Friday, December 7, 2018

Violet or Blue?

Blue, violet, and other colors are available in the Luther brocade and other fabric selections from

Copyright © Edward Riojas

More than opinions involving fruitcake or those pitting St. Nicholas against the pagan obesity, there is perhaps one issue that most clearly divides Christendom this time of year. It doesn’t involve the interpretation of Scripture or articles of the Augsburg Confession or even political leanings. It involves color.

I was recently reminded of this when sharing a photo of vestments in progress on the work table of Ecclesiastical Sewing. Amid a sea of kind compliments, there were little eddies of discontent with the Advent color choice of [gasp!] blue.

Some churches stick to violet and others stick to blue. Both colors have their virtues – if colors can, indeed, be virtuous. Violet is most often associated with penitence. Blue, if kept away from lighter shades, is associated with royalty. Violet is the color of Lent. Both Lent and Advent carry strong overtones of penitence and the need for a Savior to be born and to die for the sake of sinful man. Blue, on the other hand, points to the Advent of our King, His coming as the Infant Christ, and His coming again at the last.

But where did these colors come from in the first place, and how did they come to symbolize a Church season? This is, of course, the point at which one may expect the debate to be settled; where history states its case; where we can all have clear consciences that our own church is spot-on with tradition. Just don’t hold your breath too long.

The history of colored vestments and paraments is a very convoluted thing, and it doesn’t always have anything to do with a color’s meaning. Assigning meaning to color congealed in the Middle Ages, when heraldic symbols – and colors – became all the rage. I put the historical question to Carrie Roberts, owner of Ecclesiastical Sewing, and quickly found out that early churches had “ or maybe two sets of vestments that were "good" – those being white – and if the church were wealthy enough, red. Other sets for non-festival days were brown or whatever color was available.” Brown? I wonder what that means. Carrie summed it up best in saying the use of color on vestments and paraments is a “muddled historical mess.”

In short, neither violet nor blue is superior to the other, and it’s okay to use either or both or none at all. Now about those rose-colored vestments for Gaudete Sunday...

Friday, November 30, 2018

It’s Not About Me

Copyright © Edward Riojas

It’s not always about me. Okay, maybe it’s about me 95% of the time, but that isn’t true today.

Today, it’s about a few other Lutheran artists. They, like myself, may not be Cranach, but we all are still among the living – and the wage-seeking – and that is significant. Creating artwork for the Church, you see, is not exactly a lucrative endeavor. My fellows and I know it, but still we create art. And while it may seem trite to claim a Luther quote, some of us honestly, “Can do no other.”

I realize that in spotlighting the following folks I may be neglecting other fine Lutherans blessed with artistic talent. For that I apologize beforehand. If this holiday season – or any other time of year – you are looking for a special gift or a special commissioned piece, please consider these folks or other Lutherans like them.

Jonathan Mayer
Jonathan currently works for a stained-glass company, but his Scapegoat Studio still provides a variety of liturgical products.

Kelly Schumacher
Kelly’s Agnus Dei Liturgical Arts offers giclee prints, greeting cards, art lessons, and the like. I’m quite sure she also takes on commissions.

Carrie Roberts
The go-to person for vestment and parament concerns, her enterprise, Ecclesiastical Sewing, provides some spectacular solutions for Lutheran sanctuaries.

Tanya Nevin
For affordable, unique [Lutheran] gifts, or ideas that are a bit off the grid, consider Tanya’s work. Her products are shown here on Redbubble, but she also has a presence on Facebook and other places, too.

Kelly Klages
Kelly creates jewelry pieces that might appeal to the feminine portion of your gift list. Her products, along with the products of some others mentioned above, can be found at the site of yet another Lutheran enterprise, Ad Crucem. And, yes, most of my work can also be found at Ad Crucem, as well as some products I designed exclusively for them. (THAT sentence was the 5% me.)

Friday, November 23, 2018

A Gift Guide for Churches & Pastors

Copyright © Edward Riojas

It’s Black Friday, and if folks haven’t already maxed-out their credit cards on Thanksgiving night, they are making a noble effort to do so today. While we usually dote on those closest to us when it comes to gift-giving, it’s also nice to consider those who weekly give us gifts of infinitely greater value – our pastors. What follows are a few gift ideas for either your pastor or your church, and yes, they shamelessly come, in some form, from my own hand.

Ordination certificates and the same celebrating an anniversary are a nice way to give honor to the Office of the Ministry. The certificates are meant to be seen, and are a great reminder of the greater responsibility of those who shepherd wayward sheep. Certificates are 11” x 17” and include custom digital lettering. $75

The Great Shepherd
This giclée print also makes a very special gift for pastors. Originally commissioned by Doxology, the image shows a slightly different aspect of being faithful to the Great Overseer of our souls. “The Great Shepherd” giclée print, 9” x 15.75”/$75; 14” x 24.25”/$110.

Luther’s Sacristy Prayer
Available as either a giclée print or a standard print, this simple, yet profound prayer  before celebrating the Divine Service. And Matins. And Vespers. And Compline... “Sacristy Prayer” 5” x 7” standard print/$15; 7” x 10” standard print/$20; 14.5 x 20” giclée print/$100.

Giclée Prints on a Sacred Theme
I offer a large range of edifying images that make lovely gifts for your pastor or your church [or for anyone]. There are simply too many to mention here, so go to and mine through the sacred art section.

Vestments and Paraments
There is nothing worse than letting sanctuary cloth get threadbare or dingy. We don’t let it happen in our own homes, and neither should it happen in the Lord’s House. Ecclesiastical Sewing offers exquisite fabric, embroideries, and know-how to create vestments and paraments worthy of the sanctuary. Some of the embroideries are my designs and exclusive to Ecclesiastical Sewing.

Special Commissions
Once in a great while, memorials or a member with means can make an art commission possible. While I have, at present, a two-year waiting list, it often takes that long to walk through the commission process. One very special idea is a processional crucifix. I was wise enough to have three bronze castings made while working on a recent processional project, so I still have two Corpuses available. For inquiries, more information, or to order giclée prints, please e-mail me at

Friday, November 16, 2018

Getting Cute For Once

Images from the giclée print set, "There Was A Pig" Copyright © Edward Riojas. Images may not be reproduced.

Copyright © Edward Riojas

I do not live a cloistered life. While I now work almost exclusively on projects within the Church, not everything I’ve created is intended for the sacred realm. For decades I worked as an illustrator/graphics guy in the newspaper industry, and drew inspiration from all sorts of artists and genres. I still draw inspiration from unlikely places and people, including Miss Mason.

Today I thought I would showcase a set of giclée prints that would not exist if it weren’t for the work of Miss Mason, along with my own simple desire to create something impossibly cute. I’ve always thought that one or two of these – or the entire set – would be adorable on the wall of a child’s room or nursery. [hint. hint.]

Miss Mason (Marianne Harriet Mason)  lived in Victorian England. Coming from a family of means and being thoroughly modern, she was able to dabble in a variety of interests, including botany illustration and specimen collecting. She worked as a civil servant, inspecting the placement of foster children. She was also the first woman to collect the lyrics and music of local folk songs.

In 1877 Miss Mason published “Nursery Rhymes and Country Songs,” in part as an homage to recollections of her own childhood nurses, and also to sidestep the not-so-refined term “folk song.” The last song in the collection was a very old song, probably of Northumbrian origin, entitled, “There Was A Pig Went Out To Dig.”

It is a curious thing that this little ditty, while stringing together agricultural practices and animal species, is essentially a Christmas song. To more noble ears, the folk song is simply nonsense, but like many other mummer tunes it speaks to the long-held importance of Holy Days, if in mention only.

While the song had rather humble origins, the tune was later elevated to an embellished score by composer Percy Grainger. Like many of folk-based tunes of the period, “There Was A Pig” bears musical similarities to another tune, in this case, “I Saw Three Ships.”

Because I created these images as book illustrations, there are both vertical images intended for single pages, and horizontal counterparts originally created as two-page spreads. Sizes and prices for prints in the set, along with a large variety of other giclée prints, both sacred and secular, can be found on my website,

Friday, November 9, 2018

Historical Accuracy and the Sacred Artist

Copyright © Edward Riojas

I know just enough about history to get me in trouble.

It isn’t that I dislike history, but I often miss many of the nuances and particulars that so many historians relish. That can become a problem for the sacred artist.

At various times, I have been called to task for [still] putting Jesus on the cross, for giving Mary a cloak that was above her pay grade, and for making the Bethlehem shepherds look too Middle-eastern. Um, okay, I will never understand that last one, but you get the idea.

Of course, Christians mostly agree that the contents of the Bible are historical fact. (Those that don’t confess as much live in Quackville.) But how then do we handle the historicity of Biblical events – especially those involving Jesus Christ?

Sacred art is very unlike historical art. Historians and lovers of history will comb over every detail of a historical painting, assessing whether or not the events and characters were accurately portrayed, or whether things were pulled out of context to glorify someone or to achieve an agenda. John Trumbull’s famous painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence is a classic example of questionable accuracy. So is Frederic Remington’s painting of Custer’s last stand.

Quite frankly, I know most of my sacred pieces are not chock full of historical detail, so it does little to inform me that the mother of our Lord could not possibly have been able to afford a garment of ultramarine blue. I already know that. In sacred art, however, the spiritual reality will always trump its historical counterpart. The Bible is not, after all, simply a historical tome of the dead past – it is the Living Word.

So Mary is often shown wearing a deep blue frock because blue was once an expensive color made from semi-precious stone, and the honor was given to her as being “Blessed ... among women.” The body of Christ is shown on the cross to remind us of the cost of our redemption and the perfect love of our Lord. And shepherds are depicted as Middle-easterners because, well, apparently my sense of geography isn’t so great either.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Before the Rainbow

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Because most of the projects in which I involve myself take great quantities of time, I am often confronted with various aspects of Christianity for long periods – even the most mundane of details. I may spend hours painting the lips of Christ, for example, or spend the same amount of time looking into His eyes. I may labor, with great intimacy, over individual wounds He suffered. I may be forced to look at the pebbly ground on which He walked.

I could argue that I know all this already; that my imagination is enough to know what Scripture has told me. But thinking this way would make me a fool. I know myself well enough to know that I can never look closely enough or long enough at the brutal facts of my condition and the Love that undid it all.

I am now well into a project commissioned by Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hankinson, N.D. The piece is to be a Baptismal triptych that will provide a backdrop for the church’s Baptismal font. The theme is Martin Luther’s ‘Flood Prayer,’ and its words will be an integral part of the painting.

The painting will not only be visually heavy on the Word, but also water. Forget visions, however, of Monet’s placid pond or Seurat’s ‘Sunday Afternoon.’ The water depicted in this piece is none of that. It is awesome and frightful and even scary. It pours down unmercifully. It rises vertically. It is poised with unmistakable power. And it kills.

Too often have we glossed over reality in preference of an innocent and inoffensive version of the truth. There are probably more cartoon characters of Noah and Mrs. Noah with giraffes, two-by-two, then there are of drowning hoards. Rainbows rule, if only to show God’s mercy. Visions of Divine justice, however, have somehow been eliminated for the “G” crowd.

This triptych will hopefully change that. The sky above the ark is boiling with Divine anger. There is no escape for the subjects of God’s wrathful flood.

So, too, the triptych’s depiction of the crossing of the Red Sea. The waters rise vertically, piling up in wait for the coming Egyptians. We might even feel sorry for Pharaoh’s host, were it not for the hardening of his heart that is so reminiscent of a child’s tantrum – ignoring every bit of undeniably-destructive reality placed before him in favor of his own stubborn folly.

Placed between the flood and the crossing of the Red Sea is a depiction of our Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan River. While the river’s waters may seem gentle enough, they belie what Christ Jesus accomplished in this by fulfilling Scripture. The waters that even Naaman criticized as being less than worthy heap the sin of the world on this Sinless One.

All this is to make us sober in approaching the Baptismal font. In it, the Lord does not simply give us a dedication kiss. He doesn't give a slap on the wrist for offenses with a lick and a promise. Neither does He take us over His knee to rid us of our shame, nor does He give us a good thrashing to rid us of our sin. The saving waters of Holy Baptism kill us. The old Adam, being rotten to the core, is drowned. We are dead as door nails, buried with Christ in His own death. But, we are not left to rot. Thanks be to God, we are raised to a new life in Christ Jesus through His resurrection. And we are made His heirs.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Artistic Slight of Hand

Copyright © Edward Riojas

The next time you’re sitting in a church pew contemplating the ear lobes of the person in front of you, consider instead the crucifix – especially its hands.

When creating sacred artwork on the theme of the crucifixion, I have generally settled on a format reminiscent of Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece. It’s not your typical crucifix.

Most of us are used to seeing nails driven squarely into the palms of Christ’s hands, the fingers of which curl inward in response to pain. Grünewald, however, took a path that is more visually painful.

Holy Scripture does indeed say that nails were driven into His hands and feet, but “hand” was understood to include everything not covered by a sleeve. The wrist, therefore, was part of the hand. It’s been anatomically proven that a nail through the palm simply will not hold the weight of a body. On the other hand, a nail driven into the wrist will encounter  a tough mass of tendons, cartilage, and bone. Hence, I usually work in that visual direction.

Recently, however, I ignored the anatomical angle in preference of symbolism. Two sculptural projects used a variation of the more traditional approach of placing nails in the palms of Jesus. The difference is that the index and middle fingers of Christ are extended. It is only a slight difference, but the symbolism is massive. Christ, even as He dies for His wayward sheep – indeed, precisely BECAUSE He dies for His wayward sheep – blesses us with His greatest blessing.