December 21, 2012 – January 20, 2013
I remember the Church of St. John the Evangelist as the most beautiful place in my hometown. I reluctantly attended mass there as a little boy. In spite of my squirming boredom, the church statuary, stained glass, painted ceilings and heavy, carved wood ornament captivated me. Next to us in the pews, pious, old women would pluck from deep shiny black handbags, beaded rosaries, plastic sleeved, gold cornered prayer cards, and ribboned brown felt scapulars. To me these religious tokens were like toys or prizes and I wanted them too. When mass was finally over I insisted on walking past the niche with the statue of Mary standing on the globe with the green snake wrapped around her feet–she was beautiful. These are my earliest aesthetic memories and in spite of my equivocal relationship to the Church I will always return to them.
Each winter at Curious Matter we submit to the sentiment of the season. For us, that means revisiting the visual vocabulary, mythology, social and spiritual intentions of our religious traditions. Our annual installations draw from our personal histories while intending to identify and celebrate the universal qualities of our finest human impulses.
This year we invoke the spiritual philosophy of Thérèse of Liseaux (1873-1897). She had decided that her life would not be heroic. She was not made for the grand gesture. Instead she would devote herself to perfection in the smallest acts. Whether darning a garment, tending a garden, or serving the other nuns of her convent, Thérèse would eventually achieve sainthood by going ‘her little way’ or ‘petite voie.’ Although her intention was not to live a heroic life eventually her spiritual memoirs and letters would be read by and inspire legions of devoted followers.
Our exhibition, Petite Voie, is comprised of homemade devotions. Professional artists or craftspeople may not have created them, however each work has been stitched, painted and constructed with great care. Included is a bottle whimsy–a furniture polish bottle filled in the same manner as a ship in a bottle. Dated 1950, it is outfitted with the hand-carved elements that comprise the symbols of the Passion of the Christ, images clipped from magazines are inserted to complete the scene. Another work is a popsicle stick model of a church. The two spires each contain a jingle bell, the interior is lined with tiny pews and an illustration of Christ at prayer is pasted behind its miniature alter. The piece is signed John Volaiter and dated September 7, 1979.
Minutely rendered watercolors and embroideries of the Sacred Heart are included in the exhibition and beside these lay the bible of Laura M. Maart. The bible contains the ephemera of her religious life. Slipped within its pages are the obituaries of her parents and sisters, a scallop edged photograph of a grave, prayer cards, scapulars, tiny metal pendants, several pressed flowers and a four-leaf clover. These are among numerous other small personal treasures.
Laura M. Maart’s bible, with its trove of documents and souvenirs illuminates the touchstones of a thoughtful, church-going lifetime. We didn’t know Ms. Maart or any of the devotees whose work we’re presenting. The bible, like several of the works in this exhibition, were discovered in jumble shops. Most are unsigned, with no known provenance and seemingly possessed little value after their original purpose. Still, examining the details of these works, we’re reminded of the life of St. Thérèse and her commitment to the execution of every task as a prayer to God. These are humble works, yet the care taken in their execution is apparent.
Please join us in honoring the spirit of the season and celebrate the small acts that touch our sentimental hearts. The same hearts that recognize even modest work born of our best intentions can transcend mere sentiment and possess the capacity to inspire us, in ways that may not necessarily be heroic, but with significance nonetheless.