Friday, December 28, 2018

What’s Going On

Copyright © Edward Riojas

The coming of a new year forces some of us to seriously assess what we’ve actually accomplished throughout the past year and what we may expect in the next. It’s not necessarily a feeling of woe – it’s simply reality. If your time, like mine, is filled with long-term projects, then the “out box” might seem lacking, adding to the false impression that not much at all was accomplished.
"Baptismal Triptych."
Detail showing the crossing of the Red Sea.
Copyright © Edward Riojas

I’m not in the habit of keeping everyone abreast of my current projects, preferring instead to do “show and tell” when things are seriously close to being finished. Artists, by nature, chafe at showing others unfinished work. Often, that’s because there are early stages that can look ugly in spite of a very different end. No one wants to show off underwear that will be hidden beneath a tuxedo.

At the expense, therefore, of being a bit premature, I thought I would give a peek into some things that are either waiting for varnishing or are still in the drawing stage. Let me reassure you that I haven’t been twiddling my thumbs or binge-watching Netflix. OK, one out of two isn’t too bad, is it?

The Baptismal Triptych
This commission began months ago. The roughly eight-by-eight-feet piece will be placed behind the Baptismal font at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Hankinson, N.D. The text of Luther’s ‘Flood Prayer,’ which is part of the order of Holy Baptism, will feature prominently on the panels, along with imagery surrounding the prayer.
Floor design conceptual drawing
for the Holy Incarnation.
Copyright © Edward Riojas

Floor Designs
Sometimes I get opportunities that are fun simply because of the materials involved. Although I only have a design role, the floor project for Trinity Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas, is one such opportunity. Using a decidedly old-school technique, the church will use terrazzo to embellish the narthex and sanctuary floors. Eleven roundels will hold symbolism relating to Lutheran confessions and the life of Christ.

Terrazzo makes use of what is essentially colored aggregate and cement which is carefully placed in intricate, flexible forms. Once dried and cured, the surface is then ground down and polished. Often the forms themselves are left in place – especially if the design calls for brass or silver-colored lines. What makes this ongoing project challenging is that no human images are to be used. No one, after all, would dare walk on an image of Christ.
Superfrontal and Chalice Veil.
Edward Riojas.
Copyright © Ecclesiastical Sewing

Ongoing work with Ecclesiastical Sewing is always rewarding. The eagerness with which I attack embroidery designs is matched only by the anticipation of finally seeing them executed. It doesn’t help that there is a natural lag time of digitally producing the images, so some designs are seemingly long in coming. Shown here is part of a new “White Set” that can be used for either Christmas or Easter, but look for wonderfully massive sets for Lent and Christmas in the future, along with a constant stream of other seasonal sets.

Chapel Walls
A few weeks ago I received confirmation of a commission for a series of paintings for the chapel walls of Zion Lutheran Church in Wausau, Wisc. Only very rough thumbnail drawings have been done, but the theme will show all of creation in adoration of the Lord. The wall piece will compliment another of my works in the same chapel – The Zion Altarpiece.

Working drawing for "Baptismal Mural." Copyright © Edward Riojas 

Baptismal Mural
Just last night I had a conference call with members of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Council Bluffs, Iowa, to chat about a project that was previously on a back-burner. Work will hopefully begin mid- to late-summer of this coming year. It will be on a wall in the new environs of the St. Paul Music Conservatory – an entity for which I provide illustrations. The mural will also be in proximity to another mural of mine showing Jesus surrounded by children.

Book Project
I am in the early stages of a large project that will necessitate painting eleven or so oil paintings. I don’t yet feel I can divulge details of the book for Kloria Publishing because, well, I don’t want to spill ALL the beans.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Reflections of Christmas

Copyright © Edward Riojas

A picture is worth a thousand words. For today's post, I've collected a few images of the Holy Nativity, courtesy of the masters, and decided to let them have their say, with little commentary of my own. None of them are first-hand accounts of the birth of Christ, since there is no record of any artist being present. Collectively, however, they point to the wonder of God's love – that He was born as a Child, that He saved us helpless sinners through His death and resurrection, and that He claims us as His own dear children.

Detail of Nativity Icon (Grotto of the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem)

Nativity. Fra Angelico. c. 1441. (Convent of San Marco, Florence)

Nativity. Gerard David. c. 1515. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

The Adoration of the Shepherds. Georges de La Tour. 1644. (The Louvre, Paris)

The Nativity. Edward Burne-Jones. 1888. (Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh)

Mexican 'Tree of Life' Nacimiento. Attributed to Alfonso Soteno Fernandez.

Modern Nativity Icon. Unknown artist.
(Note the swaddled Child in a stone manger, a conspicuous sign of  Christ's eventual death.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Christmas Nostalgia

"Merry Christmas Grandma ...
we came in our new Plymouth!"
Norman Rockwell. 1949.

Copyright © Edward Riojas

“Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please do put a penny in the old man's hat
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do
If you haven't got a ha'penny, then God bless you!”

It’s hard to escape nostalgia this time of year. It drips off snowy roofs, Christmas trees, and everything else that surrounds us. Christmas songs – especially secular ones – have been playing since Halloween, filling radio waves, shopping malls, and grocery stores with jingle bells, chimes, and glockenspiels. Admittedly, even curmudgeons allow for the seasonal wave of sappy songs, but there is a peculiar aspect of this nostalgia that we are often loath to admit – it is a nostalgia that is often not our own.

Teenagers may well recognize the raspy voice in “Holly Jolly Christmas,” even though Burl Ives recorded the song in 1964 – more than half a century before they were born. Many of us sentimentally cling to Bing Crosby’s “I’ll be home for Christmas,” though the song first struck a tender chord for a nation caught up in a World War. Few of us were around to fully appreciate the song’s original context in 1943. Our collective nostalgia goes far beyond the experiences of our parents and grandparents, and little stops us from getting caught up in visions of one-horse open sleighs, ha’pennies, and figgy pudding.

This sort of false recollection was also shared, in Biblical proportions, by the children of Israel. They waxed nostalgic in classic fashion when complaining of being led into the desert by Moses.

““Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.”” [Numbers 11: 4b,5]

Unfortunately, they didn’t remember the ‘free’ fish was paid for with harsh labor and scourging and death. One can easily assume their visions of abundant produce were exaggerated, as well.

There is a vast difference between man’s ability to reminisce and the Lord’s memory. Whenever Scripture says that the Lord “remembered,” it is always linked to something immense and unfathomable. It is often extremely tenderhearted as only a Divine Father may own. Sometimes it is inescapably terrible, but never is it clouded by sappy nostalgia – false or otherwise.

In yet another Divine mystery, God remembers His promises, even when sin is seemingly the deal-breaker. While the world was in such a state – indeed, precisely BECAUSE it was in such a state – the Lord remembered the promise made to our first parents and sent a Redeemer into the world as the Christ Child. Christmas is a time for us to remember all that the Lord has done for us; for stooping to our sin-filled world; for His love in sacrificing His own Son on our behalf.

And if the mystery of His Divine memory is not enough, we look forward to that day when the God of all creation will somehow deny His own omniscience and lose His memory. As He promises in Jeremiah 31: 34b, “...I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” This is something we dare never forget.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Violet or Blue?

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

Copyright © Edward Riojas

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

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

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

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

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

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