SF: You say in your note at the end of the book that “I kept hearing people say such things as ‘I wish we had great Catholic artists working today.’ The thing is, we do! But with the overload of information in the digital age, it is often difficult to find these artists if you don’t know where to look.”
It does seem, though, like there has been a sudden flourishing of variety of styles of sacred art in the last several years. There are just more, and more different kinds of Catholic art, than there used to be.
JH: One of the things that facilitates that is the advent of social media, especially the kind that’s devoted to sharing images, like Instagram. But before that, there were a fair number of people devoted to making sacred art, but it was hard to encounter it.
Around maybe 2002, another artist, Ted Schluenderfritz
, author-illustrator Ben Hatke
, and Sean Gleeson, and later some others and I put together Smallpax, a group for Catholic illustrators and artists, and I started interviewing artists like Daniel Mitsui
and Tim Jones
. Deacon Lawrence Klimecki
and Anthony VanArsdale
were also involved. That’s where I first started seeing the early versions of [Ben Hatke’s character] Zita
. Ben was still doing illustrations for Seton Home School, way back in the day. The website is gone now, into the mists of the Internets.
But I saved a bunch of images into a folder and showed them to people at work and said, “Wouldn’t it be neat to do a collection of prints?” Then I proceeded to be annoying about it for a decade, and they eventually agreed to do it.
SF: I’m really struck with how it’s not just designed to page through, but so you can take the images out and put them your home.
JH: I grew up in a house where my mom had art all over the place. A lot was stuff she was pulling out of magazines and putting in frames. When I started collecting art for my own purposes, several times I encountered these folios of prints from the WPA era. There would be just a collection of thirty or forty prints, designed so they could be detached and put on the walls. I was familiar with a loose folio that came in a folder, but the idea of a bound folio was really neat.
If you have art on the wall, it becomes part of your daily life. It informs how you think of the saints being depicted, or of the Blessed Mother, or your image of God, which is one of the reasons I really don’t like the saccharine late 19th and early 20th century treacly kind of sacred art.
If you grow up around that, you get the idea that the faith is either pretty and nice, or else it isn’t real, or else you encounter a great amount of suffering, and if this is your image of the faith, you think, well, I can’t connect with that. Some people find it deeply meaningful; they really do. But for me, that has never been something that spoke to me.
Fr. Jaques Hamel by Neilson Carlin
SF: Have your kids let you know how the art you put in the house has affected them?
JH: Some of my kids are more into visual art than others. My daughter, who is very artistic, will look at it and talk about it with me. My youngest, who is six, as soon as I showed him the proofs [of the book] that came in, he immediately told me that as soon as I get the final one, he wants St. Joseph Terror of Demons. He grabbed that one right away.
St. Joseph Terror of Demons by Bernadette Carsensen
SF: How did you choose the artists?
: It’s a wide variety of styles, and that was conscious. There were people I really wanted to get in there: Tim Jones
, Matthew Alderman
, and Jim Janknegt
. Those were the initial people I envisioned building this around. Matt Alderman is doing a black and white sort of art nouveau style;
The Wedding at Cana by Matthew Alderman
Tim Jones is doing a classic realistic style,
The Immaculate Heart by Timothy Jones
and Jim Janknegt is doing a modern style with colors that explode off the page.
Miracle of the Sun by James B. Janknegt
With those three, you get an idea of the kind of variety you will find in the book.
SF: Did anything surprise you as you went through the process of putting it together?
JH: One person said, “I’m glad you decided to include some images of recent saints and soon-to-be saints,” and I said, “Oh, I guess I did.” I have Blessed Solanus Casey [by Matthew Alderman] and Servant of God Fr. Kapaun [by Elizabeth Zelasko]
Servant of God Father Emil Kapaun by Elizabeth Zelasko
I hadn’t really consciously set out to do that, but I am interested in recent saints.
I also didn’t realize that I had put quite so many Marian images in there. There’s . . .seven, eight, nine, fully half these images. I brought a copy to the Marian Library at the University of Dayton to give them in their library collection, and I said something like, “There aren’t that many Marian images,” but then I looked at them and I was like, oh, I guess there are!
Mary, the Mother of Life by Michael D. O'Brien
SF: I know some people have rules about sacred art, like not combining it with secular art in the same space. Do you have any rules?
JH: I personally do not. I grew up in a house with a jumble of images, like a Padre Pio statue in a shrine made out of an old tofu press hanging on the wall.
SF: That’s the most Herreid thing I have ever heard.
JH: I do think, looking back, it’s funny that Padre Pio is Mr. Redmeat saint, and there he is in a tofu press.
Saint Padre Pio by Matthew Conner
SF: I have seen the photos you’ve been posting on social media as you’ve been hanging up the prints in your house. It’s a good tip to find high quality frames in thrift shops. Frames are expensive! Do you have other advice for people who want to incorporate more sacred art into their homes?
JH: I collect art of all kinds. I love having things on the walls. One thing I think people get too finicky about is having to be very intentional about having to set up a special sacred spot in their room. That’s great if you can do that and have the room for it, and the room is architecturally appropriate for it, but often times you may not be able to do that. In that case, you may want to just put things where they fit and gather around them for prayers.
St. Benedict by Gwyneth Thompson-Briggs
As far as collecting sacred art, antique stores are a great spot, although it’s often the more saccharine style of art. I found a great Madonna and Child, made by a great sculptor, for $8 at an estate sale. It’s huge, actually impractically huge.
Our neighbor once brought a friend over to talk about home brewing, and the guy walked into the door and was confronted by all this Catholic imagery. And he said, “So, is the Catholic thing an aesthetic, or . . . ?”
I said, “No, I actually believe it.”
And he said, “Oh. O-kay . . . . . okay.”
SF: Sure, you’re the weirdo.
Is there anything else you want people to know about this book or about art in general?
JH: I really feel strongly that we made sure to include information about each of the artists, where you can find them online, their social media info, and where you can purchase their art. It drives me bonkers when people share images by working artists and don’t credit them, and don’t say where it’s from.
Sacred art in the past was commissioned by the wealthy and powerful, and they would be responsible for funding it. We’re no loner in a world like that. Most artists depend on people like me and you to buy art from them. I feel like it’s only just to find artists online and try to support them.
If one of these images [in the book] jumps out at you, go look them up and find out what else they’ve done, and maybe purchase a few prints directly. That’s the only way they’ll be able to continue doing this work, if people like me and you support them.
And now for the giveaway! Nice and simple. Just leave a comment on this post, and you’re entered. I will use a random number generator to choose the winner on Monday the 13th, and I will contact the winner by email. Thanks to Ignatius for sponsoring this.
FOR THE LOVE OF MIKE, PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT USING A NAME CONNECTED TO AN EMAIL ADDRESS THAT ACTUALLY WORKS. If the winner left a comment using the email address “email@example.com” I will make rude chimp noises and then pick someone else, and then you won’t get your art.