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A sculptor and a parish receive international recognition

By Jerry Hames

A Virginia sculptor renowned nationally for her work and an Episcopal church nestled in California’s Carmel Valley have received international recognition for outstanding creativity and design in this year’s Religious Art and Architecture Design Awards program.

The two Episcopal award winners were chosen from among 135 entries worldwide that included submissions from Christian, Jewish and Muslim architects, artists, liturgical designers and students from North and South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Faith & Form Magazine and the Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture, a knowledge community of the American Institute of Architects, co-sponsor the award program.


A new interpretation

“My first reaction was ‘wow!’” said Margaret Adams Parker of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Va., whose sculptures often deal with social-justice themes. Her work is in the collection of the U.S. Library of Congress, on the grounds of Washington National Cathedral and Duke Divinity School, and in many churches, including St. Mary’s.

“Once I had absorbed the news, I was, and continue to be, immensely grateful,” she said. “I feel blessed to be called to this work of interpreting Scripture visually, work that I compare with the task of the preacher. I am conscious of standing in a long tradition of the visual arts as a handmaid to faith, a tradition that I honor and hope to carry forward.”

Parker’s work, “Mary as Prophet,” offers a new interpretation of the Visitation, the meeting between Mary with her cousin Elizabeth as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. The sculpture depicts Mary tense with prophecy, her focus turned inward.  Elizabeth moves toward Mary, bending and reaching forward to support her.

Mary and Elizabeth, shown as African women, embody the ties of Virginia Theological Seminary, which commissioned the sculpture, with churches in Africa. The depiction of Mary and Elizabeth as ordinary, rather than idealized, women reminds viewers of the church’s call to “lift up the lowly.”

The award’s citation — “This sculpture takes a radically different approach to the story of Mary and Elizabeth and moves the narrative in a new direction” — underscores Parker’s interpretation. She will receive the award in April at the annual meeting of the American Institute of Architects in Orlando, Fla., where an exhibition at the Orange County Convention Center will showcase the award-winning projects.

“St. Mary’s is delighted that Peggy has been recognized for her work, which echoes the church’s prophetic mission to ‘fill the hungry with good things,’” said the Rev. Andrew T.P. Merrow, rector of St. Mary’s. “We are thankful for the seminary’s commitment to commission such public works of art that have the unique ability to move, impassion and uplift.”

Situated on a terrace against the preserved walls of the seminary’s 1881 chapel and within view of the 2015 chapel, the figures are a significant presence on the campus. Their prominent location underscores one of Dean Ian S. Markham’s goals for the commission — to honor women’s ministries.

California recipient

St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in the heart of California’s Carmel Valley, a center for the arts, received a liturgical-furnishings award in recognition of the installation of a new pipe organ created by Dobson Pipe Organ Builders and of the refurbishing of its worship space. The organ includes 23 stops and 1,008 pipes. It took nearly a year to build it by hand in Lake City, Iowa. Then it took the builders five weeks to assemble Opus 94 on site and another two months for the pipes to be tuned and voiced, John A. Panning, Dobson’s vice president and tonal director, wrote in a recent issue of The American Organist.

“Never intended to house a pipe organ, St. Dunstan’s had been served by an increasingly cranky electronic, whose speakers front and back broadcast a confusing wash of sound. Fitted with carpet, inadequate lighting and pews stained the color of asphalt, the church was not the most visually or aurally welcoming space,” Panning said.

“Our design for an organ standing front-and-center, with recommendations from an acoustic technician, encouraged the parish to beautify its worship space by removing the carpeting and staining the concrete floor, refinishing the pews and installing new LED lighting.”

The revised altar platform, now deeper and constructed of solid concrete rather than plywood, is sheathed in sedimentary stone quarried near Jerusalem in which fossils can be seen. A new Communion rail and an ambo by liturgical artist Jeff Tortorelli complete the chancel.


To learn more about Parker and for additional photos, go to MargaretAdamsParker.com.

To learn more about St. Dunstan’s and watch time-lapse video of the installation of the organ, visit saintdunstanschurch.org/organ/.   n


Photo/Sherman Chu

Opus 94, a tracker-style pipe organ custom-built for St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Carmel Valley, Calif., is installed in the newly renovated chancel. The church received an international award for church furnishing.

Photos/B. Cayce Ramey

Margaret Adams Parker at work on the sculpture “Mary as Prophet” in a neighbor’s heated studio
in early 2015.

“Mary as Prophet,” a Margaret Adams Parker sculpture on the grounds of Virginia Theological Seminary, won an international honor for its novel depiction of the visitation of Mary and Elizabeth as described in
St. Luke’s Gospel.

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