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Philadelphia cathedral’s arts show explores ‘themes and variations’

“Themes and Variations” artwork is displayed in the sanctuary of Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral. Photo/Thomas Lloyd

Reflection by Thomas Lloyd

The congregation at Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral includes a number of visual artists. To celebrate their gifts, the cathedral arts program devotes an exhibition every two years to their work.

Having served as director of music at the cathedral since 2010, I was asked last summer by Dean Judith A. Sullivan to add the visual arts program to my responsibilities. As a long-time art lover who already had gotten to know several of our artists, I was especially excited that I had started just in time for the biennial Cathedral Artists exhibit already on the schedule for November and December of this year. This inspired me to take the opportunity to visit each of the artists in their studios to see their current work and talk about their creative process.

I noticed a common tendency to return to certain subjects again and again, even as the artistic approach, technique and media of each artist continued to change over time. From this observation came the idea of unifying the show under the familiar musical title “Themes and Variations.”

We also had just engaged the congregation in a focus on creation (following a theme recommended to churches nationally). I believed this new exhibit also could reflect the infinite variety and unity of our divinely created world through the way artists imagine variations of human or natural subjects, religious symbols, colors and forms.
Our artists also are drawn to a broad panoply of media (painting, mixed media, etching, sculpture, photography) and styles, across the spectrum from abstraction to realism. As I saw how they kept coming back to the same subjects and ideas over extended periods of time, I wondered: “What is it that these artists keep searching for that we might be missing, that might be essential, beautiful, quietly unnoticed?”

“The Artist,” photograph by John Dowell

We then worked together to choose multiple works illustrating the idea of “variations.” John Dowell’s large and finely detailed photographs from his “Rittenhouse Square” series contain multiple views from different ranges above this historic Philadelphia park. As Dowell wrote in the show catalog, “I noticed [that] when the trees shed their leaves I could get a better sense or feeling of a particular area looking through the branches. It was so different from above, and you could feel the enveloping of the space. You met friends, had lunch, lay on the grass or danced. This I rediscovered spending hours in the square at all times of day and evening, realizing the wonder of this beautiful place. Many of us pass through it, but we rarely see it for what it truly is. I want to make you stop, look and absorb.”

Mixed-media painter Anne Minich contributed works from her “Heads” series, one of a number of distinctive themes she has developed throughout her career. She explained that the image was “intentionally gender neutral.”

“Trio,” mixed-media painting on wood by Anne Minich

In “Poet’s Prayer,” a wooden relief version of the image is surrounded by embedded seashells and three white shapes containing the words “recollect,” “intend” and “compose.” These words “indicate what I believe all artists need to do before starting a work of any kind, in any discipline,” Minich said.”

In “Trio,” three flat, copper versions of the head image are presented in a row, all with brilliant white halos against a penetrating, clearly carved red background on gessoed wood. This “variation” recalls images of heads and halos throughout Christian art and iconography.

“Three Perspectives on Life,” painted wood sculpture by Won Choi

A series of three abstract wood sculptures by Won Choi reflect her “experience of changing perspectives at different stages of my life. … At the third stage [Three Perspectives on Life], I am perceiving the world as a place where one comes for the purification of one’s soul through many stages, one at a time.”

Suzanne Duplantis painted “At a Crossroads — Kelly Drive” alongside other paintings of hers linked by the idea of “seeing through.” She said she was drawn “by the idea of seeing through a passage way to a focal point, a focal point that is more or less not the point. I guess you could say the point is the light along the way.”

“Alley, St. Michael’s,” oil on wood by Suzanne DuPlantis

The artwork is displayed in the cathedral’s sanctuary, where space and light make it possible to view the works at close range or while participating in liturgy. The same space is used for social-outreach ministries during the week, where a wider range of people have access to work of this dedicated community of artists. Exhibits change every four to six weeks during the year, with Lent reserved for a display of one of two sets of Stations of the Cross by Cathedral artists Gerald Di Falco (permanent collection) or Virginia Maksymowicz (on loan).
For the complete exhibition catalog, visit the arts page of www.philadelphiacathedral.org.

The direct link to the exhibition catalog is /https://drive.google.com/file/d/1HUXzcd9lgitIJq7URshA4-pFwVlCW-9o/view

Thomas Lloyd is director of music and arts at Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral.


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