Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 12, 2000
Artists display spirituality
Presbyterian sculptor's work shows empathy with Virgin Mary
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
If you look at sculptor Joan Brownell's work, you'd think she was Catholic.
"I'm Presbyterian, but it's just something I had to do," Brownell said of her sculptures of Mary. "The religious (sculptures), they just happen. They just sort of happen."
Brownell and her husband Cam, also a sculptor, exhibited their work at Star of the North Retreat Centre's Contact 2000 art show June 4. The 10th annual event in St. Albert featured the works of 24 Edmonton and area artists, all with a faith based theme.
"The purpose is to allow people to come and experience how artists experience their own spirituality," said Val Wilbur, coordinator of the retreat centre. "I think it allows people to see God in a different light.
"The goal is to allow artists to come for a day and showcase their faith."
Artists included painters, calligraphers, photographers and a wheat weaver.
"You never think of some of these things as art, but they're amazing," said Theresa McDonnell, admiring the exhibits.
McDonnell made special reference to the liturgical garments by Pat Cherewick.
"You see them every Sunday at Mass, but you don't think much of them. But there's a lot of creativity in what (Cherewick) has done here," McDonnell said of the fire red vestment with small flames scattered throughout. "It's truly a work of art."
McDonnell was also impressed by Brenda McLachlan's stained glass work, as well as Brownell's Jesus in the Garden.
"It gives me a sense of accomplishment," Brownell said of her work. "I get an awakening from it."
Brownell started sculpting 15 years ago. But her passion for it began much earlier.
"I use to sculpt those toffee candies," she said. "Making little elephants or animals for my kids."
She never thought much of it until her children were grown and left the house and she left her job as a school secretary in St. Albert. She moved to Ontario, took a few courses and joined an artists' association.
When she returned to Alberta five years ago, she was commissioned for the sculpture of Rollie Boisvert, a prominent resident of Sherwood Park, which was unveiled in 1998 by Prime Minister Jean Chretien at Monument Park. The piece took six weeks and 200 pounds of clay.
Brownell's first religious piece was a crucifix in 1981. She doesn't plan to sell it because "as an artist, you don't want to part with anything you make."
Brownell's works, such as the crucifix and her present project, a version of Michel-angelo's Pieta, are more than just a showcase of her Christian faith.
"I never realized how much Jesus suffered until I started one of these," Brownell said of her crucifix piece. "The hands and the feet and the wound in his side . . . you just feel so terrible for what happened to him."
Brownell had those same emotions while working on her pieces of Mary.
"It was the same sort of thing happening. I felt so sorry for (Mary). For her pain. How she had her son for only a few years and how she saw him suffer."
Brownell's inspiration comes from God, though her husband Cam jokes that he had a little bit to do with it.
"I'm Catholic. I think there was a little bit of influence there," he said of the pieces on Mary.
Cam, a sculptor for the past four years, also finds inspiration for his work through his faith.
"I know that ability is a gift from God."