Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 4, 2000
Oohs, aahs for Anno Domini
Museum exhibit expects to draw 100,000 by January
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
It's a Thursday afternoon and the first four rows of parking at the Provincial Museum of Alberta are full.
A tour bus and a school bus are parked outside. There is still room to move among the artwork of the Anno Domini: Jesus Through the Centuries exhibit, but the hundred or so people there indicate the exhibit's popularity.
By the end of November, more than 60,000 people will have gone through the exhibit, which opened Oct. 7.
"It's amazing! That's why I have to nudge and elbow all these people aside to see something," joked Bonnie Ropchin. "I just wanted to stare at that (Claude Mellan's spiral art portrait of Jesus) for awhile, try to figure out how he does that, but there were so many people moving around me I thought maybe I should give them a chance too.
"I think everyone should come see it."
Her friend Raine Dobson added, "If you miss this, you might not get another chance to see this kind of (exhibit) . . . for another 2,000 years."
By Jan. 7, 2001, the last day of the exhibit, 100,000 people are expected to have gone through.
So far, Church groups and school bookings have made up for more than a third of the exhibit's visitors.
St. Stephen Church in Lacombe organized a Sunday afternoon visit to the museum for 59 parishioners.
"It was pretty spectacular," said Howard Morigeau. "It really brought home the impact that Jesus had on the world yesterday and today.
"It kind of demonstrated what Jesus meant to people. I was really impressed with the variation - the variety of ways people thought about him."
However, Morigeau was a little disappointed in the 15-minute introductory video.
"I don't think it was right to include Robert Latimer in there," he said. "You couldn't escape the expression of what he did. I watched it three times, it shouldn't have been there."
The video recently received criticism, particularly from the Alberta Association for Community Living (AACL) for including Latimer, the Saskatchewan farmer convicted of killing his severely handicapped daughter, under the heading Blessed are the Merciful.
The video has since been edited to exclude Latimer's picture, but the case remains part of the content.
For the majority of the visitors, the controversial video did not dampen the mood of the exhibit. People walked by the more than 300 pieces of artwork sometimes in puzzlement, but often in amazement.
Students from Louis St. Laurent High School visited the museum Nov. 23. As they went from one painting to the next, small echoes of "Wow, that's neat" and "You have to see this one" followed.
"I'm always amazed at the kids," said Sandra Talarico, the school's chaplain. "Sometimes I think the kids don't get anything out of it and then they surprise me. They're very studious in what they're looking at."
Talarico said the Latimer video controversy is outweighed by the remainder of the exhibit.
"There's so much to see and feel here," she said. "I want (students) to see that Jesus just doesn't happen in religion class. I want them to see him in a public place.
"Here, we're experiencing him in a very public place. I want them to feel comfortable about that.
"It's almost like an affirmation of our faith. There's not a lot of public places we can talk about our faith. They look at Jesus as unreachable. This shows he was a person too. He's a wonderful person for these kids to have as a role model."
Having Jesus represented in such diverse manners helps the students to see him not only as the Saviour, but as a man who lived among the people.
"That whole idea of who Jesus was, no matter what situation people were in . . . war, peace," said Iain Gillis, 17. "It was interesting to see that."
Jan Rempel, 16, added, "It was far more spectacular than I had expected."
For many Christians who visited the exhibit, they could not help but feel spiritually enlightened.
"It's a great thing to have for all denominations - it's not just a Christian thing," said Dobson, who was raised Presbyterian. "Everybody knows who Jesus is, whether you go to church or not. Art is kind of a neutral subject, it's a great way to teach people about Jesus."
Albert Felicitas, a teacher at Louis St. Laurent added, "It feels very holy. It's like virtual reality, like walking through the Christian Testaments."
Some artwork was very likable. Frankie Albers from Lacombe enjoyed the displays which paralleled the works of Jesus and those of 20th century newsmakers, Albert Einstein, Nellie McClung and Martin Luther King.
"I was impressed with the effect (Jesus') life had on so many different people," Albers said.
Some artwork wasn't received as favourably.
"The stained glass (by Johannes Schreiter) was plain ugly," Gillis said. "The idea was great and how he tied it to the atomic bomb. But the bright orange, it wasn't very nice."
Kelsey Speakman, 16, added, "I always thought of stained glass as the kind they have at Newman (Theological College), with all the colours. This was kind of different."
But overall, the exhibit left visitors with a better appreciation of Christ and an eagerness to come back again.
"I admire people that can express their feelings in that way (through the arts)," Morigeau said. "They did it in faith. You can see in their work how much they believe. Nothing was done for commercial reasons.
"I'd like to go again; you can't just see it once."