Monday, January 16, 2012


Back in the seminary, during my more idealistic days, I got into a debate with one of my professors about art and the Catholic Church. Standing firm that the Church as patroness of the arts should never, ever order their “art” from a catalogue, the professor kindly (tried) to point out that if a parish could not raise the funds to commission an artist to produce an original piece of art this might be a sound alternative. That idea was rebuffed. “If a community cannot raise the funds for true art!” I fumed, “then they don’t really want it!”

Since then my views have somewhat, but not entirely, softened. Catalogue art is safe art. There are no worries. You know exactly up front what it is that you are getting and if you are a little hesitant, just go to one of twenty parishes that already has your piece in it in order to see if you really do like it. Commissioning art is risky. One never knows exactly what one will get! There is a reason it is called original. But without taking that chance, we will never discover new talent; never experience new pieces.

From time to time I put my wallet where my rhetoric is. Most recently I commissioned a work of our patron saint by Eric Armusik. (You might remember him from this post a number of months ago.) I sent him the dimensions of a painting for which I was looking and some possible subject matter and then let him go to town. A few months later a giant package arrived in the mail. A kind parishioner and friend was there and I asked if she wished to stick around for the grand unveiling (or unwrapping I suppose) and she readily agreed and took these pictures. (Thanks J. D.)

The knife was in my hand and ready to cut when the secretary came back and said that some new parishioners had just registered and wanted to meet me. So I had to leave and greet a delightful young couple who had just moved to the area and hide my angst concerning the contents of the package in the hall.

After they left I leapt back into the hall. The camera was still poised to snap and now we were joined by our business manager and the unwrapping began. Let me tell you – this thing was wrapped to be towed by submarine across the Atlantic. It seemed to take forever to carve through the cardboard, plastic, and wood. (Sebastian – the dog - was very helpful.) And then – there it was! Saint Sebastian being nursed back to health by Saint Irene! Exquisite! A snippet in the life of our patron forever captured in a new piece of art.

This painting (on semi-permanent loan to the parish for as long as I am here) will hang in the rectory dining room. However, in honor of our feast day, this weekend it will be on display in the church building in the McDonough Resource Library (the old baptistery) if you would like a viewing.

Eric Armusik, the artist, lives in Hamburg, PA with his wife and three children. He was first inspired by the artwork of his home parish growing up and now hopes to continue in the fine tradition of creating works for the Church. He also does other projects as well but hopes to be able to do more commissions for and about the faith. If you would like more information you can find out more about him at his website here.


Anonymous said...

the painting . . . OK . . . the frame . . nein


lgreen515 said...

I am very much looking forward to seeing the painting this weekend. Looking at it online, it reminds me of Caravaggio, but I know I am missing the details.

lgreen515 said...

Just looking at the online picture, you could have been the model for Sebastian, but I don't know if I will think that when I see it in person.

Elena LaVictoire said...

It's great! And I'm so happy that it portrays the St. Irene part of the story, which I often think gets overlooked. Can't wait to see it!

Terry Nelson said...

I think it is beautiful and the frame is superb - a wonderful altarpiece. I too like the fact he is being taken care of by St. Irene. Wonderful work.

Terry Nelson said...

Happy feast day BTW!

Mary W said...

Just got a close look at it this evening in the Fr. McDonough library. It is beautiful! The light and shadow, the faces, the landscape in the window...I had no idea that there was anyone left in the world who still painted like that! After perusing his gallery, I think this painting is his best by far. So good that there are at least a couple people left in the world who are willing to commission such work.