by J.D. Benning
Special to The Leaven
ATCHISON — “They are to practice their craft with all humility.”
These are the words St. Benedict offers the artist — words that Brother Karel Soukup, OSB, lives and works by.
Joining the Atchison monastery in 2013, Brother Karel brought to the abbey lots of raw artistic talent. He has now spent the past eight years honing his craft in a variety of media: painting, woodworking, book binding and more.
He has already shared his art, offering paintings for auction the past two Christmases to raise funds for St. Benedict’s Abbey.
But now, Brother Karel is ready to put his talents on full display, and St. Benedict’s Abbey will be hosting an exhibition of his art entitled “Here” this June.
“All of the art I’ll be sharing is the fruit of my monastic life at the abbey, and this is really the theme of the show,” he said. “Whether that’s making things from trees that have fallen on our property, painting scenes from the monastery grounds or more conceptual art — every single piece in ‘Here’ ties back to my life here at St. Benedict’s Abbey.”
Growing up, Brother Karel’s family offered him a creative example.
“God gave me gifts, and they’ve slowly been brought out in me,” he explained. “I grew up in an artistic family, though I don’t know that anyone would consider themselves an artist. My dad paints and does woodworking and my mom does lots of different crafts.”
“Coming to the abbey I had the opportunity to participate in art events,” he added, “and along with the abbot and community, we have discerned this is the best way to use the gifts God has given me.”
Each year, Brother Karel puts his talent to work in the decoration of the paschal candle that is used for the abbey’s liturgy. In 2019, he even created the short film “The Paschal Candle,” which was powerfully underscored by an a capella rendition of the Exsultet, the Easter proclamation, by Father Meinrad Miller, OSB.
While his artistic education has grown his talents in a variety of media, it’s woodworking that Brother Karel is most passionate about.
“It’s really the material that gets me excited — I could be making really anything,” he said.
His skills as a craftsman have been put to work recently in the creation of reliquaries to hold the sacred relics housed at St. Benedict’s Abbey. For the 2021 Abbot’s Table, Brother Karel put together another short film, “A Little Flower Reliquary,” sharing the creation of a reliquary for a relic of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. All three of Brother Karel’s short films and more can be viewed online at: kansasmonks.org.
Abbot James Albers is grateful for all of Brother Karel’s work and excited for what he has in store.
“Our monastic community has greatly benefited from Brother Karel’s talents,” said the abbot. “He has beautified our liturgy by creating our paschal candles and rebinding our Book of the Gospels; he has beautified our home through his craftsmanship and exceptional painting skills.”
“Truly, we are blessed to call him our brother,” he added. “I am proud of all that he has accomplished and I look forward, with great anticipation, to the great works he will complete in the future.”
Join Brother Karel and the monks for his first major art exhibit on June 12 at St. Benedict’s Abbey at 1 p.m. The show can also be viewed by appointment with Brother Karel from June 5-12. He can also be reached by email at: email@example.com to schedule a private showing.