Friday, December 30, 2016

Little House in the Big Church

Photo courtesy of

Copyright © Edward Riojas

This isn’t about Laura Ingalls Wilder, although it could have been, had Pa attended something other than a Congregational church. This post takes a quick look at things common in some churches – specifically paraments and vestments – things that would have been decidedly lacking in Congregational churches back in Laura’s day. Even among men of the cloth.

One might assume that pastoral vestments and church paraments are meant solely to pretty-up a modern sanctuary, but there are often back-stories involving common-sense practicality overlaid with deep symbolism. When the former became less of a concern, the latter became more important. Altar cloths and coverings, for example, were originally used to keep the Bread and Wine free from dirt, condensation, and falling plaster. Vestments were used not only to identify those in the Office of the Ministry, but also to show that they, too, needed to be “covered” by Christ’s righteousness. They still do.

A new collaboration with Carrie Roberts, who heads the fledgling Ecclesiastical Sewing enterprise, has reminded me of the depth of meaning within church visuals, and coupled with it comes a discipline in which I find myself a novice at best. Roberts is no blue-haired, altar guild lady. She holds a fashion degree and has a deep interest in the historicity of sanctuary cloths. While machines largely produce the embroideries that her company offers, Roberts has received instruction in hand embroidery at Hand and Lock and the Royal School of Needlework, both based in London, along with the Williamsburg School of Needlework.

During our initial correspondence, words like “frontal” and “superfrontal” and “orphrey” and “galloon” and “drops” were thrown about with seeming abandon, and it was up to me to catch on. I was approached by Roberts to create exclusive designs for her enterprise. Both of us understand the need for confessional designs that are well-conceived and produced. If you happen to be Lutheran, it's probably best that you keep watch for what will soon come of our collaborative efforts.

Our first project is a set commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Church. We could have slapped Luther’s Seal on a nice embroidery and been done with it, but we envisioned something a bit more historic and a lot more confessional. It is a bit too early to show the finished products which Ecclesiastical Sewing will be offering, but suffice it to say that, yes, there will be Luther’s Seal, along with the Six Chief Parts, and the VDMA Cross – a device used by the Hanseatic League back in Luther's day. The four letters of that cross are shorthand for “The Word of the Lord endures forever.”

Ecclesiastical Sewing offers various fabrics (one of which I had a small hand in designing), embroideries, patterns and the like for all paraments and vestment applications, including chasubles. And speaking of chasubles, the fancy vestment has  humble origins in a rather ordinary, poncho-like, Roman cloak – which wearers fondly referred to as “a little house.”

Friday, December 23, 2016

Snoozing in the Stable

Copyright © Edward Riojas

The vision is nearly perfect. Baby Jesus is swaddled in a manger. Cattle are lowing. Heavenly light streams through an opening in the stable roof as an angel descends into the rustic tableau. Mary reclines near the newborn Christ. And Joseph is getting a little shut-eye.
“Joseph's Dream in the Stable at Bethlehem”
Rembrandt van Rijn. 1645.
(Gemäldegalerie, Berlin)

There are oodles of artistic interpretations of the Holy Nativity and events surrounding the birth of the Christ – each loaded with symbolism, drama and reverence. A fair amount, however, veer away from what most might envision and show Joseph in deep sleep.

Poor Joseph. He might as well be snoring in church. There is a slight stigma that Joseph can’t seem to shake, and it’s due, in part, to paintings like Rembrandt’s “Joseph's Dream in the Stable at Bethlehem.” In defense of the dozer, Joseph is getting some badly-needed divine input. Because he was given so much direction through dreams, Joseph is often depicted as sleeping – even when it seems most inappropriate.
“Joseph’s Dream”
Georges de La Tour. c. 1640.
(Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, France)

It is so easy to take Joseph's sleep out of context that the idea becomes laughable. Orthodox imagery goes light on Joseph. Icons of the Nativity show Joe sitting with a hand on his jaw, as if he has a sore tooth. In reality, he is supporting his sleepy head.

Georges de La Tour takes the sleep-deprived saint and adds the idea that Joseph was older than dirt in his painting, “Joseph’s Dream.” The artist then increases the saint’s age by contrasting it with an excessively-juvenile angel. We can only assume that Joseph’s walker has been stored nearby.

And then there’s the trip to Egypt. Joseph is more than road-weary in Orazio Gentilischi’s “Rest on the Flight into Egypt” – he has crashed and burned. Gentilischi’s painting is uncomfortable on so many levels that we find ourselves gazing at the donkey out of sheer desperation. (Would SOMEBODY please wake up or cover up!)
“Rest on the Flight into Egypt”
Orazio Gentilischi. c. 1625.
(Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, UK)

Unfortunately, the sleeping thing has gotten a tad out of hand. Pope Francis, we are told, has a little statue of sleeping Joseph in his Vatican office. There’s no word on whether the rest of the Holy Family is in the pontiff’s office. One may wonder if there is a close connection to Joseph being the patron saint of lost causes. But I digress.

It becomes odd when those little statues are taken out of the Nativity and consequently out of context, then used for all manner of odd rites and prayers and superstition. For those who indulge in the cutsie, little Joseph figurines, I have a few words for you: “WAKE UP! Your Light has come!”

Friday, December 16, 2016

Getting Cozy with Currier & Ives

Copyright © Edward Riojas

“...It'll nearly be like a picture print
By Currier and Ives.
These wonderful things are the things
We remember all through our lives!”

~ excerpt from “Sleigh Ride”

Look at me. It’s almost Christmas and I’m getting all nostalgic.

Leroy Anderson’s lyrics have been sung by countless vocalists. The words echo off our smiling brains even when “Sleigh Ride” is performed by an orchestra, sans vocals. With sleigh bells jingling in the background and the clip-clop of hooves keeping cadence, we can vividly see the quintessentially-quaint image of a cannon exploding aboard the U.S.S. Princeton. Wait! What? That’s not the image!
“Explosion Aboard the USS Princeton”
N. Currier Lith & Pub. 1844.

Let’s try this again. Surely, among the ‘things we remember all through our lives’ is an image of the New York Merchant Exchange burning to the ground. That‘s loaded with holly and tinsel, isn’t it?

You’re right. Those lithographs were produced by the ballooning “picture print” company when Nathaniel Currier was alone at the helm; that was before James Merritt Ives joined the firm, and before Ives became a full partner in 1857.

During the company’s strong run, artists were cranking out two to three new images per week – for 64 years. Nostalgic winter scenes were but a small part of what they produced. Everything from political satire to newsworthy disasters to fluffy kittens with balls of yarn to embarrassingly-racist trash was fair game. While keeping close tabs on public demand and keeping cost at a minimum, the affordable prints ended up on everyone’s walls. Women’s magazines fanned the flames, encouraging housewives to decorate with the lithographs.
“Ruins of the Merchant’s Exchange N.Y.”
N. Currier Lith & Pub. 1835.
After John H. Bufford

The enterprise would have been the envy of the late Thomas Kinkade. Operations taking up three floors of a New York building were streamlined by late-comer Ives, causing it to churn out pedestrian art by the boatload. That artwork often originated from well-known contemporary artists including George Inness, Thomas Nast, and Eastman Johnson. The firm also employed artists who specialized in particular genres – Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, who specialized in sports; George H. Durrie, who supplied winter scenes; and Frances Flora Bond Palmer, who created panoramic American landscapes.

Ives was keen to put the burgeoning company on a pace with the rest of the industrial revolution. Preparation of lithography stones was conducted on one floor. Hand-operated printing was done on another floor. Hand coloring was executed on yet a different floor.

Even the hand coloring was handled in assembly line fashion. A group of talented women applied the color after the black image was printed. Each woman was tasked with a single color, and passed on the print to the next colorist along a line until the image was completely colored.
“The Road Winter”
N. Currier Lith & Pub. 1853.

Those images produced by the long-defunct firm have endured, and are still collected. But it‘s the Christmas-y images that pull at our nostalgic strings.

The passing of time has helped us forget Currier and Ives’ penchant for sensational disasters. It lets us ignore the outdated visual drivel that bloated the company‘s inventory. It urges us to forgive the firm’s politically-incorrect images. The cream of their efforts, its seems, has slowly risen in the form of fluffy nostalgia, to be regaled in song and yearned for in a bass-ackwards sort of way. The epitome of Currier and Ives work is “The Road Winter,” an image of a one-horse open sleigh pulling a young couple through a pristine landscape. It was responsible in part – if not in whole – for “Sleigh Ride’s” lyrics.

The lithograph’s popularity is somewhat remarkable, given the original art was possibly not intended for the general public. The image was probably a portrait of Nathaniel Currier and his wife, created as a wedding gift by his staff.

Friday, December 9, 2016

What Does This Mean?

All images
Copyright © Edward Riojas.
Symbols may not be
reproduced for any reason.

Copyright © Edward Riojas

It started with the Chi-Rho.

Someone once asked me if it was a secret, Masonic symbol. Another person wondered why we use such a “catholic” symbol. Sigh.

We have confessional creeds and explanations of doctrine and volumes written on what we believe, but to my knowledge there are no classes dealing with the stuff that often confronts us in the church sanctuary. Christian symbolism isn’t necessary for salvation, so it often gets ignored. Ignorance of those things that teach, however, can be a bad thing.

Please consider this, therefore, a primer of the very basics of Christian symbolism. Whether you are as dumb as a rock or you have a list of credentials longer than my arm, chances are you will learn a little something about the stuff you stare at every Sunday.

The few images considered here are but a tiny fraction of the thousand or so symbols I’ve collected and drawn for a [very] back-burner book project on the subject. Stay tuned – it might even get published before the Lord’s return.

The Cross: You might be surprised that this is NOT the oldest symbol of the Christian Church – not even by a long shot. Why? It was an image of public torture and death. The cross was ugly and embarrassing. It took a couple of hundred years after Christ ascended before the Church began using it.

The Crucifix: It took another hundred years or so after the cross gained popularity before an image of a dead or dying Christ was even considered. Knowing this adds immense power to St. Paul’s boasting in the cross.

The Good Shepherd: Now this symbol is OLD. It actually pre-dates Christ (which isn't, of course, possible). The 23rd Psalm was known by the Jews, and images of pastoral David were popular in their culture. Images of a shepherd deity were also known in the Roman empire. It became an easy step, therefore, to use a very similar image to represent the Lord, Jesus Christ in the role of the Good Shepherd.

Chi-Rho (XP): Simply put, it’s a Greek abbreviation for “Christ.” We might write it in English as “CR.”

I-H-S: There must be millions of brass altar crosses out there with this little thing attached. It is a Latinized version of the Greek abbreviation for “Jesus.” Some have stretched it to mean “Jesus, Savior of Men.” Others have assigned its use to off-shoots of Roman Catholicism, but that’s pushing it. Confused? Good, because you might also see the variation “I-H-C,” as depicted here.

The Tri-radiant Nimbus: Now we’re getting fancy. A special device was needed to differentiate the Lord from the rest of Christendom when depicted together in art, so the three-rayed halo was employed. No, it is NOT a cross. It is reserved for depictions of The Father, and of The Son, and of The Holy Ghost. See how they did that?

Nimbus:  A halo (or nimbus) is a very old pagan device. Christians, being clever enough to re-purpose garbage to their own advantage, began using halos to identify Christians in artwork. To my knowledge, I don’t have one hovering behind my head, and I’ve never painted one on a self-portrait. But once I leave this world, if you would be so kind...

Friday, December 2, 2016

Not So Fast

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Whatever happened to Advent?

Hobgoblins and warty-nosed witches were hardly in the clearance bins when strains of “White Christmas” started piping into stores. Maybe Advent accidentally got thrown in with that old Halloween merchandise. Maybe the lament of those waiting for the redeeming King got lost in the din of a Burl Ives-infused “Holly Jolly Christmas.”

This isn’t about a humbug attitude over holiday cheer. It IS about working ourselves up into a joyful lather weeks ahead of schedule, while forgetting the reason for celebration. The joy in celebrating the Savior requires an understanding that we need saving in the first place. In case you don’t know, life isn’t one big snow globe of happiness. It is fraught with heartache and misery and strife – all manufactured by our own sin.

Efforts to illustrate this with a dandy piece of Advent art were quickly halted by a wasteland devoid of examples. Sure, there are plenty of violet-tinged pieces, but most have a star, or the Holy family, or magi on the road. There is little contrition in those images
“By the Rivers of Babylon” Gebhard Fugel. 1920.
(Galerie Fähre, Germany)

Perhaps it’s a stretch, but an Advent thread surely runs through the Babylonian captivity. Gebhard Fugel’s “By the Rivers of Babylon” hits close to the mark. His image shows people on the verge of losing all hope. It is hard to look at because we don’t want to identify with them – especially with Bing Crosby crooning in the background and magical snowflakes drifting by our windows.

The Babylonian captives were a pretty messed-up bunch looking forward to the Lord’s deliverance. It took the heavy hand of the Lord to wipe them clean of pride and dissuade them from running after foreign gods, but eventually they got the point. And they waited. And hoped. And waited. These are "The people that in darkness sat."

One wonders if a chord was struck much later among the Jews, when Christ mentioned the “distant land” where a prodigal wasted his inheritance. One wonders if either account strikes a chord with us today.

The immeasurable joy of Christmas comes when we remember the God who descended from His royal throne and into a cesspool of humankind – all to save us from ourselves and our deserved sentence of death.

Christmas will not sustain you if you think you can sustain yourself apart from the Savior. If, however, you are down-trodden and miserable and tired and hurting and hoping, then the arrival of the Savior – even in the form of a fragile infant – is reason indeed to hope, and reason for celebration.

Friday, November 25, 2016

A Lavish Record

“Mark” Chuck Close. 1979.
(Museum of Modern Art, New York)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

It is something which artists rarely intend, but it happens.

Every artist loves to make marks, and making a mark in history is every artist’s dream. Becoming a reliable source for historical reference, however, isn’t exactly a high priority among the artsy-fartsy. There is a nomadic side of the artist that wants to follow every creative vein in sight and live the Bohemian life, and producing reference material doesn’t fit too well in that mold.

But time happens. Eventually, everything man touches becomes dated – art included. Becoming associated with a place in time isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but eras tend to harden and cure over time like concrete. Then they become immovable; they become repositories of history.
“Boomtown” Thomas Hart Benton. 1928.
(Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, N.Y.)

Chuck Close’s photorealistic piece, “Mark,” could have been done by any photo-copying knucklehead today, until the viewer actually looks at the piece. Then they ask, “Where did the subject get those glasses, and – wait a minute – is that shirt polyESTER?” Like it or hate it, the piece has been firmly placed in history.

The further back one travels in time, the more significant those artistic details become to historians. A Thomas Hart Benton cityscape of a Depression-era town might simply be a pleasant painting until we realize the place was dozed long ago for a strip mall. It is only then that we set aside esthetics and look at the painting for the placement of buildings, checking out their architectural details.

“White Cloud, Head Chief of the Iowas”
George Catlin. 1845.
(National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.)

Early frontier artist George Catlin approached his subjects with a much keener eye on preserving a place in time when whole nations of people were disappearing. With near-scientific observation, the likenesses and details of Native Americans were recorded for those who might otherwise forget. We view Catlin’s images, lament the passing of cultures and appreciate the historicity of his paintings.

Taking a giant leap back in time, Gothic and Renaissance artists unknowingly left historians a valuable store of knowledge. Nowhere else is this more obvious than in Sacred art from those eras.

While ancient Rome and Greece were held with high regard in the Renaissance mind, the Holy Lands were not. Without having accurate information and reference when painting religious subjects, early artists deferred to images of the dress and lifestyle they did know. Hence, the Virgin Mary may be depicted wearing a cotehardie or a houpelande or some other European dress typical of the day, but not a frock indigenous to the Holy Land.
“Altarpiece with the Passion of Christ” (detail)
Unknown German artist. c. 1490.
(The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Md.)

The same is true when artists depicted Roman soldiery. While speaking the languages of antiquity were marks of a Renaissance man, having equal knowledge of their weapons cache apparently was not. Gothic and Renaissance paintings are a prime reference source for armor and weapons of the Renaissance, including flamberges, falchions and halberds, but one won’t find in Renaissance art an example of a Roman gladius or pilum – both standard issue for the Roman foot soldier. And the viewer doesn’t really care. Or notice.

Average museum-goers are so used to these incongruities that viewers of old paintings translate the costumes and accoutrements as authentic. They are authentic, but only to the time and culture in which the work was created. It is the same thing as a modern artist producing a painting of Mary and Joseph wearing jeans and t-shirts or top hat and hoop skirt. Well, sort of.

Of course, we needn’t chastise artists long gone for their lack of authenticity. These artists have put a clear time stamp on their own works, and have certainly created timeless pieces in the process. Thus, we inherit a double blessing in our own day.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Art Curmudgeon’s Gift Guide

“With No Sense For Time”
Fine art giclée print by Hope Olson.
Starting at $38

Copyright © Edward Riojas

I’m caving in to the commercialism-thing, and it’s not even Thanksgiving.

Many of you will be shopping before that mangled turkey is even cold, or you will be, at very least, planning your attack on Black Friday, so please allow me to turn you in a different direction before you drag your bloated self to the nearest mall. Besides, you don’t want to roll out of bed at the crack of whatever on Black Friday, just to suck on a five dollar coffee and stand in line two miles from the nearest cash register. I know it’s the American way, but it doesn’t have to be. You can be more American by going online and supporting the arts in the good ol’ U.S. of A. All this while wearing your jammies.
“Parable of the Buried Treasure”
Fine art giclée print by Edward Riojas.
Starting at $75 or

Consider this your gift guide for folks who are slightly more deserving than a Hai Karate cologne set. Admittedly, my picks are limited in scope, but they’re all good stuff. They might also whet your appetite to search beyond my choices.

The first of my picks is the work of Hope Olson, who shared a venue with moi during ArtPrize. Her work is extremely fresh and equally affordable. She re-interprets cubism using a designerly color palette, which begs her delightful pieces to be hung and enjoyed. “With No Sense For Time,” above right, is available as a giclée print. The original has been sold, but there are plenty of other originals available on her site, beside a new selection of prints.
“Sola Fide”
Painting by Tanya Nevin. $168

Speaking of prints, I sup-POSE I should toot my own horn and mention that I also offer a large variety of prints in several sizes. A few of the originals are also for sale, in case you want to give an extremely special gift. Shown here is one of the more popular prints. “Parable of the Buried Treasure” is a slightly different, but strong interpretation of the parable of the Kingdom of Heaven. A print selection can be found at or in the “Giclee Prints for Sale” album in the public Facebook page "Edward Riojas - Artist." Or, if you really want to use that plastic to purchase the same, then go to

While you’re at Ad Crucem, check out the work of other artists represented on the site, including Tanya Nevin. Her work takes the sacred and gives it a feminine touch in a truly original approach. “Sola Fide” is just one example of her pieces available from Ad Crucem. Prints and originals are both available at the site. The best endorsement I can give is that I own a couple of Tanya’s original pieces.
“Martin Luther: Treasures of the Reformation”
Published by Sandstein Verlag. $39
Artbook, via Minneapolis Institute of Art

One other splendid idea is an art book. If, like me, you’ve resigned yourself to the fact you probably won’t be able to attend one of the Luther shows in Atlanta, Minneapolis or New York, then the catalog is the next best thing. The book represents 400 exhibits in art and writing, most of which are being shown abroad for the first time. If, on the other hand, you CAN attend one of the three U.S. shows, then tickets to the Luther show are a must on your list.

There’s always one in every family – the oddball who has everything, including a wry sense of humor. If you have one lurking somewhere in your gene pool, then consider perusing the online art museum gift shops that abound. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago is listed as one of the top ten museum gift shops by the Wall Street Journal. Like other top ten shops, it is loaded to the gills with all manner of unusual gifts that ooze taste and artsy-fartsy-ness. For those with a sense of humor, I suggest the Marie Antoinette salt and pepper shaker set by Terry Kerr. Oh yes, it will definitely fit in with the antique china in that corner hutch. If it doesn’t, then heads will roll.

“Marie Antoinette Salt and Pepper Shaker” by Terry Kerr. $25. Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Grasping At The Boundless

“Trinity of the Broken Body”
Robert Campin. 1410.
(Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Perhaps Robert Campin was the first. Perhaps he wasn't. Whoever it was, a precise formula for painting The Holy Trinity was concocted during the early Renaissance and passed around in rapid succession, influencing big names to crank out similar versions and inspiring others to do the same. And the recipe bothers me.

It is a bold move by anyone in Christendom to grasp at the boundlessness of our Almighty God. It is a vain attempt to wrap one’s brain around His omnipresence. Humans, however, have an annoying habit of wanting to put things in their pockets and bring them out at will. Even Christians become dumfounded at heavenly visions, and end up suggesting something as random as tents – as did disciples at the Transfiguration.

Whether commissioned to do so or of their own volition, artists attempted to visually capture the Holy Trinity in a similar manner. What is somewhat puzzling is that they often did so while forcing the vision apart from Scripture.
“The Holy Trinity”
Masaccio. 1425.
(Santa Maria Novella, Florence)

Long before Campin painted his “Trinity of the Broken Body,” iconographers used an image of three angels as a symbol of The Holy Trinity, pointing to Abraham’s visitors near the oaks of Mamre as recorded in Genesis 18. It was enough for Christians. For a while.

There were also depictions of Jesus' baptism, in which each Person of The Holy Trinity made Themself known. Apparently, that also wasn't enough.

The new formula called for specific elements: The crucified Christ being held by The Father, and the nearby Dove of the Holy Spirit. However, there are big problems with this formula that dance awfully close to heresy.

For beginners, Scripture is pretty clear in showing that The Father was not at the cross. Admittedly, saying as much ignores the very omnipresence of God. Admittedly, it smacks of heresy. Admittedly, it is impossible to reconcile the “is, but is not” of the thing, but when Christ cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?,” it is convincing that His Father was not there.
“Adoration of the Holy Trinity”
Albrecht Dürer. 1511.
(Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)

It can also be argued that an otherwise peculiar recording of meteorological conditions was unnecessary – unless it was pointing to something else. Aaron’s Blessing from The Lord carried the unusual line, “The Lord make his face to shine upon you.” The antithesis in its deepest form would cause “Darkness over the whole land.” Such was the case at Jesus’ crucifixion.  The Father very much turned His back on His Son.

Capturing the likeness of The Father is a major fail, anyway. It is simply dumb. The results always end up looking like an old guy, Father Frost, or something worse. Jesus Christ took on the flesh of man. The Father did not. Forcing the viewer to look on any depiction of The Father puts them in a difficult place and confines He who is infinite into a finite form.

“The Holy Trinity”
Lucas Cranach the Elder. 1515.
(Kunsthalle, Bremen, Germany)
Of course, it is also a bold move to single out The Persons as individuals of the whole, when They are so interwoven as to defy separation. It is only for the sake of human weakness that we speak thus.

Holy Scripture does not say where the other two persons of The Holy Trinity were during the crucifixion. Or does it? The Holy Spirit, while not descending as a dove, was at work in a convict dying next to Jesus, and The Holy Spirit was guiding the tongue of a Gentile centurion. “Surely this man was the Son of God.”

And where might The Father be if, in His omnipresence, He was not holding the cross of Christ? Perhaps He, in His grief for His Son and in His righteous anger toward Satan, was rending His clothes – the curtain of the Temple – and fuming that Satan is as good as dead.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Tale of a Tree

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Once upon a time, there grew a tiny tree in a dark forest. It was like any other beech tree, with one exception: It was blessed to have a little patch of sunshine it could call its own.

Every day the sun passed by the little tree, and smiled. Every night the little tree stretched its limbs, and grew a bit more.

As time passed, the beech tree grew tall. Its branches spread wide, and birds often nested far above the ground in the tree’s protection.

The once-small tree knew, however, that it could not grow forever. It would steal glances at tree bones littering the forest floor, and the tree wondered if it, too, would one day topple over and be forgotten.

Then one day a woodsman came knocking on the trees. He passed by one that sounded hollow. He passed by two others that were too small. The woodsman finally stood in front of the beech tree, greeted it with his strange words, gave it a blessing, and then set to work on the noble tree.

Time passed ever so slowly. Years went by, and the tree, now sawn and portioned, lay under a thatched roof in a lumberman’s shed. The beech wondered if it would have been better to lay forgotten on the forest floor.

One sunny day, a man wearing a cape visited the shed and looked at the beech. He passed by and looked at other lumber. Then he talked with the lumberman, then looked a second time at the beech. The man wearing the cape smiled. After talking with the lumberman again, the caped visitor watched as the beech was loaded onto a heavy wagon.

The wagon followed the man down rocky roads in the woods. Then it followed the man on muddy roads past cow pastures. Then it followed the man on brick roads of a town. Street after street held stout buildings framed in lumber. The beech thought it saw a familiar face in the posts and beams of one such building.

At last the wagon stopped in front of a large building. The lumber was unloaded and each piece of beech was carefully brought inside. The beech was no longer living under a thatched roof. It was inside an artist’s shop. The beech smiled in the warmth of its new home, and fell asleep.

One morning the beech was pulled out of bed, even though it wasn’t quite finished sleeping. All day long, the beech was sanded and painted and sanded again. At the end of the day, the beech looked at its new smooth, white covering with wonder.
“Princess Sibylle of Cleve”
Lucas Cranach the Elder. 1526.
Mixed media on red beech wood.
(Weimarer Stadtschloss, Germany)

Not long after that day, a beautiful young lady came to visit. She had red hair and wore a delicate wreath for a crown. Many assistants helped with her coat and brought her things when she asked. The artist was very polite to her, but then he had the lady sit just so. He took the white-covered beech wood, put it on a special stand, and sat in front of it. All day long, the artist painted on the white surface.

It was very dark when the lady left. The artist would have to work much more on the painting of the lady. Days passed. The artist would sometimes spend many hours on the painting. At other times, he would put only a few strokes of paint on as he walked by.

There was much fanfare when the painting was finished and finally unveiled. The artist smiled and bowed to the lady. All her friends were pleased, and so was the beech wood. It had forgotten the dark forest, the forest floor, and the thatched roof of the lumberman’s shed.

Since those days of long ago, the painting has been shown to many people who come to visit. It hangs on a wall near other grand paintings and a fancy, ticking clock. And every day, the sun passes by, and smiles.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Who is Scaring Whom?

Copyright © Edward Riojas

The advertising has been at a feavered pitch for weeks now, and half of us seem terrified. No, I’m not talking about the upcoming election. I am talking of things that go bump in the night.
“Jesus and the Gadarene Demoniac”
15th Century woodcut.

What once was a fairly tame affair on All Hallows’ Eve has jumped the tracks and now brushes awefully close to the demonic side of things. Haunted houses, haunted forests, and haunted corn mazes are now the paranorm, promising to scare the heebie-geebies out of everyone, and reducing macho football players into screaming girls. Ghouls and zombies and demented clowns come out of the woodwork faster than 10-lb. bags of candy corn.

For some reason, everyone likes a good fright. It’s that morbid curiostiy; that strange, little nook in our brains that actually wants to be scared. Even the diciples thought Christ was a ghost as he walked on the water, until He calmed them with the simple words, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” One wonders if any in the sorry group were actually a bit let down knowing there was no ghost.
“Victorious Cross”
© Edward Riojas. 2016.
(Collection of the artist)

Folklore and secular traditions have long since taken Holy Scripture down a dark alley where terror and fear dance with demons. But The Word is unmoved. Movies like “The Exorcist” spun threads off men of the cloth, unnerving viewers and clergy alike. And yet The Word is unmoved.

The real question is: Who is scaring whom? Brilliant minds behind the new Lutheran Service Book intentionally gave the hymn number 666 to “O Little Flock, Fear Not the Foe.” It’s a nod to the Truth, and not simply a vain attempt at doomed heroics.

Perhaps one of the most telling verses in Scripture occurs when Jesus confronts a Gadarene man posessed by a demon called Legion. Even the name is given for our benefit in Mark 5, for we know that Christ does not have some insignificant imp in front of Him; this is hell spewn on the earth; this is our every nightmare. Yet when confronted by The Lord of all; the soon-to-be-victorious Lamb of God, this demon-posessed man utters fear that out-does our own.

“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.”

Recognizing The Christ is one thing, but what we do with that simple knowledge is quite another. The Epistle of James puts a sharp point on it when it declares, “ You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder!”

Fear, therefore, is something to be owned by the hoardes of hell and by Satan, who has a sphincter where his pie-hole should be. Fear is not ours to own. We have a Savior who has taken our guilt and shame to the cross, hoodwinked hell itself, and rose victorious to new life so that we may follow in His trail.

This side of heaven, Satan still lurks in the shadows. This side of heaven, storms still gather. The darkness can breed anxiety and fear. The children of God, however, are comforted in even the stormiest days of life, when Jesus assures us, “It is I. Do not be afraid.”

Friday, October 21, 2016

En plein air

Copyright © Edward Riojas

I’m not a huge fan of eating al fresco, especially when it means going out on the town. The idea of wearing sunglasses when addressing an entrée does not appeal to me. I don’t think I should have to endure wind or bugs or diesel fumes just so I can sit in a plastic chair under an umbrella and eat a $15 salad. The same logic should apply to leaving a perfectly good studio to paint in the out-of-doors. It should.

I made my first foray into the elements to paint on a not-so-perfect day. Perhaps I should have waited for a totally sunny day with a slight breeze – you know: The kind of breeze that smells like one of those little pine tree cutouts. It was, in fact, a windy day. The clouds were ominous, and it started sprinkling in a sideways sort of way. I held my only brush in one hand and a flapping palette in the other. My leg was hooked over the easel’s center support so it wouldn’t fly into the next county. But I made an ugly, little painting in spite of it all.

“Plein air” painting is suddenly all the rage. Again. I think it’s French for “I walked through a half-mile of mud to this spot and all I can think of is Cheetos.”
Two artistic powerhouses crossed paths while painting en plein air.
“Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood”
by John Singer Sargent. 1885. (Tate Gallery, London)

Perhaps it’s the artsy-fartsy title that makes it so trendy, but in reality plein air painting has always been done. Painting outdoors, at one time, was done to bolster work executed later in the studio. An artist would make a relatively quick color study of a landscape, then spend oodles of time on a much grander version in the comfort of a studio. It wasn’t until the dawn of Impressionism that artists saw painting en plein air as an end in itself, and not simply a means to a greater end.

There is a golden nugget within that concept. The freshness of painting on-site cannot be duplicated in the studio. It simply can’t. The same is usually true of live drawings – the spontaneity of recording a moment in all its rawness is, in itself, the real beauty.

Plein air painting is no longer limited to a solitary artist lugging a compact easel into a lonely setting. There are group excursions and competitions and trips abroad to do nothing more than paint outdoors. Of course, the lure is not found in places like the farmer’s field behind my house. That’s why the missions of California, for example, are a prime destination. Oh, and don’t forget dull locations like the French countryside. And Portugal. And Spain. And Italy.

There is something annoyingly attractive to gathering art supplies and going outside, no matter where that may be. Like camping, it forces the artist to be choosey about what is absolutely necessary for the excursion. One cannot drag the kitchen sink out into the woods. The same holds true for all 900 brushes that might be lurking in a studio. I took one brush along on my first attempt. I took two on the second try.

I’m now thinking about a much larger brush – one that keeps a sharp edge so I can use it like two brushes. It might look like I’m seriously considering yet another trip into not-so-forgiving elements among bugs and blowing dirt, just to paint a mediocre image. In fact, I am.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Monumental Tokens

Copyright © Edward Riojas

To the bosom of Sarah be this Image confin'd
An Emblem of Love and Esteem:
Bestow'd by a friend desirous to find;
A place in that bosom unseen

It was June 1, 1824, in Charleston, S.C., yet 192 years hence we know Thomas Robson had butterflies in his stomach. His eye was set on Sarah, as was his heart. They might have been strolling down a wooded path that day. She might have slipped her hand into his. Perhaps it was then that he reached into a breast pocket of his waistcoat to retrieve the miniature token of his affection.
“Thomas Robson” [front, left, and verso, right]
Henry Bounetheau. 1824. 2 x 2.375 inches.
(Courtesy, The Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, S.C.)

Perhaps they met months before, by chance, at a society ball – he paying a compliment and she demurely blushing. Or perhaps he was the gentleman who happened to guide her up the granite, street-side step and into a waiting carriage. She would have slipped had he not bolted from a knot of friends and rushed to her aid.

We may surmise details of the romance, but one thing is sure: In spite of its size, Mr. Robson’s token of love for Sarah was no small thing. The suitor commissioned Henry Bounetheau, a leading artist living in Charleston, to create a portrait in miniature. The artist did so using watercolor on ivory, a common medium for the genre. The painting was set into a watch-like case, and on the verso a sentiment and the pre-determined date were engraved around a bezelled glass compartment holding an artfully-braided lock of his hair.

Miniatures had long been used in Europe as a means of taking along fond likenesses when travelling. As the craft developed, the portraits changed from being something displayed on a table to something worn as jewelry; an adornment worn close to the heart.
“Eliza Izard” [front, left, and verso, right]
Edward Greene Malbone. 1801. 2.375 x 2.875 inches.
(Courtesy, The Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, S.C.)

Charleston became the epicenter of the miniaturist phenomenon in America, where high society and European taste could support artists with enormous talent. Unlike much of early American portraiture, Robson’s likeness was executed with great sensitivity to the sitter’s features. It must be assumed magnifying lenses were employed in the 2 3/8 inch-tall painting, or else miniaturists surely went blind at an early age.

Another miniaturist master, Edward Greene Malbone, created a tiny portrait of Eliza Izard almost 20 years earlier than the Robson likeness. Eliza was, at the time of the sitting, yet unmarried. The portrait, along with several others, were commissioned by her parents at the price of $275. Her portrait was executed in watercolor on ivory, set in a case, with its verso containing a delicately arranged lock of hair. That wisp of hair is a work of art in itself, especially the filigree knotting at its base.

Her portrait is slightly more romanticized than that of Robson’s, but the intent was clearly to make the most of her femininity and not promote the frankness of a masculine counterpart who would be master of a household. The gentleman who might receive Eliza’s miniature would be enviable, indeed.

As in other examples of the genre, these two show an extremely intimate part of the sitter. Engraved sentiments and faithful likenesses are one thing, but locks of hair are real enough to make us regret looking at a thing intended for none, save one so dearly loved. In the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, a large collection of these miniatures creates a compounded sense of invasion into the most intimate thoughts of those whose heartaches are long forgotten. The lace has since faded; the stiff collars carefully put in boxes. But even in this we are consoled, for we know Thomas Robson wasted neither time, nor money when he commissioned the artist. Sarah became Mrs. Robson the same year she was given the miniature.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Surprises of ArtPrize

Copyright © Edward Riojas
"Bright Maples" by Martha Fieber

ArtPrize never fails to surprise me. No, I wasn't surprised by the final pieces that were put there by popular vote. Neither was I surprised by the juror’s picks, nor was I surprised by the hooey that came out of their pie-holes when it was time to justify themselves. I wasn't surprised by the number of people who claimed they “can’t even draw a stick figure.” I wasn't surprised by folks who used their smart phones to photograph ... photographs. I wasn't even surprised by those who gushed over my use of color – this, while wearing sunglasses.
Detail of "Bright Maples"

I WAS surprised by the gems that went unnoticed, and by the gems that DID get noticed. Out of three of my personal favorites, one was a finalist and another was a short-lived contender. The last piece didn’t show up on anyone’s radar screen.

“Bright Maples,” by Martha Fieber, didn’t have one of those snazzy titles or an artist statement to wow the jurors. The tiny fiber piece was hard pressed to gather notice – until viewers took a much closer look and realized every leaf in the piece was a French knot. ‘Maples’ was, indeed, a delicate surprise.
"Morning Sun" by John Hubbard

Another favorite of mine was “Morning Sun,” by John Hubbard. Another lack-luster title, but immense skill showed through economy of brush strokes that harkened to Canada’s Group of Seven. It was small, but very fresh, and that was a nice surprise.

One of my favorites that did make it to the finals was “Moan,” a fiber piece by Katarzyna and Monika Gwiazdowska. The Polish twins took the lowly craft of Stitchy McYarn Pants and surprisingly elevated it above the stratosphere. Never mind the amount of work involved, or the distance covered to simply ship the piece, or the fact that the twins didn’t kill each other in the process – the real achievement was taking something so convolutedly complex and restraining it within elegant simplicity.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of ArtPrize was meeting like-minded artists from vastly different backgrounds. There was the Ukrainian artist who approached me again this year. We chatted like old friends, and kidded each other about flaws in our pieces. There was the interior designer-turned-artist; the model-turned-artist; the mathematician-turned-artist; the scientific illustrator-turned-artist. The common link we shared was the passion for our work and the striving to improve technique while visually communicating.
“Moan,” by Katarzyna and Monika Gwiazdowska

Next year’s ArtPrize, of course, will have surprises of its own. There will be new art and new faces. For my part, I will be bringing something new to the event, but I’m not about to tell you just yet. I don’t want to spoil that surprise.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Getting Grumpy Over Avant Garde

The main gallery space at Kendall College's ArtPrize venue.

Copyright © Edward Riojas

The docent on duty handed me a slick, tri-fold brochure explaining the exhibit. Instinctively, I held it in my hand without opening it. The brochure was ballast for an artist intent on looking at art.

The long hallway heading into the bowels of the Kendall College gallery space was a disappointment, with little more than small, “Artifacts from the Future” evenly placed on a long, white shelf. The future looked boring.

The first room – a main gallery space – was equally-uninspired. At one end of it, a small group of people feverishly worked at sewing machines, occasionally piling their completed efforts in a corner. At the opposite end of the gallery, a projected image of constantly-moving icons showed progress of objects, in real time, via social media. No one told them social media-supported art was so two minutes ago – and has been for five years. Between the two installations was another comprised of white tumors crawling up the wall and onto the ceiling. Snore.

A second, smaller room was hung with objects. None grabbed my attention. The drone of a video loop playing somewhere could barely be heard above the ambient noise. A docent wondered aloud if the volume should be boosted a bit.

A third room held plants and growing apparatus. Some of the plants – ornamental kale – sang and nodded their heads. A white-frocked lab technician stood awkwardly at a counter devoid of anything interesting.

The last room was hung with percussion instruments, each fitted with electro-mechanical devices to play, in turn, a chaotic string of noise. More droning.

It took me less than three minutes to scan the stately ArtPrize venue, and I was not impressed. At all. Nothing stood out as visually-captivating or cerebrally-relevant. It was avant garde at its worst.

I get grumpy when others try to play games with art. It’s called the VISUAL arts, and no brochure; no tastefully-placed artist statement; no rambling discussion by an artist can do what the art itself should do. In the end, I don’t really care about the watershed experience or the traumatic background or the connectivity to the world at large. I don’t want any artist to tell me about their work. I want them to SHOW me; I want their work to speak for itself.

Most every artist wants, in some way, to be on the cutting edge. Recent art school graduates want it the most, and credential-toting high brows tell us that new eyes are the promising stars of art.  They are, we are told, the advance guard. Few – very few – are actually that. The blessed actually use their young noggins and raw talent to push their own boundaries, excelling in the process and creating a passion for their work. That sort of recipe is obvious when the results are placed on the table for all to enjoy.

But there are those who ride along on the shirttails of greater minds, and masquerade as esoteric avant-garde. They are no advance guard. They do not pave the way with promise; they only jettison flotsam and jetsam of ill-conceived art, allowing it to grow as singing, ornamental kale; as illogically-placed tailors; as uninspired video loops in the galleries of our time.

Friday, September 23, 2016

ArtPrize 2016: Pieces To Watch (Or Not)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

I get hopeful every year that ArtPrize comes around. No, not that I’ll win the big prize. Neither do I put much hope in selling my piece, although that would be splendid. What I do hope is that this year will be much better than the last; that entries worthy of praise will actually get praise; that thoughtful, well-executed pieces will rise above the mundane and pedestrian and hideous.

For the uninitiated, ArtPrize is the largest open art competition in the world. Its prize purse dwarfs all other art competitions across the globe. As a competition, it’s still wearing diapers, and as such it can be as beautiful or stinky as can be. For a more in-depth explanation of the contest, you might consider one of my posts from a previous year. Suffice it to say, it’s hard to ignore the scope of this extravaganza.

I will try to refrain from my usual harsh diatribes about which [stupid] piece is getting the most votes, or which [anal-retentive] venue is promoting what [ghastly] piece. I simply won’t do it. What I will do, instead, is give you a sampling of this year’s pieces to watch. They won’t necessarily be anywhere on my list of favorites. They might not be prize-winning material, but they all have an ingredient or two that makes them “different.”

Pieces to watch (or not)
“A Walk in the Woods” by Armin Mersmann, showing at DeVos Place Convention Center.
This large drawing of a gnarled tree has the ingredients – size and massive amounts of labor – necessary to win a prize. Never mind the fact that the tree itself is in serious need of a chainsaw manicure.

“These Days of Maiuma” by Robert ParkeHarrison, showing at the GRAM
I only picked this one because it shows the state of the arts – and that saddens me. The artist’s statement is unending ramble of verbal vomit, which apparently justifies the large, but irrelevant, photo of a pile of crap.

“Wars and Rumors of Wars” by Eric Dickson, showing at the UICA.
Installations like this intrigue me, but the sound and video systems must be spot-on to make it work. I have a feeling it will be far more creepy than eye-opening, which might be a plus for the subject.
“One Thousand Shacks”
Tracy Snelling.

“One Thousand Shacks” by Tracy Snelling, showing at the UICA.
Scale is so important for sculptural pieces. This one will make an impression on viewers. Plus, the artist didn’t skimp on detail. Its only downfall is that strong visual interest might detract from any intended social statement.

“250 prepared ac-motors, 325kg roof laths, 1.0km rope” by Zimoun, hosted by SiTE:LAB’s Rumsey St. Project.
Finally! SiTE:LAB has sorely disappointed me for years by bending rules to the breaking point and then showing little for their efforts, but this particular entry looks fantastic. Yes it’s weird, but what’s not to like about all that electrical/mechanical stuff doing its “thing” within the confines of elegant simplicity?

“Wounded Warrior Dogs” by James Mellick, showing at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.
Sculpturally, a standing dog looking straight ahead is as boring as H-E-hockey sticks, but never mind basic principals of art. This entry pulls at the right heartstrings – wounded dogs, American heroes and fine woodworking. Just watch the votes pile up for Fido.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Visual Stinkers

Copyright © Edward Riojas
Woodcut for Luther’s tract against the Papacy.
Lucas Cranach the Elder. 1521.

Maybe it’s the German-thing. Maybe it’s nailing a bunch of points of debate on a church door that does it. Whatever the case, Lutherans have a history of being stinkers inside and outside the sanctuary doors. In many cases, stubborn points were driven home with visuals.

An early printed example of this is a Lutheran tract against the papacy illustrated by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Cranach showed Christ, on the one hand, clearing the money changers’ tables, but he didn‘t pull any punches with his other hand when showing the Pope collecting money for indulgeances. And if the viewer didn’t make the connection, a label of “Antichristi” was put in smallish text above the Pope. Nice. Another woodcut gracing the cover of a 1545 tract shows an enthroned Pope teetering over the jaws of Hell.
Cover woodcut for Luther tract.

Lutherans have taken umbrage with more than just the papacy. They had no qualms in protesting against Protestants when doctrine came into question. When those who insisted the Eucharist contained mere symbols of Christ’s blood and the wine, therefore, should be red, Lutherans immediately changed to white wine to show it was not a mere symbol. Many still use white wine exclusively. In like manner, Lutheran pastors stopped breaking the Host in view of the congregation, reacting to Calvinists who conspicuously broke the Host as a demonstration that the bread could not possibly be the body of Christ because “Not one of His bones was broken.” Whatever.

There have been instances, however, when most of Christendom managed to get on the same visual page. Not long ago, Muslim radicals in Syria decided to push a few persecution buttons and painted the Arabic letter “N” on homes of Christians. It is shorthand for “Nasara,” a defamatory Arabic word applied to Christians. It had the same effect on Christians living in Syria as small, yellow stars did for Jews living in WWII Germany. No sooner did word of it hit the newsstands when half the Christian populace of Facebook adopted the symbol as profile photos. It has become a symbol of solidarity, and a not-so-subtle thumbing of noses toward what Luther called “The Turk.”
Islamic “N” symbol
used to identify Christians.

Looking at the larger picture, there may very well come a time when visually displaying our Faith becomes taboo. It is already so in Islamic countries and, given our own country’s penchant for not wanting to offend anyone, laws regarding public display of the cross might one day be underwritten by government policy. (Oops, too late.) And if hiding the cross ever becomes mandated across the board, then the call to make a big stink will be deafening. Forget pain. I will be one of the first in line for the biggest possible cross tattoo – saving room, of course, for tattoos of the Lord’s Prayer, the Creeds, the entire contents of the Book of Concord, the Unaltered...

Friday, September 9, 2016

A Rose by Another Name

Copyright © Edward Riojas
An early woodcut of Luther’s Rose
that includes the reformer’s initials

Luther’s Seal has come down to us as a time-honored emblem of Lutheran identity. For nearly 500 years, it has shown up in publications, on school walls, church banners, jewelry, and seemingly every nook and cranny of the denomination’s existence. It is who we are. And it is old.

Perhaps it is too old. After a while, folks become immune to its significance and ignorant of its meaning. Consider this, therefore, a refresher course in the symbolism of Luther’s Seal, otherwise known as Luther’s Rose.

Martin Luther didn’t have the benefit of a multi-billion dollar agency specializing in corporate identity branding to develop a logo. There were no focus groups or test markets. The reformer only had his wits, a designer friend, and a knowledge of heraldry.
This artist’s interpretation of the early
woodcut, produced for a lectionary
series, available at

Being one to keenly recognize the finer differences between tradition and truth, Luther didn’t totally ignore visual traditions of the day. Family coats of arms – identifiers on the battlefield – had been in use for generations, and were not only emblazoned on ‘team uniforms,’ but were also used as visual proof of ancestral lineage. There were countless, individual heraldic images, but it was the combination and permutation of those individual images that meant something.

From 1461 to 1485, Edward IV wore as his badge the White Rose of York, known then as the royal rose. After the War of the Roses, the Tudor Rose came into prominence, with its combination of a red Lancaster rose superimposed by the white York rose. Luther certainly knew of these heraldic devices, and borrowed the white rose for his seal.

In a letter to Lazarus Spengler, who apparently designed the seal in the first place at the request of John Frederik of Saxony, Luther explained, “[It] places the believer into a white, joyous rose, for this faith does not give peace and joy like the world gives (John 14:27). That is why the rose should be white and not red, for white is the color of the spirits and the angels.”
A contemporary version
painted on wood by Tanya Nevin,
available from the artist at
or through

The white rose, however, is not central to Luther’s Seal – the cross is. A black cross “Mortifies and ... should also cause pain.” Luther’s explanation here uses the older meaning of “mortify” – the cross does not embarrass us, but instead subdues the old Adam and subjugates us to our Father’s Will.

It is curious that the heart on which the cross is placed was originally closer in shape to a natural organ and not of the schmaltzy, Valentine variety. Luther emphasized this in his choice of color: “[The black cross] leaves the heart in its natural color. It does not corrupt nature, that is, it does not kill but keeps alive. "The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17) but by faith in the crucified.” Thus, the heart represents a beating one.

Luther placed his rose on a field of blue, signifying “That such joy in spirit and faith is a beginning of the heavenly future joy, which begins already, but is grasped in hope, not yet revealed.” We look not simply at the blue sky, but at what lies beyond.

The reformer then encircled the whole with “A golden ring, symbolizing that such blessedness in Heaven lasts forever and has no end. Such blessedness is exquisite, beyond all joy and goods, just as gold is the most valuable, most precious and best metal.”

It is well that Luther’s letter to Spengler laid out the meaning of his own symbol as a theological one that “Hit the mark.” Luther’s application of color even side-stepped the traditional meaning of heraldic tinctures and pressed them into use to his own advantage. In doing so, he made a profound statement through what he referred to as his “Compendium theologiae.” While contemporary devices claimed lineage through sometimes-questionable ancestry, Luther claimed sonship in Christ through The Savior’s Redemptive act, and adoption into the royal family of God. By Grace, we [still] do the same.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Peace on the Edge

"Fridur" (Peace), is this year's ArtPrize entry by Edward Riojas.

Copyright © Edward Riojas

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

Never was there such a fallacy; never was there such heresy wrapped up in so much warmth and fuzziness. As impressionable youth, we sang it while swaying, arm in arm, around campfires after the spiritless Kumbaya left us wanting. Perhaps we didn’t yet realize that the only thing that begins with me is discord and strife and war.

Though we fret over it and yearn for it, we will never have the absence of war this side of Paradise. Christ prophesied that there would be wars and rumors of wars when the end was near. What we often fail to realize is that the end – compared to eternity – has always been near.

Peace, indeed, is an elusive thing. Perhaps that is why I chose “Peace” as a theme for this year’s entry for ArtPrize.

At first blush, my painting, “Fridur,” is about anything but peace. Visiting another theme from recent years, this painting again uses trolls. They aren’t quite as folkloric as in entries of years past; they are nasty, quarrelsome and itching for a fight. The trolls are a thinly-veiled metaphor for humankind. “Why can’t we all get along” is not in their repertoire.

A major focal point in the composition has nothing to do with any of the figures – it is a single crocus poking out of the snow. That flower is a metaphor for earthly peace. It is fragile. It is fleeting, and it will surely die. The opposing powers stop to consider this delicate symbol of hope.

Thankfully, there is a different peace than what this world has to offer, and that is where “Fridur” – the Icelandic word for “Peace” – turns on its edge. Framing the painting and embracing it is an ancient prayer of the Church, dating from as early as the 5th century and translated into Icelandic:

“O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed: Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give; that our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments, and also that by thee, we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.”

The God-given wisdom of ancient Church fathers is evident in this “Collect for Peace.” It doesn’t hope in anything this world has to offer; it doesn’t hope in mutual understanding between peoples; it doesn’t hope in ‘peace beginning with me.’ It DOES hope in a much different kind of Peace – one which the world cannot give – and that is the Peace that passes all human understanding; the Peace of obtaining heaven already through the merits of Jesus Christ our Savior; the Peace no army can conquer.

May this peace – the one that began with Him – be ours.

ArtPrize 2016 opens Sept. 21 and runs through Oct. 9. This year, 1,453 entries will be hosted at 171 venues in and near downtown Grand Rapids, Mich. It boasts a prize purse of more than $500,000 decided by popular vote and jurors. Riojas's "Fridur" will be hosted by Fifth Third Bank/Warner Norcross & Judd LLP, 111 Lyon St. NW. The voting number for "Fridur" is 62683. Voting may be done online at, but registration must first be done in person at designated ArtPrize sites in Grand Rapids.

To order giclee prints of "Fridur," please go to for more information, or contact the artist at