Competition celebrates artists’ role in evangelization

Peggy Shopen won the St. Bede Award and $500 for her piece, “King David.” LEAVEN PHOTO BY JOE BOLLIG

By Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It’s an artist’s nightmare: shipping your artwork thousands of miles to an exhibition only to be discovered upon arrival that it was somehow damaged in transit.

That’s what happened to Kate Marin, a 2012 graduate of Benedictine College in Atchison. The St. Francis native is now studying at the Sacred Art School in Florence, Italy.

Marin shipped her plaster statue of Jesus, entitled “Ecce Homo” (“Behold the Man”) to be part of “Duc in Altum: Put Out Into the Deep,” the 2017 Regional Christian Arts Competition and Exhibition held Oct. 17 at Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kansas.

The Catholic Foundation of Northeast Kansas and the Catholic Fine Arts Council of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas sponsored this first-time event. The CFNEK donated the prize money and the award plaques.

That’s when one of the council’s board members, Eva Reynolds, used her connections.

Reynolds, owner of the Eva Reynolds Fine Arts Gallery in Overland Park, asked Kansas City, Missouri, sculptor Jennifer Walker for help.

Walker specializes in ornamental plaster and has done statue repair for churches before. She contacted CFNEK in the archdiocesan stewardship and development office and agreed to examine the statue at Savior.

“It was very weak and broken at the knees, so I stabilized it, touched it up and made it look as if it never happened,” said Walker.

Lesle Knop, executive director of CFNEK and CFAC, offered to pay for the services, but Walker refused, saying that she hoped another artist would do the same for her in a similar situation.

“I thought the statue was so beautiful that I just wanted to help her,” said Walker.

All the effort was worth it.

“Ecce Homo” won the competition’s St. John Paul II Award and Marin, the $1,500 prize.

The CFAC, established in 2009, has held a high school level art exhibition and competition for four years, said Knop. The council wanted to extend that opportunity to adult artists.

“The council felt that we were missing an opportunity to engage the lay faithful who were not associated with Catholic high schools,” said Knop. “So, after some brainstorming, we established the guidelines for the first Regional Christian Arts Competition and Exhibition.”

The guidelines and invitation for submissions were sent to bishops in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri. Somehow, the word spread a lot farther, and the CFAC began to receive submissions from the four target states, plus New York, Kentucky, Virginia and Texas.

“It says to us that there is a thirst for this opportunity, and I’m very pleased Archbishop Naumann encouraged us to mount this competition,” said Knop.

More than 90 works were submitted by 45 artists, and a panel whittled these down to 52 works and 24 artists. The artists were allowed to submit up to three works.

The final judging was done by Denis R. McNamara, assistant director of The Liturgical Institute and associate professor of art and architecture at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, Mundelein, Illinois.

Michael Shirley, CFNEK board director, introduced honorary chairpersons John and Pat Menghini.

“The artist has played an integral part in evangelizing God’s people,” said John Menghini. “Just think. During the Middle Ages or through the Renaissance years, if you were trying to teach someone about a theological concept how much more helpful it would be if you could show them a graphic or show them a beautiful painting that depicted that thing.

“We sometime don’t give [artists] credit for their role in evangelization. In fact, they are, I think, integral catechists throughout history. This is a way for our archdiocese in our area to recognize that and celebrate that.”

Menghini said that he hoped this exhibition and competition would be a model for other dioceses in the United States.

“If we want to promote Christian art we have to do something about it,” said Menghini. “We have to give artists an opportunity to showcase their works, we have to give artists a reason to do that work, and they have to be able to make a living doing it as well.

“As Catholics interested in that, we all have an important role in supporting those artists.”

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