How do I best show that in the painting?

Part of the portrait process is discerning the essence of the person you are painting. It really is a spiritual process as much as a physical one. Any time you seek to bring out the particular beauty that is inherent in a person, you are engaged in a kind of truth-seeking that goes beyond just the physical appearance. Instinctively we all know that beauty is about more than physical features. It’s why we can perceive a physically beautiful person as “ugly”after we became acquainted with them. And why the homeliest person who has shown us love and kindness somehow takes on the look of beauty in our eyes.

This double portrait of Brian and Jennifer accompanied an article I wrote about their shared efforts in a community project, a bike and pedestrian trail they helped establish. For the published painting, I chose to pose them in front of the wooded trail, with the sunlight casting a kind of glow around them. The dynamic brushstrokes create an informal and contemporary style suited to their authentic and low-key personalities. The focus and detail are concentrated in their faces, for this happy and informal double portrait, alight with the couple’s shared joy in their efforts.

Chasing Trail

Suburban Pioneers – oil on canvas, 18” x 14”

(For a custom portrait contact me, or visit my Etsy shop online for details.)

 

Woodstock Couple Help Give Birth to a Community Bike and Pedestrian Trail

Brian and Jennifer Stockton are husband-and-wife advocates for the Greenprints Trail, a 60 mile network of bike and walking trails planned for the city of Woodstock and south Cherokee County. The Greenprints Plan was initiated by Mayor Henriques and the Council, adopted in 2008, and awarded $5 million dollars by the County in 2010 to construct the first 4-5 trail segments. Brian Stockton served as Project Leader for the Steering Committee that developed the plan; Jennifer is volunteer Executive Director of the nonprofit organization, Greenprints Alliance, founded to raise public awareness and funding for the trail.

This story is part of a series featuring local leaders, volunteers and visionaries, some behind the scenes, who have had an impact on the community. For more on the Stocktons’ story and the accompanying portrait, visit www.annlitrel.com

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Brian Stockton doesn’t like media attention. It takes several e-mails and a call to his wife Jennifer before he agrees to this interview, with the understanding that it’s to raise awareness for the Greenprints Trail. The three of us meet in downtown Woodstock on the new outdoor stage of the Elm Street Green. Brian wears a shirt that says “Chasing Trail.” His dry manner is flavored with an undercurrent of humor, and forms a counterpoint to Jennifer’s more obvious warmth.

Bordering the Event Green is the new “Town to Creek” trail segment. The official ribbon cutting is in three days, May 3, kicking off the fifth annual Trailfest, an all-day concert and fundraiser for Greenprints. As we speak, a steady stream of people walking by makes it apparent that the new trail has already been discovered.

How did the idea for the Greenprints Trail come about?

Brian explains that the Council and Mayor [Henriques] convened a committee to work on a Master Plan for green space in 2007. “The Steering Committee included staff and some outside consultants, including someone from Atlanta’s PATH Foundation. We met for about nine months. I think it was only the first or second meeting when the committee figured out we didn’t need more ball parks. We needed ‘connectivity’ – how do you get from one place to another without hopping in your car? There was a need for open, unstructured green spaces that could be used for several different purposes.”

Brian states that the Greenprints trail runs mostly through the City or around the city limits, but segments are located at probable connections with other trail networks, like Cobb County or Acworth.

How did you end up taking the lead?

“I was City Planner at the time. The whole process of designing a trail for public use intrigued me. So I asked Richard [then Community Development Director Richard McLeod] if I could be the Project Manager, and he said ‘yes.’”

How did you discover City planning as a career?

“When I was a kid, I really liked building and mapping. ‘Lincoln Logs’ were a big favorite. My mom used to draw a city map for me, and I would spend hours planning and drawing out shopping centers, and roads and parks. I had a hard time finding the right major in college because I didn’t know the name for what I was doing. My undergrad degree was in finance. I went into human resources and hated it. In speaking with architects, they suggested I try public planning. I finally got a Master’s degree in City and Regional Planning, concentrated in urban and public space design.”

I turn to Jennifer. So how did you get involved?

“Brian went back to school in 2007. Listening to him talk about city planning had me thinking about things you don’t normally, like streets and tree placement.”  She laughs and points to the three large trees towering over us. “These trees are a good example. The Trail was originally supposed to follow Dupree Road. Elm Street would have turned into a regular grid street, and these trees would have had to come down. So the Trail was moved here to save the trees.

“We bought our house in 2009 – it’s right by the Trail. That’s when it became personal. The whole plan is about the community, and I wanted to help make it happen. Greenprints needed an executive director, so I volunteered.”

As the interview ends, I begin to think about posing Brian and Jenn for their double portrait. We move next to the Trail, where the sun forms a kind of halo through the green kaleidoscope of leaves. The trees tower behind them. It’s the right backdrop for this portrait, which in my mind, is about more than just this husband-wife team. It’s about an effort that embraces a whole community – people and green living spaces.

The Lord God Made Them All

Portrait of Jake

For pet portraits, call or visit my shop on Etsy.

I never met Jake. He died when he was young, only twelve years old. His family was devastated.

Jake was a chocolate lab. Jake’s owners said he had been with him since before the birth of their two children. They admitted Jake was, in fact, like a child to them.

The husband called me first. A bit hesitatingly, he asked if I “do” pet portraits. He explained that Jake had died rather rapidly of an unexpected illness, that Jake was a real character – and “a part of our family.” He said his wife had gone into mourning as though they had lost a child. And he thought maybe a portrait of Jake would be a wonderful gift to commemorate how very special Jake was to them. Would I be willing to do a painting of Jake?

I have always said I don’t do pet portraits. I’ll admit right up front: there is an element of snobbery there. An assumption that a pet is not an important enough subject for art – or, at least, my art. (This may also have something to do with the fact that our childhood family schnauzer, Poppy, always seemed a bit more interested in table scraps than in our affections.)

But the caller’s story pulled at me. The thought flitted through my mind, “What makes painting a portrait of this animal less worthy than any other subject?”

Some people argue that an animal doesn’t have a soul. That the gift of a soul is the birthright of Homo sapiens alone.

But those who have known an animal intimately know the truth. The spark of the Creator that shines in each of us exists just as surely in all His living creatures, great and small.  For all who are willing to see, it seems self-evident that God manifests Himself in every sparrow and lily in His Creation.

The British veterinarian and writer James Herriot wrote about the love shared between humans and animals in a series of books, the titles of which were based on the words of this beautiful old Anglican hymn:

“All things bright and beautiful,

All creatures great and small,

All things wide and wonderful –

The Lord God made them all.”

Painting a portrait is about more than capturing a physical likeness. The portrait channels and communicates what the painter can discern about the essence – the true nature – of the subject.

For Jake, it seemed to be his laughing mouth, his soulful eyes, and above all, those expressive eyebrows, so like ours, it’s as though we are looking into a human face. For this final glimpse of Jake, he looks up at those he loves, and he smiles amidst the wide green fields and tall blue skies of Heaven.

Fire and Water

Fire and Water med Ann's rev (2)

“Fire and Water” – click on painting for enlarged detail and color

Purchase a print online through Fine Art America. Range of sizes and frame options.

 
For a canvas print with a hand painted brush texture simulating the original, contact the artist.
In the studio, 36″ x 24″  signed print, $325.

 

Fire and Water

Oil on canvas, 36” x 24”
Private collection

It’s safe to say the Gresham Mill at Sixes Road has been the subject of more paintings and photographs than any other landmark in Cherokee County. In high summer, 2003, I added my own version. I visited the mill in early morning, and captured the mists and morning sunlight that softened the heavy blanket of green that Georgia wears in the summer.

But autumn is my favorite season in Georgia, so I was thrilled when I was approached by a couple celebrating their fortieth anniversary: they wanted a painting of the mill in autumn.

pen and ink finished revIt was still early summer when I visited the Mill once again to make preliminary black and white sketches, as I do for major works. Working on the play of lights and shadows without the distraction of color, I can examine the “bones” of the scene. I sat outside for a while watching the early morning light move across the eastern face of the mill. I tried to discern how the scene made me feel—what is was “communicating.” This is one of the most important but perhaps least understood aspects of what an artist does. The undercurrents of emotion that a scene evokes are the submerged text that must be manifested in the painting. This is what separates the art from a photo.

As fall came to Georgia and the colors reached their height, I returned twice to the scene. The transformation wrought by color heightened what I had seen in summer—the mill was almost shrouded by trees, cast in shadow and embedded in the hillside. The movement of the bright foliage around it was like sheets of fire cascading down the hillside, finally extinguishing themselves on the rocks amongst the cool shadows of the stream. I made a color study in pastels.

Mill pastel studyIn looking at the final painting, you can see how the artist’s vision differs from the initial color rendering. The final work of art matches the vision in my mind’s eye:, where it seemed to me as I looked upon this scene, I was seeing the last glowing flames of life warming the Mill before the slumber of cold winter.

 

Footloose Artists and Trappist Monks: Kindred Spirits?

monk at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit

“Beside the Still Waters” – painting, 9″ x 12″

Footloose Artists and Trappist Monks: Kindred Spirits

My friend and fellow artist Marsha Savage called me on Monday night. She was headed for an outdoor “paint out” for artists, invitation only, at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit this week. They’d had a last minute cancellation. Was I interested?

I’m stuck.

Two thoughts immediately popped into my head and began doing battle. Yes: I have been wanting to visit this Catholic Monastery for years. It is well known for its bonsai collection and as a retreat on 2300 acres of bucolic land just east of Atlanta. I would love to see the monastery – of course.

No: I’m scared. I’m not a regular outdoors (plein air) painter. Plein air is French for “open air.” But painters who fit the term are no French salon sissies – they are the cowboys of the artist world. A rugged bunch, they paint and finish their work, usually in a few hours, entirely in the elements of the Great Outdoors. I, on the other hand, love to take my time inside the air conditioned comfort of my studio, massaging the edges of painted shapes until they melt into perfectly distilled space. I’d dabbled in plein air painting. But now I felt a nagging undercurrent of insecurity. Could I measure up?

Against my better judgment, I go with Yes.

My van packed with paint and blank canvases, I barreled down the highway through Atlanta and then east on I-20, slowing as I left the city and turned into the old farm roads. As the traffic thinned, I felt my heart and pulse slow. Reaching the Monastery entrance, I called Brother Callistus, the monk in charge of public relations for The Monastery. I found myself surprised – how could a monk be in “Public Relations?”

I knew that Brother Callistus had organized the “Paint Out,” inviting select artists to stay for seven days and paint. The resulting art works would be featured in an “Art Collectors Gala and Wet Paint Sale” at the end of the week, to benefit the Monastery. I could only stay for two days. I worried, Will I will be able to contribute something worthy?

Surprises

Brother Callistus drove up the wide green lawn in a golf cart. He is a tall slim man with bronze skin, and he wore traditional monk’s garb, hood pulled back. I would later discover that Brother Callistus, in his younger days, worked on Wall Street. But his first words of greeting revealed only his passion for the nature of monastic life. “I read your artist’s statement on your website. You are a true contemplative,” he enthused in a lilting Caribbean accent. “The words are beautiful.”

I was pleased and surprised. My artist’s statement is my raison d’etre. It’s held a quiet spot on my website since 2006, but since that time, to my knowledge, only one other person in the world has read or commented on it. Ironically, earlier in the week I had decided it was too “airy-fairy,” and had edited it out of the biography Brother Callistus had requested after I accepted Marsha’s invitation.

It was as thought I had been recognized by an old friend. And I was suddenly pierced with the feeling we experience too seldom:  I have come Home.

I’ve believed for quite some time that being an artist is not just a calling with a spiritual side, but that it’s a calling that is entirely spiritual. One thing an artist quickly learns  –  when people have money to spend, a couch wins out over a painting nine times out of ten.

I don’t blame anyone. I own a couch myself, my first purchase out of college, as a matter of fact. Money is for the needs of this world – and art has nothing to do with our worldly existence. Art does not feed the body. It does not clothe the body. It does not shelter the body. It does not carry the body around on four wheels with leather seats in an air conditioned box.

Money, money, money

So artists do not choose to paint because they want to get rich (although a few do). But if we agree on that, then what exactly so powerfully compels a sane person to desert the more logical vocational choices?

I’ve arrived just in time for lunch, and this is the question that Brother Callistus wants to talk about.  Because obviously monks, too, have a calling that is not about money.  Is there a common bond? Are these monks, constrained in their monastic lives to vows of obedience and stability – never leaving – akin to artists, famously footloose free spirits who often ascribe to no established religion at all?

Plein Air artists at The Monastery Paint-Out in the Guest House

Artists and Monks Share Wine and Fellowship

Brother Callistus and I take a seat at a table with a half dozen other artists. I’m pleased that somehow I know many of them – from various studio tours, or odd days painting together on informal outings. They range from mostly middle-aged to outright gray-haired. Maybe I will fit in, after all.

Brother Callistus speaks about the contemplative spirit that is the basis of monastic life. He says that in leaving behind the world, a monk learns to discern the spiritual nature that permeates all living things. He says that as you grow this perception, you learn to see beneath the surface of things to a spiritual truth. You look beyond the physical appearance of a person to their eternal nature. You are looking at the soul.

All the artists seem to speak up in agreement. Yes, creating art is like that. When you paint, you are not simply painting what you see on the surface. You are looking for – perceiving – the unique voice that inhabits each subject. Otherwise, you could simply take a snapshot and be done with it.

Brother Callistus nods and smiles. “Yes, perceiving the spiritual is the nature of a monk’s contemplative life. That is what we are all here for.”

As lunch ends, I head outside with the other artists. We acknowledge the challenges of the physical world with our umbrellas, our bottles of sunscreen and bug repellent. But we are full of hope – that we will see something Wonderful. That we may produce a painting that will capture – dimly, or miraculously, with glorious vividness – the Eternal Truth that inhabits every tree, stone, and human being her on earth.

 

paintings by Ann Litrel of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit

Two works from the Monastery, the Belltower and the Cloisters – “Lift Thine Eyes”, and “Morning Illumination”

 

Morning on the Platte River

Morning on the Platte River

Morning on the Platte River

pastel on board, 12″ x 9″
$295.

This original pastel captures the morning light on Nebraska’s Platte River at Rowe Sanctuary Audubon Center, during the height of the Sandhill Crane Migration. You can see a small group flying in the distance as they make their way to the fields to feed during the day. In this work, I wanted to capture the waterside view at the sanctuary, and the warm light of the rising sun on the trees at the water’s edge. The Rowe Sanctuary is a resting place and feeding ground for the thousands of migratory water birds that fly north each spring.

For the many human pilgrims, who like us, come to the River to witness a wonder of nature, the calls of the cranes are haunting and awe-inspiring.

Nebraska 2

left – Cranes Calling At Dusk

pastel on board, 7″ x 5″   $195.

right – Evening Light, Winging Home

pastel on board, 7″ x 5″   $195.