From April 17 to the 21st, I participated in a faith-based artists conference in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. The Gathering of Artisans drew about 300 artists, musicians, writers, and dancers from all over the country to unite in a powerful session to express their faith, creativity, and imagination.
I registered for this conference with some trepidation, questioning if art and religion can connect. Is one foreign from the other? In the past, my experience with “churches” was the artist as a vocation was not accepted; images depicting Christ were or, as my father said while growing up, non-Christian! Despite his disapproval, I continued on my art journey, completed my undergraduate studies in the fine arts, and went on years later to complete my master’s degree researching the relationship between art and religion and how it played a significant role throughout art history. I studied painters like Fra Angelico, William Blake, and many other Renaissance sculptors and painters, ultimately completing my document thesis entitled Creativity Beyond the Boundaries: Christian Visual Art in Ethiopia with the main body of my research about the holy icons of Ethiopia.
The famous sculptor August Rodin ( 1840 to 1917) believed, “Religion is the impulse of our conscientious which in this life gives wings to our thoughts.” That was back then, so what about today, 2022? Can I take what I know from the past and transfer it to the present? Yes. Can the sacred and the mundane be interconnected? These questions perplexed me for years.
But I digress here and now, ten years later, registering for a religious conference on the arts. But the Gathering of Artisans was not that; it wasn’t a church group, there was no affiliation to any denomination, and it was not religion, rules of dos and don’ts! It was not Protestant or Catholic. The five-day conference reinforced my faith and discovered how the Creator of the universe informs my imagination. I went there to understand what the Creator had deposited in me since I was young. The passion for creating. In her book Breath for the Bones, Luci Shaw describes this passion as a gift from the creator who gives us his spirit and proves again and again that he is an artist and knows the value of the creative act. (Pg. 83 Breath for the Bones)
Over the five-day Gathering of Artisans, participants could select any three of the over 50 art-related classes. Every day for 6 hours we made art.
One of the sessions I chose was a trip to Penland School of Craft, a half-hour drives into the mountains to visit artists’ studios.
I was especially inspired and (blown away!) by the acclaimed fiber artist Vicki Essig, who uses the fine threads from the silkworm’s cocoon to create her artwork. She grows the silkworms by freezing their eggs and puts the eggs in a container with Mulberry leaves when it is time for them to hatch. Her work is delicate, mystical, and contemplative. You can see her work at https://www.vickiessig.com/.
Creating with Freedom was the other session I chose. I wanted to create something that had no obligation to produce a masterpiece, a creating experience that was completely free, with no attachments to ideas of the right way or wrong way. Like a child free to doodle, slap on paint, make mistakes, and who cares, whatever; this was the class for me! It was fun, and I made a mess!
The Gathering of Artisans in the mountains of North Carolina was a beautiful new experience, and I anticipate attending the next conference in 2023.