Friday, November 8, 2019

I'll Bet That Idea Sounded Better In Your Head

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Between Halloween and Advent, there's this season called "Stupid." This is the time when knuckleheaded advertisers blast us with jingles like "We wish you a merry Kia" [I am not kidding], and other such drivel. I guess it shouldn't surprise us that not everyone understands what Christmas is about, let alone what constitutes good taste in gift-giving. Still, we somehow expect Christians to have a better grasp of things when it comes to Christmas gifts. I'd call it "great expectations," but someone has stolen that line. Anyway, here's a sampling of real merchandise that should be left off every one's Christmas list. Unless you really enjoy the season of Stupid...

Put a lid on it: How 'bout an upholstery-tack-encrusted, Western-infused, cowhide-wrapped toilet seat cover emblazoned with a cross? I don't even know where to begin with this thing, even though we all know where things will end. Not only is this flush with bad taste, but it's also overflowing with incongruous motifs. Just say "No" to...    Oh, for heaven's sake, just say "No."

Footnotes: The target audience for these socks must surely be test-weary seminarians. Why else would anyone want Bible verses hidden under their pant legs? For those wondering, this only comes in the King James Version. Apparently, there's a copyright on the ESV.

"No, you may not wear that to church, young lady:" Just because a piece of abbreviated apparel has a Bible verse on it does not make it a great addition to your wardrobe. Besides a bit of Scripture, this mini-skirt has "Stupid" written all over it.

Sweat it out: If the 10-mile run to the donut shop doesn't make you sweat, then certainly this stupid paraphrase, taken out of context, will do so. (Note: 20 lb. water bottle and Joel Osteen ear buds are sold separately.)

Fall wardrobe: Someone thought a Bible verse and a [poorly placed] snake would look great on a mini-skirt. See what I mean about the season of "Stupid?"

Lose this in the wash: Some fashion designer became possessed, and shortly thereafter Bob was gifted with Psalm shorts. Bob, we're begging you to go back to the cutoffs. Yes, the ones with the pockets showing.

Doggone it: Someone has high hopes for Fido, who not only is embarrassed by the misuse of Scripture, but is also seriously doubting whether the silly shirt will help with his potty training.

Things unseen: Ugh. What were they thinking?! The definition of Faith on a white pencil skirt?! If you are gifted with this fashion faux pas this Christmas, please re-gift it to the nearest dump. Especially if your name happens to be Faith.

If you can read this, then you're too close: Guys, by now you should know the difference between Holy underpants and  holey underpants. Get rid of them both. Even if they are a gift. Even if they inexplicably have Joshua 1:9 written on them in four-point text.

Resort wear: Not only does His love reach to the heavens, so also does some one's poor taste in swim trunks. Just put them back in the gift box and declare, "It's exactly what I didn't want for Christmas."

Friday, November 1, 2019

“God’s Own Child I Gladly Say It”

Copyright © Edward Riojas

This project began years ago, during what seems a different lifetime. In fact, I couldn’t pinpoint the original date of inquiry because at the time I was using an old, office e-mail address. My best guess is five years ago or more – another lifetime, indeed.

Through various revisions and lapses in time, the project evolved into its final form. The “God’s Own Child” Mural was designed for a hallway in the environs of a music conservatory at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Council Bluffs, Iowa. God willing, the conservatory will soon become the home base of “David’s Harp,” a new LCMS Recognized Service Organization that, among other things, bolsters the work of encouraging and developing young church musicians. It is fitting that such a beloved hymn is held up before music students on their daily walk.

Even the most tone-deaf among us, however, can do well to remember the hymn’s words on our daily walk. To that end, while we may not be able to wander the halls in St. Paul’s, it is now possible to hang a smaller version of the mural on our walls as a good reminder of our Holy Baptism. And, in case you need a bigger reminder, the print is available in some rather gargantuan proportions. The framing, however, is your responsibility.

Sizes and prices for giclée prints of “God’s Own Child:”
96" wide x 20" / $400
84" x 17.5" / $325
72" x 15" / $260
60" x 12.5" / $200
48" x 10" / $150
36" x 7.5" / $100

Note: Listed sizes are for the image itself – there is an extra one or two inches of white space all-around to aid in framing. Prints are signed, but are not matted or framed. Domestic shipping, etc., is included in listed prices. International orders will have additional shipping and duty charges. To order, or for more information, please e-mail the artist at

"God's Own Child" Mural. Edward Riojas. 2019. (St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Council Bluffs, Iowa)
Copyright © Edward Riojas

Friday, October 25, 2019

For All Saints Day and the Anniversary of the Reformation

Copyright © Edward Riojas

“And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.         Acts 2:7-11

This passage of Holy Scripture has always intrigued me, but perhaps not in the way most would think. Sure, the list of ancient regions and nations is interesting, but what is most curious is the way the writer speaks of “we” and “them,” and with whom reader most closely associates.

Drawing detail. (Copyright © Edward Riojas)
On the one hand, through adoption we can certainly associate with the “we” and marvel that The Spirit was poured out on such a diverse and foreign crowd. The event was essentially an epic ‘outreach’ mission, but by the Lord Himself and not some silly human invention.

On the other hand, we are not at all the “we” of whom the writer speaks. In fact, Gentiles were not yet part of the equation – that would not happen in the narrative until later in the Book of Acts.

It is probably a good exercise, however, to occasionally insert ourselves, along with the rest of the world, into the passage in the stead of extinct places like Pontus and Pamphylia. For Lutherans of European stock, it allows us to see how large the world is, and how small we really are. We might read the same passage thus:

‘...How is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Saxons and Thuringians and Bavarians and residents of Baden-Württenberg, Bavaria and Bremen...’

Yes, we were outsiders, too, but by God’s Grace considered worthy of the Kingdom, and ultimately heirs by adoption. What is more, we should remind ourselves that the Gospel was established in other places much earlier than Europe. Which brings us to Michael the Deacon.

In a curious event that is rarely discussed in Lutheran circles, Martin Luther once entertained  Michael the Deacon, of the then-Ethiopian Coptic Church, who traveled to Wittenberg to meet the Reformer. The two compared the Lutheran Mass and the Mass used by Ethiopian Orthodoxy and found that they were in agreement with each other. Michael even declared that Luther’s Articles of Faith were “a good creed.” Apparently, the Lutheran Church then extended full communion to the Ethiopian Church – a far cry from the goings-on in Rome. The consequences of that meeting may indeed have been more far-reaching than what history records.

What is also curious is the fact that there is no visual documentation of the meeting. Perhaps Lucas Cranach was on sabbatical. Maybe the artist was ill. What is more likely is that the meeting was so brief as to exclude time for a portrait sitting.

I found but one image online – and that was created but one year ago – commemorating the meeting. For years I have had the urge to recreate the event as a painting. For months now a drawing has been languishing on a drawing board, awaiting its final execution. Unfortunately, it will have to wait a bit longer as large projects pile up in front of me. I do think, however, that the drawing is developed enough for a preview, which is below.

The time is long overdue to commemorate this event, even if it must come from my own hand. Certainly, it is high time to recognize that the 1.5 million confirmed members of the LCMS do not comprise the bulk of confessional Lutherans worldwide, let alone confessional Christians worldwide. It is fitting that, on the eve of All Hallows, we thank the Lord for having poured out His Spirit far beyond those first disciples, and on the likes of Athanasius of Alexandria [Northern Africa], Cyprian of Carthage [Northern Africa], Michael the Deacon [Ethiopia], Martin Luther, and the great host of those who have gone before us with the sign of the Cross. It is also fitting to rejoice over those saints, this side of heaven, who live in every tiny corner of the globe – yes, even the 25 MILLION Lutherans living in, of all places, Africa.

Preparatory drawing for "Michael the Deacon and Martin Luther" (Copyright © Edward Riojas)

Friday, October 11, 2019


Copyright © Edward Riojas

Most of the pieces I create have been commissioned and, for that reason, are out the door as soon as they are completed. Most of them.

I don’t understand those artists who have a hard time parting with their work. Perhaps it’s because I work hard at what I do and look forward to finishing a piece. Maybe the time invested working on a project eventually wears on me. It might be that my mind is already toying with the next project. At any rate, I’m always more than happy to say “Sayonara” when all is said and done.

Not everything I create, however, is commissioned. To keep my sanity, I sometimes create pieces on my own initiative. I’ve been blessed with a mind active enough to keep my hands busy for eons. Ideas for interpretations of Holy Scripture are always rattling around in my noggin. I often visualize the image, the color palette, and significant details, but then have to store those visions away in a fold of gray matter until I have time. I also indulge the more fantastical part of my brain, if only for fun. Those images also get mentally filed away.

Occasionally these seemingly-random ideas come to fruition. ArtPrize has a knack for making that happen, but we shouldn’t blame ArtPrize for everything – sometimes I make it happen on my own. Sometimes I squeeze in one of those projects, even when my schedule shouldn’t allow it – which is pretty much all the time.

Until recently, I've sold only one of my many entries into ArtPrize – “Owashtanong.” Most everything else is still on the walls or stacked in some room of my house or languishing in the loft of my barn. That will soon change when a second ArtPrize piece, “Ecce Homo,” travels to a new home.

Of course, I would love to sell more pieces. Not all of them need end up in a church or private home. One or two of my pieces would – pardon the pun – look fantastic in a beer hall or perhaps in a children’s hospital.

If any of my readers have spare change – lot’s of spare change – in their pockets, below are some available originals for consideration. Even though I had a wonderful time working on each of them and still value their artistic merit, I would also love to tell them “Syonara.”

"Parables of the Vineyard." Oil on wood. 46.5" x 31.5", framed. $10,000.

"Under Slottet Bron." Oil on wood, with carved wooden frame. Approx. 8 feet x 13 feet. $20,000.

"Martin Luther." Oil on wood. 18" x 24", framed. $2,500.

"Katarina von Bora Luther. Oil on wood. 18" x 24", framed. $2,500.

"Förtrollade Skogen." Oil on wood. 11 feet x 4 feet, framed. $10,000. 

"O That My Words Were Written." Oil on wood. 37" x 70", framed. $10,000.

"Fridur." Oil on wood. 12 feet x 52", unframed. $10,000.

" 'St. Michael Contending.' " Oil on wood. 28.5" x 40.5", framed. $10,000.

"Archangel Gabriel." Ink on paper. 18" x 28", framed. $3,000.

"Archangel Michael." Oil on wood. 34" x 49", framed. $5,000.

"Precious in the Sight of the Lord." Oil on wood. 30" x 24", framed. $5,000.

"Ambrei as Potamiaena." Oil on wood. 48" x 84", unframed (without black frame shown). $10,000.

"Adoremus." Oil on wood. 57" x 88", framed. $10,000.

Friday, October 4, 2019

From the Ground Up

Typical floor plan of modern
church building

Copyright © Edward Riojas

We’ve all visited churches that resemble, um, something else. The sound system might be impressive; the seats comfortable. It may be obvious that an interior designer gave serious thought to color schemes and fabric options and lighting. The church may be visually more closely related to theater than theology, and that is a problem.

The design of a church is something few of us can change. Short of a bulldozer and unlimited cash, congregations are pretty much stuck with the building that has been handed down to them. Thanks to overly-creative, but liturgically-senseless architects, church buildings can become their own stumbling blocks.

I should probably digress here and explain that I don’t have it in for architects. My brother, Steven, is a respected architect, and I fully appreciate that the discipline goes far beyond my understanding. I do, however, appeal to the wisdom of early architects. Without massive databases laying out specs of building materials, they accomplished some pretty impressive feats through common sense and a little trial and error. Their vision, however, is what is most impressive.
Floor plan of Winchester Cathedral

One need only look at floor plans to see immediately what those architects were about.

Perhaps it was originally introduced to structurally accommodate a dome, or maybe some architect simply saw an opportunity, but the transept quickly became an important feature in churches large and small. Transepts, simply put, are short additions running on a transverse axis to the larger sanctuary space. Their placement, however, is important.

Whether the transepts were used for a choir area or side chapels or extra seating, their presence forced the floor plan into the shape of a cross. Even as cathedrals became more elaborate with adjoining rooms and cloisters, the cruciform shape remained conspicuous.

This architectural formula became so prevalent that it trickled down to smaller churches. Even if a simple country church doesn’t have transepts, there is often the residual suggestion of one in the layout. An open space between the pews and the chancel forms a cross with a central aisle.

One pastor recently postulated that this may be the reason why many churches place a Baptismal font in that intersection instead of outside the sanctuary proper. It’s placement would coincide with the corpus of Christ, and the wound which issued blood and water.

There is yet another reason to appreciate the floor plans of older churches: While it may be hard for parishioners to envision an overall layout of the sanctuary for sheer size, it still gives great comfort knowing that they stand squarely on the cross.

Floor plans, from left, of Amien, Salisbury, and Cologne Cathedrals

Friday, September 27, 2019

Talking Ed

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Apparently, I have something to say.

I used to be extremely quiet – just ask anyone who knows me. When I was a child, an older brother sometimes teased, “He doesn’t talk,” when visitors came to call. That point, however, becomes highly debatable if you now ask those close to me. The once-overly-shy kid can be a chatterbox.

Without promoting myself as a public speaker in any way, it seems a growing number of folks think I have something to say. I will assume it has nothing to do with the timbre of my voice, the smoothness of my delivery, or any presence I might exude. On the contrary, it has everything to do with the subject worth presenting – sacred art’s place in the sanctuary and how my work fits into that picture.

I've given talks before, but for some reason speaking engagements have been ramping up this year. Beginning in early January, I gave a couple of formal presentations at the Calvin Symposium on Worship. (Yes, I felt like a stranger in a strange land.) In late spring I gave an informal presentation to the KCAD Christian Fellowship at Kendall College of Art and Design. A few days ago I gave a similar presentation at Christ the King Lutheran Chapel on the campus of Central Michigan University. My presentation will be bumped up a couple of notches November 16, when I will be giving an expanded presentation at University Lutheran Chapel on the campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

This gentle escalation of talks is preparing me for an event that, Lord willing, will happen sometime next summer in Council Bluffs, Iowa. It’s a bit too early to spell out exactly what that will be, but the intent is to expand the presentation further yet so it spills over multiple days.

What is most exciting about all this is the strong desire – among confessional artists, Lutheran pastors, and laity alike – to educate on the subject of sacred art within the Lutheran church. For countless reasons, a great chasm has formed between how church art was viewed in the Old World and how it is viewed in the New World – and an ocean is the very least of reasons.

Hopefully, these presentations will begin to correct some long-held misconceptions, and will point, once again, to the usefulness of art in the Church. Hopefully, the shy, little child of my youth will yield to his elder self, who definitely has something to say.

Friday, September 20, 2019

ArtPrize Off Year

Copyright © Edward Riojas

What if somebody threw an ArtPrize and nobody cared?

That is becoming a valid question. The question most asked, however, is, “What is going on with ArtPrize this year?”

For those of you who don’t know, ArtPrize – now held every other year – is an art competition with a prize purse of half a million dollars. It draws thousands of local, national, and international artists, and thousands of entries come under scrutiny for both a public vote and a jurored vote. Hundreds of thousands of people descend on downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., for two and a half weeks beginning in mid-September. It used to be an annual event, then things started getting a little tired.

The powers-that-be decided the event should be a biennial thing, and the in-between years would be a different, but related, animal. Hence, the debut of this year’s Project 1. Technically, it isn’t ArtPrize. In spite of lots of media hype, a lot of folks are still asking, “What is going on with ArtPrize this year?”

I could be ornery and declare that I don’t know and I don’t care, but that is an oversimplification. What I do know is that I’m not alone in feeling drained from participating in ArtPrize. It takes a massive amount of energy to create something eye-catching and spectacular, and do so every year with little return on the time investment. I certainly don’t want ArtPrize to go away, but the break is a welcome relief.

This year’s Project 1, however, is not wholly a cause for celebration. While ArtPrize was once the darling of the Visual Arts – drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, and associated disciplines – the event has been slowly eroded by performing arts in the guise of the visual arts. Project 1 nearly ignores the visual arts, focusing instead on performing arts. Only a handful of commissioned pieces have been installed in public spaces this year.

Photos from Project 1 show a little art, lots of folks with microphones, and [I’m being generous here] modest crowds. I know I am sounding disgruntled, but I dare say folks will share my sentiments once they dig into the goings-on of this year’s event. Perhaps “pissed” will suit you better.

You see, Project 1, in its great wisdom, decided to showcase London-based Drag Syndrome, among other performances. Perhaps Project 1 wanted to display patronage of international “talent.” Perhaps they felt the need to educate the pedestrian public about “culture.” Perhaps simply showcasing the visual arts was not enough. But really, no one should be forced to think that a show of Down Syndrome drag queens is art! Unfortunately, now I know what’s going on with ArtPrize, and, yes, I care. Enough of this crap already! You’re 11 years old, ArtPrize – it’s time to grow up!

Friday, September 13, 2019

That Which Lies in the Mirror

Detail from the "God's Own Child Mural." 2019. Edward Riojas
(All images Copyright © Edward Riojas. Images may not be reproduced.)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

I don’t need to go far to be reminded of sin’s consequences. That sort of thing crops up in nearly every piece of art I create.

A case in point are some of the figures in a current project, the “God’s Own Child Mural,” destined for St. Paul Lutheran Church in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Out of more than 70 figures, mortality stared at me from a single face. In the mural, an elderly man shuffles behind a procession of sinner-saints. He could easily be me in a couple of decades. Or less.

The Fall not only created  a mess of Biblical proportions, it also made a mess of “lesser” things. In spite of what usually rolls off the tongue, aging is NOT a normal part of life. It wasn’t meant to be so ugly. It wasn’t supposed to be so debilitating. It shouldn’t be part of a ghastly, downward spiral.

Detail from the "God's Own Child Mural."
So the face before me was painted with wrinkles and age spots – attesting to the degeneration of muscles and degradation of elastic skin. In its place, the cartilage of ears and noses continues to grow – sometimes in ridiculous proportions. Bones degrade and dissolve so that the back refuses to hold up the shoulders and head. Senses fail. Hearing loss, cataracts, and macular degeneration wreak havoc. Youthful minds become hidden behind gnarled countenances and aching joints. Often, youthful minds simply dry up and blow away.

But to be honest, I don’t need a painting to remind me of all this. All I need is a mirror.

The affects of the Fall, however, are not exclusive of the mature or aged. Infants can die in the womb. Some are born broken. Toddlers die. This is neither natural, nor part of some morbid “circle of life.” Sin, Death, and Satan suck.

But thanks be to God, we have a Redeemer in Christ Jesus, who has changed things mightily. He has taken our sin on Himself, put Death to death, and has defeated the hellish knucklehead, Satan. This should be abundantly obvious in the mural – even more so than an image of an elderly man. In spite of the reality of our condition; in spite of the reality of aging and illness and death, the realities of Christ’s cross, our redemption, and eternal life far outshine that which lies in the mirror.

Friday, September 6, 2019

An Artist’s Prayer

(Photos courtesy of the Art Curmudgeon)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

I’ve often thought it would be wonderful to have a prayer, specifically by and for artists, that could be a daily anchor for my vocation. I’ve often thought that I should sit down and compose such a prayer. Maybe it would be based on some of the great collects. Perhaps it would be patterned after the Lord's Prayer. The notion of doing such a thing, however, seems naive and trite and contrived.

One doesn’t have to search very far to find examples of artist’s prayers. And, um, yes, a good share of them are naive and trite and contrived. Some are so flowery in prose and nebulous in content that they seem exercises in creative writing. Bad bits of fiction they are.

Others ask for ridiculously-stupid things. I ran across one prayer by an artist-type in which the general gist was akin to, “Father God, .... please let me nail that guitar riff on Sunday...” One can almost hear the Divine amplifier feedback in answer to such supplications.

Some carry on in meterless poetry with so many words that the prayer says nothing at all. It asks nothing at all. In the end, it IS nothing at all.

Thankfully, some come close to the mark. The prayer “For church musicians and artists,” listed in the Lutheran Service Book (CPH), has a close cousin in the Book of Common Prayer. I’ll let greater minds determine which influenced which. The LSB’s version reads:

“God of majesty, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven, be with Your servants who make art and music for Your people that with joy we on earth may glimpse Your beauty. Bring us to the fulfillment of the hope of perfection that will be ours as we stand before Your unveiled glory; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

The prayer comes close, but it's more of a prayer FOR artists, and not BY artists. The difference may seem slim, but as one who creates art for the Church, I’d like to ask for something more than just a glimpse of the Lord’s beauty, even if that is a noble and righteous thing.

For the time being, I suppose I’ll keep nagging the Lord with my simple and honest supplication that simultaneously begs what I need and hints that my labors might benefit others in the Kingdom. The prayer isn’t very eloquent and its grammar is questionable. It certainly isn’t flowery or poetic, but it’s been on the top of my studio easel for a long time. For many years it has been on the tip of my tongue.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Of Color

“The chief function of color should be to serve expression.” Henri Matisse

Working drawing of the 'God's Own Child' Mural. Edward Riojas. 2019. Finished size will be 5' tall by 24' wide.
(All photos courtesy of the artist. Copyright © Edward Riojas. Images may not be reproduced.)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Being of a peculiar breed, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when artists wax eloquently – or obsessively – about color. For some artists, color is a delicious dream. For others, it is an elusive reality. Yet other artists sometimes ponder over it in unnatural places – in Claude Monet's case, on the face of a dead woman laid out at a funeral.

Color, however, can serve other purposes beyond the kind of expression to which Henri Matisse was alluding. In church, for example, most can tell what Church season it is simply by what color dominates the chancel. Those specific colors were developed throughout the history of the Church and have meaning attached, even if we jostle each other over violet or blue or [gasp!] rose. And there are yet other purposes for color.

A current project for St. Paul Lutheran Church, Council Bluffs, Iowa, makes use of color in a mural based on Erdmann Neumeister’s hymn, “God’s Own Child I Gladly Say It.” In what is becoming a favorite visual theme among clients, a large body of saints processes across the mural. The client made it clear early on in the project that this procession of saints should truly reflect the spectrum of God’s children. Hence, the use of color was made to serve a deliberate purpose.

Detail of the mural in progress.
There aren’t only representations of buttoned-down, Germanic Europeans. There aren’t simple, token delegates of African descent. There is such a variety of facial types and ages and stylistic lifestyles to guarantee the viewer that, yes, God’s children come from every walk of life and every corner of the earth.

What struck me once the painting was under way is that every figure in the mural – no matter what ethnic origin – was painted with warm colors. In artistic parlance, the warm umbers and siennas and ochres used in human flesh are often called “earth colors,” because the pigments used to produce those colors often come from different types of clay.

This simple fact is profound, if only we allow it. Adam was formed of the dust of the earth. “Dust you are, and to dust you will return.” There is great humility in knowing we are only as good as the dirt beneath our feet.

Thanks be to God that there is another group of colors in the mural. Beneath the earth tones is a flood of blues, greens, and other cool colors. These colors change the way the figures appear beneath water. That life-giving water issues from a Baptismal font, washing over the procession of saints, and finally bears them up in the resurrection of the flesh.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Things Unseen

The unfinished base. (Photos courtesy of the Curmudgeon.)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Artists are rightly squeamish about showing a piece before it’s finished. Like writers, artists often wrestle with their work, and it isn’t always pretty.

I imagine the same is true of many occupations. We appreciate a good sermon, for example, but are often oblivious to the struggles of Greek and Hebrew classes that go into it. Most of use aren’t really into jots and tittles. So, too, are we glad when a plumber pays us a visit to correct some life-threatening problem. Few of us bother to consider the trade school involved just to deal with other people’s “stuff.”

On a far different plane, we are also ignorant of the massive Spiritual happenings behind our physical world – the heavenly battle against Satan and his hordes; the divine wrangling to work out things for our good. In spite of our curiosity, I doubt many of us have a real desire or the fortitude to witness that sort of thing this side of heaven.

I’m currently working on retro-fitting a wooden base for a processional crucifix. The processional was not behaving nicely, and I was tasked with adding stability. To accomplish this, I made a slightly larger base plate of the same material to give the existing base a larger footprint. I also added ten pounds of bar steel. The steel, however, will remain hidden. As in many things, what is not seen is of greater consequence and carries more weight than what will be immediately obvious.

Concealed steel weights in the wooden base.

Friday, August 9, 2019

On The Walls Of An Old Church

In the sanctuary: Working on Matthew 11:28
(Photo courtesy of Rev. Seifferlein)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

The Lord provided a background of an evening thunderstorm rolling through Wisconsin farmland. I was perched on scaffolding in an old church sanctuary, mahlstick in hand, and staring Scripture in the face. It was a little bit of heaven.

I had come to Adell, Wisconsin, to work on-site at Emmanuel Lutheran Church. While I prefer to work in the studio, a select few projects demand that I travel. When recently asked to paint blocks of embellished Scripture on church walls, I took the opportunity to play the part of an itinerant artist – if only for a couple of days. I elected to sleep in the cavernous underbelly of the old church building so I could work late, rise early to do the same, be not too much of a bother to anyone, and then go home.

Living as an itinerant artist was more commonplace in the days of our great-great-grandparents. The decoration of fledgling Lutheran churches in America were sometimes jobbed out to artisans with skill enough to paint walls, create decorative trim, and embellish spaces with Bible verses. Often that was done in German. Always it was done by hand.

Getting a taste of the life of a travelling artist was pretty much limited to bedding down on a hard floor, climbing scaffolding, and working in the solitude of an empty sanctuary. My gracious hosts, the Rev. and Mrs. Seifferlein, had loaded the church kitchen with enough food for an army of artists, and a battery of electric fans kept the summer heat at bay. Itinerant artists of the day did without such luxuries.
In the Narthex: Completed excerpt from the Te Deum
(Photo taken by the artist)

I relished working long hours in the relative silence that was punctuated by children’s laughter somewhere outside, bells chiming out hymns at Matins, noon, and six, and the evening thunderstorm. That sort of wealth does not exist everywhere, and it is worth finding.

It is good, too, to appreciate things of long ago. When we did without internet; when things were slow, but deliberate; when convenience was rare, families gathered to hear the Word of God preached in all its purity and loveliness, and they did so in a building that was designed with the Lord in mind instead of praise bands and air-conditioned comfort.

While in Adell, I was offered a peek into the nuances of an old country church. I was shown were the two entrances once were – one for the men and one for the women. I was told that the recently-refinished floor had worn more on one side of the sanctuary – presumably from the hobnailed soles of men’s shoes. I was shown curious channels and holes carved into the window sills – features that drained condensation when frost began to melt on the window panes. I was shown the original bit of clear glass in an otherwise stained-glass window in the bell tower – a peep hole so an elder knew when to toll the bell at the arrival of the funeral hearse.

No old photos exist of the interior of the church. Like many churches, extensive remodeling of the sanctuary took place in the 1940s and 50s. That was when old altars and ornate altarpieces and "outdated" pulpits were all fair game. So, too, were sentimental, old photographs. I took great satisfaction, therefore, in knowing that what I came to do was in keeping with an earlier time, and knowing that some still appreciate the inherent beauty contained in passages of Scripture.

Friday, July 26, 2019

With Angels and Archangels

Detail of 'Michael Contending,' by Edward Riojas (Copyright © Edward Riojas. Image may not be reproduced.)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

The back-story begs to be told.

In the opening verses of his letter to fellow believers, Jude writes about the judgment of false teachers. He makes a case for the sovereignty of God and the presumptions of men, and in so doing casually mentions an odd event in the history of God’s chosen people.
“Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. Woe to them! ...” (Jude 1:8-11a)
In a single sentence, surely the reader must have nearly lost Jude’s point. The back-story of Michael contending with the devil is one thing, but fighting over the body of Moses magnifies the strangeness of the event. The reader thinks, "Wait. What?!"

What is not revealed in this New Testament book is that God Himself buried the body of Moses, and no one knew where that was. (Deut. 34:1-6) It is clear, however, that the old Serpent wanted the body for some nefarious purpose, and the Archangel Michael was called to action. This is the setting of my painting, “The Archangel Michael Contending With The Devil Over The Body Of Moses.” (Yes, it’s a long-winded title, but there is no better way to say it.)

This is such an odd subject for a sacred painting that I doubted another artist had done anything with it. I was wrong. While it does take a little hunting, there are a few examples out there. Each of them is a slightly different interpretation of what might have taken place. Some of those examples look like a bad day at the debate club, with little action other than some finger-pointing.
"The Archangel Michael Contending
With The Devil Over The Body Of Moses"
2019. Edward Riojas. Oil on panel.
(Copyright © Edward Riojas.
Image may not be reproduced.) 

Because Holy Scripture does not describe angels with the schmaltzy, Hallmark pattern of flaxen-haired damsels, I went with the model of a warring angel. Michael isn’t just arguing with the devil – the archangel is giving his nemesis a good thrashing. The devil cowers in darkness like a cockroach and, like a cockroach, he simply won’t give up. His hand defiantly points to himself.

Michael, however, points to the glow of heaven. Knowing neither a personal rebuke nor a judgment are his to give, Michael appeals to heaven, “The Lord rebuke you!”

I found out after the fact that, while the archangel Gabriel is associated with the color blue, Michael’s color is typically red. I gave him a red cloak simply because the painting needed some color. What I also realized after the fact is that Michael’s cloak seems to be floating down, as a funeral pall, over the wrapped body of Moses. How appropriate that a symbol of Christ’s blood covers a saint in death, becoming a vivid reminder that not even Satan, with all his biting and clawing and accusing, may claim what is the Lord’s by virtue of His own death and resurrection!


Giclée prints of 'Michael Contending' are available from the artist. For more information or to order prints, please e-mail the artist at

 Sizes/prices for prints for 'Michael Contending:'
12” x 18” / $80  ·  16” x 24” / $110  ·  24” x 36” / $180

Friday, July 19, 2019

Illuminating Szyk

"The Manciple" Arthur Szyk. 1945.

Copyright © Edward Riojas

We cannot fault Arthur Szyk too much for placing a swastika on the Old Testament image of Haman hanging from a gallows. Szyk (pronounced Shick) was an artist/illustrator, proud of both his Jewish and Polish heritage, who lived and worked during the horrors of two world wars. Sentiments expressed in his politically-charged illustrations often found their way into other, unrelated work.

Arthur Szyk (1894-1951) was a bit of an anomaly. He avoided modern movements in fine art, skirted trends in illustration, and instead relied on a more classical approach, using richly-detailed motifs pulled from his cultural heritage. Add to that a strong affinity for Medieval illumination, with an uncompromising approach to the same. If that were not enough, Szyk visually railed against the Axis powers of WWII and embraced political freedom expressed with patriotic zeal – first for his native Poland, then France and England, and finally for his eventual home in the United States.
"Statute of Kalisz" Arthur Szyk. 1927.

This heady mix is at once opulent in detail and rich in symbolism. Although fine artists often deplore the term “craft,” Szyk knew his craft well – and revelled in it.

“The Manciple,” an illustration for the “Canterbury Tales,” is a good primer for Szyk’s style. The medieval figure is crafted in such a way that even its outer shape is attractive. Well-designed, ornate patterns fill the figure’s cloak, then smaller spaces, and then every space between. But, really, Szyk is only toying with us.

We see something far different when the artist begins to flex his illuminator muscles. The frontispiece of the “Statute of Kalisz,” depicting Casimir the Great, is truly a jewel. Szyk’s love for his motherland is evidenced in every nook and cranny of this 1927 work. Significance spills from the focal figure to the very margins of the piece. It would have been impossible for the reader to turn the page without lingering over such mastery.
Dedication page for
"The Szyk Haggada" 1936.

While Szyk was not a practicing Jew, the obvious love for his heritage is found in another book, “The Szyk Haggada.” Like other Haggadas, it narrates the Exodus and is read during Passover. Unlike other narrations, however, Szyk totally avoids ‘graven image’ arguments found in Jewish aniconism, and further convolutes things by introducing unorthodox imagery, some of which needed to be edited. (Yes, swastikas had to be removed from the arms of the oppressive Egyptians!)

Because Polish publishing houses were squeamish about the book, a publishing house was established in England for the sole purpose of printing the book. The opulent quirkiness of the 1936 volume is obvious in Szyk’s dedication page to King George VI.  The dedication reads:
“At the feet of your most gracious majesty I humbly lay these works of my hands, shewing forth the afflictions of my people Israel. Arthur Szyk, illuminator of Poland.”
“Humbly” seems to be a formality, for a self-portrait of Szyk is in the corner, next to the Polish eagle and a small vignette of modern Israelites. The rest is largely devoted to imagery pulled from the Royal arms of England.
"Four Freedoms: Prayer"
Arthur Szyk. 1949.

The artist was a staunch opponent of tyranny in general and Nazism in particular, but his allegiance could also be a bit pliable. Sorry, King George, but after settling in the U.S., Szyk created elaborate pieces based on constitutional freedoms, and suddenly Americana flooded the corners of his work with red, white and blue bunting, eagles, and bewigged patriots. Perhaps most strangely, he created an illumination of The Lord’s Prayer for the January 1946 issue of Coronet magazine. When compared to his other work, however, it becomes apparent that Szyk’s heart wasn’t quite up to the task.

The quirkiness of Arthur Szyk, in part, made him the popular artist that he was. Giving homage to past and present kings, as well as presenting his work to folks like Eleanor Roosevelt proved his worth. Thrusting barbs – some of which are extremely familiar [and hilarious] – at bullies like Hitler and Mussolini displayed his mettle. Creating such timeless pieces that equal – and surpass – illuminated masterpieces showed that he truly cared.

Friday, July 12, 2019

“Ego Sum Gabriel!”

Copyright © Edward Riojas

It should give us comfort that Zechariah had a motor-mouth. All of us have done the same thing at some point or another and every saint has been born from the same sinful stock, so we shouldn’t be surprised that Biblical folks had foibles. In Zechariah’s case, you know the scenario well: Regret came rushing in even as the words poured out of his head.

Zechariah was a devout priest. Both he and his wife were given the rare Scriptural descriptor of being “...righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” Not everyone gets that kind of Biblical treatment. The aging couple, however, were childless, and it’s evident that they often prayed for children.

It was Zechariah’s turn to serve as priest before God in the temple, and by lot he was chosen to burn incense. It was also his turn to be a screw-up.

An angel appears to Zechariah and tells him that his prayers have been heard. I don’t know about you, dear readers, but I’d like to THINK that would clinch it for me – an angel standing in front of me and telling me my prayers have been heard. Who doesn’t want that?! What is more, the angel spells it all out for Zechariah, giving him everything he needs, short of printing out a spreadsheet and calendar.
"Gabriel" 2019. Edward Riojas.
Pen and ink on paper.
Copyright © Edward Riojas.
Image may not be reproduced.

But Zechariah wants proof, and that’s when things fall apart.

I can almost hear the angel’s lungs filling with air just before letting the priest have it. This point in the conversation was the inspiration for one of my entries in the Good Shepherd Institute's art exhibition, “With Angels and Archangels.”

"Gabriel" is intentionally static. Instead of setting up the theatrics of a Temple scene, I placed the angel Gabriel in a stylized, frontal pose that confronts the viewer. We get a little peek, through Zechariah’s eyes, of an annoyed angel. If his answer to proof isn’t clear enough, I’ve spelled it out in red for the viewer. “Ego sum Gabriel! qui asto ante Deum!” (”I am Gabriel! I stand in the presence of God!”)

And, yes, Zechariah was cured of his motor-mouth. For a while, at least.


Giclée prints of “Gabriel” are available from the artist. For more information or to order prints, please e-mail the artist at

 Sizes/prices for prints for “Gabriel:” 9.25” x 17” / $75  ·  12” x 22” / $100

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

For Independence Day

Mom's report card from
Godwin High School

Copyright © Edward Riojas

This probably comes as no surprise, but my mom is smarter than some folks in D.C.

As a slight departure from my usual drivel, I thought a quick drive down the bumpier parts of memory lane, courtesy of my mom, would be appropriate for the Fourth of July. (You will have to suspend your eager anticipation of my thoughts on the lovely and not-so-lovely aspects of the art world. Well, at least for this week.)

Years ago, I intercepted a small stack of my mom’s high school things that were intended for the trash. I may feel differently about my own high school mementos, but the things of my parent’s generation are worth remembering and keeping. That is particularly true, given the current political climate of our nation.

In the stack of things, there were some special items, including a graduation card filled with very tender words, given to 17-year-old Laura Weppler from a man ten years her senior. Both would eventually become my parents. There was a corsage pressed flat. There were report cards from Godwin High School, where my mom graduated. There were essays my mom wrote.

One set of papers looked like organized notes, written in well-crafted cursive. I initially assumed it was for a history class, but then realized she was writing about current events. The year was 1944. The first few lines of the notes on the “German Natzis” [sic] are stunning, if not condemning, for those Americans who today lean in a peculiar direction.

Without pushing a political agenda, the high school teachers of my mom's day taught the ugly, unvarnished truth that made the world what it was. One cannot read the words from 1944 without immediately seeing that several politicians of our day not only have a grievous lapse of memory, but also a horrendous lapse of judgment, as well.

The school notes, in part, read, “1. What movement do German Natzis [sic] follow? Fascism (called National Socialism)”

This our parents learned and we, in turn, were taught, yet there are those who aspire to lead us headlong down a forgotten path of the same ideology. We dare not follow. The “Greatest Generation” had no qualms about fighting for what was right, and sacrificing without question those things that were dear, including life itself. There were also sacrifices which now seem incomprehensible, including self-identity. It was a time when patriotism meant putting aside personal gain, assumed rights, and juvenile desires in favor of national unity. In writing unapologetically as a citizen of the United States, Mom spelled out the fallacies of a foreign, socialistic government, brought to light the errors of its teaming masses, and strongly defended the governance of the U.S., even though Mom’s name, her relatives, her native culture, and the language formerly spoken in her home ... were all German.

I doubt that any of mom’s generation will ever forget those years – neither will most of the children of that generation. Those who forget history, on the other hand, are doomed to repeat it.

Friday, June 28, 2019

A Sign and a Seal

Copyright © Edward Riojas

I still get a tad annoyed when confronted by it.

I know there’s a bit of psychology going on because, while I’ve never been a fan of the LC-MS logo, the thing is immediately recognizable. It seems to be on nearly every lapel pin, brochure, mailing, church sign, and traffic sign directing visitors to the church building down the street. The intent is that it be as recognizable as a box of Tide detergent. That can be annoying.

LC-MS logo

Ever since its unveiling in 1984, the LC-MS logo smacked of mass-marketing. It follows branding trends, and there are umpteen pages of requirements for its use, placement, and acceptable Pantone™ color schemes. It’s slick. And bland. The logo has intended meaning in the two directions of the cross arms, the triple crosses, and its twelve individual components. Visually, that’s stretching things – in reality, it’s a corporate logo with little confessional power.

The LC-MS logo greatly eclipsed a much older design – The official LC-MS seal, which was formerly used as a sort of identifier of the synod. Now the seal plays the part of a shy cousin that rarely comes out of its quiet confines.

Designed by the Reverend A.R. Kretzmann and drawn by Walter Geweke, both of Chicago, the official LC-MS seal emerged several decades after the synod’s founding. It was designed when folks wanted to say a lot in a small space. I might be old-school, but I appreciate the seal’s distinctiveness and confessional nature. Like many other symbols, however, it needs to be occasionally explained to retain any merit.

Official Seal of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod

In the center of the seal, a tongue-like, blue shield represents the Christian's faith. A prominent gold cross on the shield proclaims that we preach Jesus Christ crucified. Rays emanating from the crooks of the cross make it a “Resurrection cross,” proclaiming that we also preach Christ risen from the dead. Nearby Latin words declare "Jesus Christus Dominus Est" (”Jesus Christ is Lord”), and three gold crosses symbolize the Holy Trinity. Three gold stars on the shield represent the Apostolic, the Nicene, and the Athanasian Creeds. Six gold stars on a white field stand for the six Lutheran Confessions contained in the 1580 book, "Concordia." Grape vines symbolize Christ's words in John 15:5, "I am the vine; you are the branches.” Dividing the white field are the three ‘solas’ on which Lutheranism is founded: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide (Scripture alone, Grace alone, Faith alone). The exterior circle contains the proper [although grammatically incorrect] name of the church synod and the year it was founded – 1847.

Beneath the shield is Luther's Seal. That particular emblem is, of course, centuries old, and has never been eclipsed by either the synod’s logo or its official seal. It is a visual rallying point for a group of confessional Christians who were initially slandered as “Lutherans.” We still wear the name with distinction.