I was asked if I would participate in a local show featuring reliquaries created by artists. I was even asked politely if I would mind having a group show inspired in part by my own work with reliquaries. I assured the curator that I did not by-any-means claim the term “reliquary” and I would by-all-means be honored to join the exhibit. The word “reliquary” is an architectural term meaning “house for a relic.” I decided to use the opportunity to exhibit my first carved tree reliquary sculpture titled “Secret Miracles at Work.”
Here is a statement about the first series of reliquary sculptures shown in a solo exhibition at Paris Gibson Museum of Art:
I remember looking intently into the gilded gold and glass reliquary for the relic…the knucklebone of a saint. I don’t remember if I was amused or disappointed. The reliquary consisted of a box inside a box, inside a box, and sat on a stand which must have weighed a ton for all of the gold and glob. Detailed with exquisite craftsmanship but overdone…like a wedding cake which struggles under the weight of more frosting than substance. Slender spun threads held the bone. The attempted illusion of magical suspension seemed comically befitting the odd juxtaposition of pomp and filigree which housed a dull dark dusty bone…the object of veneration. I was seventeen…impressed not so much by the object than by the idea of the object. I was told that thousands of people made pilgrimages to this place to visit the relic. A cathedral was built to house the reliquary which housed the relic…money exchanged hands, artisans made a living and believers made offerings in light of the artifact of a bone left behind by a saint.
I have experienced spiritual epiphanies in nature-made cathedrals. Moments of soul-bearing insight have come to me bereft of pomp…totally unexpected and usually without a pilgrimage. One such moment occurred the summer after college while alone in the backcountry as a wilderness ranger. Memories of that summer are pleasantly woven together from an endless array of eye-pleasing images…a subtle wash of untainted colors instantly calming in a solitude enriched time of contentment. Damp dark nights, dewy mornings, snow-capped peaks, deep blue glacier lakes and moss adorned cold creaks blend together on a canvas pungent with aroma…the rich mixed smells of spring and the dry hot singular smell of dust in the mid-summer air.
One memory leaps from the canvas of that summer with intensity beyond the pleasant harmonic spread of sound, smell, and color. The epiphany happened unexpectedly at the base of a tree. Struck by lightning, the tree stood twisted and torn, dead and alive, insistently bold and strikingly humble. Sap ran like tears. Crimson red streaked the black charred trunk. Nakedly exposed dead limbs savagely intermingled with the tender life-bearing leaf-filled branches. Passionate clinging …survival …acceptance …love and loss …all wrapped into the trunk of a tree made more beautiful by the scars… more majestic in its humility. I was awestruck. The powerful mixed message struck my soul and blazed my heart…charred and scarred. Instant communion… I felt deeply ALIVE.
The ordinary made extraordinary…a relic holds more power for me than an idol. Existence based in experience rather than an image made in the likeness of something other. The energy emanating from a relic or the care given to a reliquary both have the potential to be captivating. The fortuitous spirit I witnessed that afternoon touched twisted triumphant places in my own soul. Split. Relic and reliquary. Raw and adorned. Shockingly disturbing and deeply comforting. Tragic and triumphant.
I embrace life with its contradictions and plunge headlong into the marvel. I offer these sculptures as pages torn from a journal of my journey. Think of them as leaves dropped from my tree to walk among quietly or dance around venomously. Tip toe. Skip. Lounge. Laugh. Raise an eyebrow. Ask a question. Nap. Cry. Crinkle the leaves between the fingers of your mind or let your soul chuckle with the crispy crunch of them underfoot.
(exhibit can be viewed at The Frame Garden until the end of the month)