Friday, April 2, 2021

In A Garden

Copyright © Edward Riojas

When creating images relating to Holy Scripture, I like to get things right. In a way, it’s similar to the genre of history painting, in which the artist takes the time to research period costumes, location, and even the weather surrounding a specific historical event. 

Holy Scripture, however, is not simple history. The Word does not always give information that would otherwise seem like straightforward historical data. Most historical information, such as the dress of a Galilean fisherman or the construction of a Jerusalem house, must be gleaned from other sources.

Neither does Holy Scripture read like a novel. Unless there is good reason to do so, Biblical passages won’t tell the reader whether or not "the sky was ripe with rain" or if a "garment gently played in the breeze." The more romantic corners of our brain are necessarily ignored. That’s because the Bible was not written as a fine diversion for our amusement.

On those occasions when Scripture does offer narrative details, however, the reader should pay attention. Those things which we often gloss over; those words which are often left in the margins are usually significant.

St. John’s account of Christ’s burial, for example, is the only Gospel to mention a garden. It is mentioned once, then implied shortly thereafter.

“Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.” John 19:41 (ESV)

“... Supposing him to be the gardener,...” John 20:15b (ESV)

Of course, we know this. Some artists make the tomb environs look well-kept, with cypress trees, vines, and perhaps a lily or two. Other artists are content to take the minimalist road and stick to a rock garden. Unfortunately, we are usually so focused on the account of Jesus’ death that we often underappreciate the horticultural detail. That is, unless you’re Adam or Eve.

With the temple curtain torn in two from top to bottom, with unsavory Goyim confessing Jesus to be the Son of God, with graves being opened and saints contained therein appearing to many, this small detail seems a Divine nod to a very different garden. I can see Adam giving the biggest fist-pump ever at John’s mention of a garden. To suffer life-long banishment of some 900 years from the Garden of Eden, only to have the Lamb of God interred in a mirrored location seems no coincidence. To have angels present, sans flaming swords, seems no coincidence, either. Yet there is more.

Into this garden was laid The Seed. It must first die before springing to life. But unlike other plants with their excruciating germination time, this Stump of Jesse not only sprang to life and became the Vine from which we branch, but It also flowered and became “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” This, in a garden.

Flanking 'garden' images from a shelved chancel project. Figures acknowledge the central cross.
(Collection of the artist)

Friday, January 15, 2021

“The Holy Ark of the Christian Church”

"Holy Ark of the Christian Church"
Edward Riojas. 2021. Oil on wood.
(Collection of the artist)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

This newly-revealed painting will be very familiar to some. Last May I offered a nearly-identical coloring page in an attempt to ease any annoyance during self-isolation. While many of the coloring pages were received with enthusiasm, that particular one grabbed considerable attention on Facebook, with more than 200 shares. Attention not only came from the Heartland of the U.S., but also from Canada, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Germany, Poland, Madagascar, Malaysia, and points beyond. Hence, I could not help but flesh out the coloring page into a painting.

I took the original image and gave it more visual breathing room in order to properly set the stage. Stylistically, there is a subtle homage to one of my favorite artists, N.C. Wyeth, with flavors of his work in the nautical margins.

The Church has been identified with a ship since ancient times, and has retained that symbolism to this day. Although a different type of nautical vessel, there is a Scriptural connection between the Church and the ark built by Noah. Matthew 24, Luke 17, and Hebrews 11 all give hints of something greater than simple historical accounts of the flood, and it’s easy to see a connection between the unbelieving, fallen state of the world during Noah’s day and the evils of our own day. 1 Peter 3 takes an extra step, connecting the ark and the flood to Holy Baptism: 

“...when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ...” (1 Peter 3: 20b-21)

It should not be surprising, therefore, that Martin Luther included the words, “the holy ark of the Christian Church,” in the Flood Prayer now used as part as the Baptismal Rite. It is from a combination of ancient imagery representing the Church and Luther’s words that I drew inspiration for this painting.

Unlike the simple sea-faring vessels from antiquity, I used a decidedly robust vessel that will not and cannot founder. It is majestic and massive. One might imagine that it does not even creak or groan under the mounting waves, but plies a steady course set by the Holy Spirit. Its stout bulwarks are formed by two sets of elders – twenty four in all – and its figurehead is the crucified Christ Himself. Two angels collect the blood and water into chalice and font. An image of the risen Christ drives the ship, blessing those who are carried along in safety. The wheelhouse – that seemingly small structure – contains the chancel and altar where our Lord, the Captain, promises to be. Three red banners identify its Master as a Person of the Holy Trinity, while a fourth banner issuing from the risen Christ underscores His sacrificial blood.

I intentionally placed the horizon at an angle, giving the impression of an unrelenting, angry sea. A foaming skull may allude to the perils of the days in which we live, but it also points to something else: Death by drowning. In Holy Baptism, the washing does not simply cleanse the outer body, but completely obliterates sin, drowns the old Adam, and raises us to life in the New Adam, Christ Jesus.


The original painting, “Holy Ark of the Christian Church,” as well as giclée prints of the same, are available for purchase.

Sizes/Prices for giclée prints:
24” x 36” / $175
16” x 24” / $110
12” x 18” / $80

The original painting, oil on wood, 24” x 36”, unframed / $6,000 (U.S.)

Domestic (U.S.) shipping is included on prints, as well as the original painting. There will be additional shipping/duty fees on all international orders based on destination.

To order or for more information, please email me at

Friday, January 1, 2021

Old Stuff, New Stuff

"Venite" Edward Riojas. 2020. Oil on panel. (Zion Lutheran Church, Wausau, Wisconsin)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

I promised myself that I would neither mention by name the previous year, nor the thing that seemed to distinguish it. I just isn’t worth the time.

It is, however, worth the time to a name a few things that distinguished a productive year for me in spite of “things,” as well as look at a few projects coming in the new year. In spite of my laziness and everything else that hindered, here are a few artistic highlights of this past year:

“The Venite”
A series of four panels, based on the Venite, were completed and delivered to Zion Lutheran Church in Wausau, Wisconsin. The piece makes use of flora and fauna of the Wausau area, and acts as a set of windows for the chapel. Incidentally, another piece of mine, the "Zion Altarpiece," resides in the same chapel.

"The Hymn Writer." Edward Riojas.
2020. Oil on panel.
(Collection of Rev. Stephen Starke)

“The Hymn Writer

Although I had to keep this piece under wraps for much of the year, the commissioned piece was finally unveiled on the occasion of Rev. Stephen Starke’s retirement. (Hint: This may very well be made available as a print during the coming year.)

“Ode to the Age of Innocence”
This large, non-sacred piece was intended for ArtPrize. Along with an endless list of other events, the art competition was cancelled. Still, I was able to indulge in yet another large “troll” painting, thereby increasing the visual clutter of my studio spaces.

I made the time to create a distinctly-Lutheran processional crucifix [which still needs a good home], and also executed [pardon the pun] a commissioned altar crucifix. Both were done when the weather allowed me to work in my unheated woodshop.

“The Hardening of Israel’s Heart & The Hardening of Heart in the Church”
Technically, the cover art of this book – my sole contribution – was created in 2019, but I’ve thrown this in because the work, put together by Rev. Michael Holmen, was released this past year.

“The Ethereal Land of Heavenward Stairs”
This book, my third collaborative project with Rev. Tyrel Bramwell, takes a Seussian slant on more serious subject matter. The illustrated book was a nice stylistic change from my other work.

"Ode to the Age of Innocence."
Edward Riojas. 2020.
(collection of the artist)

“The Wolf and The Lamb”
This may be a bit premature, but the bulk of illustrative work has been completed on a yet-to-be-released book by Rev. William Weedon. I jumped style again and resorted to one of my older tricks – pen-and-ink stippling – for the children's book illustrations. Keep your eye on the horizon for this.

Ecclesiastical Sewing
I worked on various projects for the stellar – yes, I said stellar – vestment/parament company, Ecclesiastical Sewing, during the year. It’s always nice to bring my “A” game to their table. Some projects have exacting custom requirements, while others have a much broader appeal. I look forward to continually upping the game for pieces that are not only gorgeous, but are also confessionally Lutheran.

Speaking up
“Extrovert” isn’t the first thing that should come to mind when contemplating this artist, but I was asked to do an interview with KFUO’s “Concord Matters” host, Rev. Sean Smith. I gave my two cents-worth on the subject of artwork in the sanctuary, and was apparently able to string together whole sentences in the process. We’ll chalk it up to the wonders of modern radio.

What’s Coming on the Horizon
While a mountain of proposed projects are still in a fluid state, a few things are pretty much set in stone. I have one non-commissioned painting on my easel, and at least two other non-commissioned pieces are ready if time permits.

An article I wrote on sacred art has been accepted by Logia: A Journal of Lutheran Theology, and will be published in its Easter edition. 

Following in that same vein, I’ve recently written a series of nine articles for The Lutheran Witness that deal with sacred imagery. This little project was born out of negative feedback on the December 2020 cover art. It was seen as a teaching moment, so hopefully I will straighten out some misconceptions about sacred art. At the very least, I will offer a much better target for rotten tomatoes.

Friday, December 11, 2020

“Parthians and Medes and Elamites”

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Long ago, when the Iron Curtain was a viable thing, I had a conversation with a friend about the “Evil Empire.” The phrase, “Bomb them back to the stone age,” was lobbed out in the open. Strangely, I wondered in that very macho moment if any of our enemies were praying for us.

We sometimes assume too much. Americans in particular have a knack for thinking the rest of the world wants to be like us. We often feel we are at the epicenter of many things. Freedom comes to mind. So does modernization, as well as economics and natural resources and health care. At other times, our feelings of self-aggrandizement drift into areas where they don’t at all belong – places like theology.

Perhaps we take cues from the now-emasculated British Empire in thinking we have a monopoly on the Gospel and that the Lord needs us specifically to spread “our” excellent theology. It’s important to remember that way before English speaking peoples ever had it spoken to them, the Gospel often came from Germans or Swedes, who in turn might have received it from Italians and Greeks, who possibly received it from Parthians and Medes, who received it from a handful of Jews. As recipients of the Gospel go, we are about as far from the epicenter as one can get.

I was recently tasked with converting a couple of my designs into a different language. My initial, knee-jerk reaction was to hold off on the requests and even ignore them, but that was just me being a jerk. In the end, I ignored the possible hassles of international trade, and simply focused on the request; a fellow Christian was in need of something I had, and it mattered not that they lived a bit further afield than my little bubble.

Hence, an ordination certificate was translated into Portuguese for use in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil, which is in fellowship with the LCMS. A young pastor asked, and I simply couldn’t find a reason to refuse.

A Baptismal certificate which I also created was translated into German by Rev. Peter Gürth for his congregation, and is now wending its way to the Old Latin School in Wittenberg. I donated the digital file to them so that it can be domestically printed and its proceeds directly benefit the organization.

It is a great honor to fulfill such modest requests from the Church at large. The greater honor, however, lies at the feet of our Lord, Who sees fit to spread His Gospel through the words and actions of “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 might add Germans and Brazilians and, perhaps least of all, Americans.

Friday, November 20, 2020

“From My Walls To Yours”

Copyright © Edward Riojas

The walls of my house simply can’t handle any more artwork. Neither can the closets, with artwork stacked sometimes ten deep with blankets to protect them, nor can my art rooms, with artwork peeking from behind other artwork like Russian nesting dolls. I needn’t mention the five cases filled with newspaper illustrations from another life, and I don’t need to bring to mind countless other images that have been all but forgotten. Every nook and cranny of my house is filled with artwork, and I need to declutter -- if that word even applies.

Most everyone knows that I sell giclée prints of original pieces, but not everyone knows that many of the originals themselves are for sale. I do realize that there is an inherent sticker shock associated with original artwork, but keep in mind that weeks and months of work went into each piece and as I’ve been told many times, “The workman is due his wages.” Whether or not you can afford a Riojas original, here’s your chance to peruse pieces that are languishing on my walls. Perhaps one of them will beg to be on your wall...

“Gospel Processional Crucifix” Approximately 81” tall, with base. $15,000. This non-commissioned piece was the focus of an earlier blog post. The black walnut staff springs from its VDMA base, and the bronze corpus [of my own design] hangs on a black walnut cross, which is supported by an image of the Church and the four Gospel writers.

“Saint Michael Contending [With the Devil Over the Body of Moses]” 28.8” x 40.5” Framed. $10,000. This piece was recently returned to me after a long stay at the Fort Wayne seminary. It’s weird and wonderful and packed with theology. And it’s for sale.

“Archangel Gabriel” 18” x 28” Framed. $3,000. This piece was also returned from Fort Wayne. In case you can’t see from the online photo, the piece is composed entirely of miniscule dots. I created “stippled” illustrations ages ago, but carpal tunnel syndrome is indeed a thing and I thought it wise to back off of the physically-demanding technique, saving it for very special pieces like this one.

“Archangel Michael” 34” x 49” Framed. $5,000. This piece is an old friend, and is a visual reminder of those who do the will of God perfectly, while protecting us from the evils of this broken world.

“Ambrei as Potamiaena” 48” x 84” Unframed. While depicting a martyred saint from the early Church, I can also see this hanging in an entry foyer or some other calm, but dignified space. This pleasant piece currently commands the "Pirate Room" in my house. See what I mean about clutter?

“Precious in the Sight of the Lord” 31” x 37” Framed. $5,000. Unlike ‘Potamiaena,’ this is the sort of image that takes some getting used to. While comforting, the image is somewhat better suited to sympathy cards instead of residential walls. That being said, it confesses mightily, whether in the home or on the wall of a Christian institution.

“O That My Words Were Written” 37” x 70” Framed. $10,000. The words of Holy Scripture are enough, and are sometimes sufficient as a painting. Although he was arguably the most pitiable of men by the world’s standards, the comforting words of Job point to a greater reality that, by Faith, was already Job’s – and it is ours, as well.

“Two Men Went Up To Pray” 24” x 48” Unframed. $5,000. This is one of several pieces which I was simply compelled to paint. The focus of the painting is neither the proud pharisee in the center of the piece, nor the cowering publican in the shadows. Rather, the point of the piece is a shrouded Figure ascending the stairs, Whose outstretched, pierced hand, touches the shoulder of the penitent.

“Under Slottet Bron” 156” x 96” Framed. $20,000. Not every piece I create is considered “sacred.” I occasionally make things that are intended for the simple enjoyment of the viewer. Those pieces are, however, handled with the same high standards which are expected of any God-given vocation. This piece is so large that its carved frame has been disassembled and is in various locations of my home [and barn]. The unframed painting itself hogs one entire 11-foot wall of our living room. To be frank, I would love to see this in a beer hall or in a Scandinavian environment or, as some have suggested, as a rather large headboard.

If you are interested in any of these pieces, OR any of the prints that I offer, please email me at

Friday, November 6, 2020

“The Chancel: A Foretaste”

A proposed chancel

Copyright © Edward Riojas

It is perhaps fitting that this, the second of several related posts, follows on the heal of All Saints Day. But more on that later.

These drawings are of a hypothetical church building. They are not necessarily how a church should look, but rather are meant for the contemplation of any church and the purposes for which that church exists. This week’s installment takes a look at the chancel.

At first glance, the designs may look familiar, and I wouldn’t doubt that a similar structure can be found somewhere in Christendom. Its general shape is a quadrant of a sphere. This gives a nod to an interpretation of  Biblical description of heaven as being of equal width, length, and height. Usually this is taken to be a cube, but a sphere could assume the same dimensions, and the sphere – or orb – has always been symbolically associated with the fullness of heaven and the created cosmos.

The meaning behind the design, therefore, is to show that heaven descends here to us. Specifically, this happens in the Lord’s Supper. The idea of descending is further underscored by a figure of the living Christ, in front of an empty cross, and suspended by cables that converge downward toward the altar. The altar itself is in the center of the assumed sphere.

On the wall of the dome-like chancel is a fresco of ranks of angels in adoration. The dome, being devoid of anything besides its two-dimensional fresco, would act as an acoustic amplifier.

Altar with tiled design

Obvious omissions are pulpit, lectern, and chairs for clergy and acolytes. This follows an older design of moving the pulpit out into the sanctuary, but it also points to a greater reality: This is where Christ comes to us; this is where His real presence is manifest; this is where He IS. No one presides over the altar, nor do they serve there, but Christ alone comes down to us and serves us. This is the Divine Service.

Seats for clergy and acolytes, simple plinth-like structures just outside of the chancel proper and at the base of the arch, would accommodate seating when necessary. On one side, a simple, bisecting screen would create a confessional space.

A circular Communion rail and raised platform would fit within this sphere quadrant. There would be no carpeting, giving more punch to the acoustics. As if issuing from the altar, a path of blue inlaid tile, edged by red tile, would run the entire length of the sanctuary and into the baptistry opposite the chancel.  The patterning would suggest a flood of water and blood, connecting the sacraments of Holy Communion and Holy Baptism with the crucifixion of Christ Jesus. But there is more.

Transparent memorial blocks

The Communion rail would be in the round, but only half would be used by congregants. A gated railing would bisect the platform. The “gates” would be intentionally narrow, and would be embellished with Alpha-Omega and Chi-Rho, pointing to Christ as the only gate into heaven.

What lies beyond the gate are those whom we cannot see, but who share in the Lord’s Supper and the foretaste of the feast to come. The floor of that side of the circle would be a memorial to those who have gone before us. Names would be inscribed on transparent acrylic blocks. They would be stacked, layer upon layer, so that they could be read into near infinity. This acrylic assembly would be illuminated from below, giving light not only to those in glory, but also to the entire angelic dome. 

The words, “...together with angels, and archangels, and the whole company of heaven” would make much more sense in this sort of chancel, and we would be compelled to confess it – not just verbally, but visually, as Christ descends to His helpless children and feeds them with His own body and blood.

Friday, October 30, 2020

“Making An Entry”

Cutaway of the Baptistry

Copyright © Edward Riojas

This is the first of several posts that will be dedicated to a set of drawings in progress. The drawings are architectural in nature, though I do not claim to be an architect. The closest I can get to that vocation is claiming an older brother who IS an architect, and in admitting that I occasionally helped him with college projects. I can also claim to have learned rudimentary knowledge of blueprints when translating them into cutaway drawings during my 31-year tenure in the newspaper industry. No one has asked me to create these drawings – like a few other “odd” projects, I was simply compelled.

Originally, this post was to be called something like, “If I ran the Circus McGurkus,” but I’m sure there are countless copyrights and trademarks on such a title and, besides, the very idea was not close enough to my thoughts. Neither is this post about how church buildings should look, nor the ideal of what might have been. Rather, it’s a opportunity to contemplate what actually happens – indeed, what we confess happens – in Lutheran churches in particular.

Detail of Scriptural text mural

Of course, church buildings run the gamut from grand facades to storefronts, and if there is any truth to the adage that “the Church is not the building,” then this would be a pointless exercise. That adage, however, does not say it all and falls woefully short of describing those peculiar houses that contain both the Lord’s children and the Lord Himself.

As with any structure, we must first make an entry. Unlike other buildings, however, the Church has a peculiar means of ingress. In my example, the building follows suit with a integrated Baptistry.

Many get their first taste of baptistry as a separate structure when studying Italian architecture. The famous “Leaning Tower of Pisa” is but one free-standing structure associated with the Pisa Cathedral. The leaning tower is a bell tower, but there is also a free-standing Baptistry that puts many churches to shame with its scale and detail. The fact that it was constructed as a separate facade points to the importance of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

Layout of Baptistry "Garden"

In my design, several elements come together to make a point; to confess what we believe. I think the initial impression would be of a rather suppressed dome. Embellishment would be restricted to Biblical quotations of Christ Jesus confronting demons, along with exorcism language taken from the Baptismal Rite.

The space is intended to be serious and sobering. To intensify this, there are visual references to catacomb niches. While there is ample room to gather and witness a baptism, there is little room to escape our own mortality. Only an oculus window breaks the gloom with an image of the Holy Spirit.

In the center of all this gloom is yet another tomb. Three steps down into a square chamber with surrounding low platforms is actually a reconstruction of the type of tomb that could have held the body of Christ. The platforms were intended for bodies, and shallow channels for the morbid use of draining body fluids while rot ensues. This, however is not a dead end – it is a portal.

Issuing from a simple Alpha-Omega cross, water traverses one of the channels and pours into a conspicuously-low, eight-sided Baptismal font. The only way one may be baptized with this design is to symbolically sit where Christ lay or to be held by someone who does the same. In a visual double entendre, a cloth for post-baptismal wiping “lays folded to one side.” This is also a perfect opportunity to allow fragrant incense and spices to waft. 

The Font chamber

Just as one must sit where Christ was laid, so also the simple act of standing, after the sacrament is administered, confesses what we believe: That He did not remain dead, but arose to life. Dead men tell no tales, but neither do they stand. In this, we thumb our noses at Satan and death, and relish it with abandon.

The Baptismal Rite thus ended, all leave behind the confines of death and hell, and enter the place where our Lord promises to meet us – the sanctuary of the church, and the Church Eternal.