See the Creating for a Cause page to find products to benefit:
- The ALS Association Iowa Chapter (“Family and Friends” set of notecards)
- Clubfoot Solutions (the book “Lucky’s Feet” featuring my illustrations)
- Lila Mae’s House (notecards, scarves, and bags)
(This post is “stickied” to remain at the top of the blog; newer blog posts may appear below.)
The church’s namesake,
St. Thomas Aquinas,
starts us on our Biblical journey
(The wall hanging commemorates the 75th anniversary of the founding of St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center in Ames, Iowa)
Scenes in my improvisational fabric wall hanging tell the story of Easter, following a path from bottom to top. Just like a painting, this artwork required planning, and especially so because of its size and complexity. I started with sketches to experiment with the layout and people’s gestures.
Some of the sketches are shown below, alongside those sections of their final fabric design. Poet Phil Kemp wrote “The Meeting Place” to accompany the wall hanging, with stanzas for each of the Easter scenes, included here in the captions.
The wall hanging will be on display at St. Thomas Aquinas Church until Pentecost (June 5 this year), the conclusion of Easter season. The STA Art page is a guide to artwork you may find on regular display around the church and Student Center.
THE MEETING PLACE
Did you meet Him that first morning
when John baptized him in the Jordan
when the dove descended and the
voice thundered: “this is My Son; listen to Him”?
Did you meet Him on that sad morning
outside Jerusalem where around the cross
faithful women stood and wept at the
slow death of their beloved?
Did you meet Him in the women
who went to perform the sad duty
of perfuming the body of the man
who had shown them the fullness of love?
Did you meet Him with those
who gazed upon the unbelievable
sight of the emptied cave, the ones
who heard, “He is risen; He is not here”?
Did you meet Him on the stony road
running away from the failure of dreams
and not recognize in the stranger who walked beside
the object of your desire?
Will you meet Him here in
the breaking of the bread?
Will you open your eyes and see
that He is with you always
even to the end of the age?
“The Meeting Place” poem © 2022 Phil Kemp
Wall hanging photos excerpted from a larger photo © 2022 Bobby LeBlanc
(Click image to view larger)
I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet with family members on Easter weekend and see my “Improvisational Fabric Wall Hanging” on display in the space it was designed for. The work commemorates the 75th anniversary of the founding of St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center in Ames. Its size (8′ x 12′) reflects the scale of the church wall, and allows room to tell the Easter story in a series of scenes created from fabric shapes.
The wall hanging will be on display at St. Thomas Aquinas Church until Pentecost, June 5. The church’s e-bulletin from May 7, 2022 has some of my reflections about the artwork and its meaning, along with a larger, head-on photograph:
I plan to focus on the individual scenes in an upcoming post!
Expert hands assist in assembling
this complex piece
The peacock symbolizes immortality (link is to Wikipedia article on Christian symbolism)
A nice turnout for this year’s class
I always look forward to being part of the Art Iowa Workshops, and this year’s was a huge success. The workshops provide continuing education for educators in cooperation with Grant Wood AEA. My class this year had an emphasis on writing and illustrating children’s books.
Writing and illustrating are rather similar. There is a protagonist or main character and center of interest, a little drama, humor, and a moral, always with a happy ending. We looked at the character from several points of view and maybe “became” the character for authenticity.
I really enjoyed helping class members develop their storyboard illustrations. They started out by doodling and then the ideas began to surface. Some of the teachers took their storyboards back to their classrooms to have their students help with the ending.
A pop-up book and watercolor pages created by educators
attending the workshop. Students were encouraged
to use their medium of choice for their illustrations.
In these watercolors I tried to envision life around early trading posts in what is now Johnson County, Iowa. The paintings were commissioned to help publicize plans for Remembrance Park, a small area with prairie grasses and wildflowers south of Iowa City, near the historic site of the trading posts. The park will be open to the public for quiet contemplation and enjoyment of the beauty of the land.
Cover of the Remembrance Park book
(click image to learn more)
The idea for the park was put forward in the new book “Remembrance Park: The Fur Trading Era in Johnson County, Iowa and a Proposal for a Wildflower Park to Contemplate the Origins of the County,” compiled by Marybeth Slonneger. (My paintings are not in the book, but it is well illustrated with photographs.) You can read about the project and the book on the website Remembrance Park — Johnson County, and many more tales of Iowa history on the website Our Iowa Heritage by Remembrance Park Committee member Marty Boller.
Dick Hakes of the Iowa City Press-Citizen wrote a wonderful article about the book, the history, and the park, which Press-Citizen subscribers can read here:
(The story is also currently on the Remembrance Park website here.)
Paintings require research, like a novel does; besides reading, for inspiration I visited two newly-restored cabins in Iowa City’s City Park which were built to replicate the cabins of the era. The City of Iowa City’s YouTube channel has some interesting videos about their restoration:
I imagined the scenes and tried to recreate a typical day of trading. What struck me from the history was how people of different cultures got along peacefully for a time, living side by side, something we could learn from today.
The watercolor sketch provides a guide
Large easel for a large project
Detail of part of the pencil sketch
I’ve been working on an 8′ x 12′ fabric artwork as part of the 75th anniversary celebration of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, which I attended for many years and still stop by when I can. According to the church’s website, “St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center was incorporated on April 8, 1947,” with Rev. James Supple as its first pastor.
The church left it up to me what to include and I prayed about what I wanted to say. It’s an educational piece, with its Biblical scenes telling the story of Easter. I did a lot of research and looked at Old Masters paintings for reference on theologian St. Thomas Aquinas, who is gesturing to us from the bottom right. I started out with a watercolor sketch to plan out the composition. The watercolor served as the basis for a full-size pencil sketch, which could then be translated into “painting” using fabric.
Many hands helping with
placing the doves
The scenes are created by sewing the shapes out of different fabrics. I knew I couldn’t work with the full size of the piece on my sewing machine so I broke the design down into four sections, with attention to matching up shapes between the sections. There are many different textures of fabric, from kimonos, scarves, and purses from all over that were donated, and scraps from a quilting friend. It’s not sewn completely tight, so some of the edges pop up. My fabric-artist friends decided that the work would fall into the category of Improvisational Fabric Wall Hanging.
People have asked how I knew what to do, and I feel that I was guided — I was only a participant. The project was overwhelming — too huge — so I was trusting God to guide me. I would dream a section and the next day look at that section and know what I was supposed to do. I’m looking forward to sharing more pictures of its progress!
At the trusty sewing machine; adding another piece of the puzzle
The cover of “Rufus Rutabaga Flicktail
Finds His House” by Mary Pepper,
with one of my sketches for the book
I was showing friends some of my illustration work and caught the attention of Mary Pepper, well-known in Ames as a quiltmaker and former elementary school teacher. She had written a story for a children’s book that needed illustrations, and thought my watercolor style would fit it well. This began our collaboration to show and tell the story of Rufus Rutabaga Flicktail, a mouse in search of a home.
It was fun to play in Rufus’s series of shelters, with the underlying theme of how animals adapt to losing habitat. Working with Mary’s script and my added imagination, it took on a life of its own.
(Send me an email — firstname.lastname@example.org — if you’d like to order a copy of Mary’s book, “Rufus Rutabaga Flicktail Finds His House.” The price is $25.00 for a hardcover copy or $18.00 for a soft copy, not including sales tax or shipping and handling.)
I was saddened to hear that Carole Horowitz had passed away. A long-time Ames resident, her obituary describes some of her many contributions to community and the arts (link is to Ames Tribune website).
I last worked with her on the sculpture for Children’s Theater (see my blog post Remembering Ames Children’s Theater). We had fun creating images for the sculpture showing what it meant to the children who participated. I loved working with Carole and she was a dear friend, and always encouraged and believed in me.
Cover of “Carol Jo’s
Being an illustrator is very similar to being a writer — telling a story through images versus words. After painting the illustrations for Lucky’s Feet, I wanted to try telling a story of my own through both words and pictures.
The result is “Carol Jo’s Daydreaming Tree,” a children’s book inspired by my childhood growing up with my brothers (but fictionalized!). Friends who are writers provided feedback as I refined the wording and worked out which paintings and perspectives I needed to show the events in the book. Another friend provided technical expertise to add text to images of my paintings.
I’ve been enjoying illustration, which is well suited to times when we can’t meet each other in person. Doing both the writing and watercolors was a creative adventure, and led directly to my illustrating a third children’s book, which I’ll show you in an upcoming post!
(Send me an email — email@example.com — if you’d like to order a copy of “Carol Jo’s Daydreaming Tree.” Price would be $25.00 for a color-photocopied self-published soft copy as shown, not including sales tax or shipping and handling.)
A preliminary sketch and the
resulting page from the book
Illustrating my book
I love this little tree, I have my children’s baby shoes among the ornaments and “countdown” envelopes, and at the top is son Devin’s little blue cap he wore from the hospital.
The only problem I had was buying more lights — the stores were all out, but the joy of the little tree does not need a full array of lights, it sparkles anyway.
Happy Holidays to those near and far! Rejoice in the little things as it is all about Love.
A joyful scene
Coming from afar like the wise men,
this "alien" from my doll collection has
climbed the ladder to get a good look
Four young participants gesture toward the
Ames Children’s Theater logo in a scene
featuring the familiar white cube stage prop
I had the honor of creating this small sculpture to commemorate and celebrate Ames Children’s Theater, which recently wrapped up its illustrious 40-plus-year run. The program provided theater experience to area children, and presented plays and guest artist performances in Ames elementary schools. The sculpture is made of durable Lexan™ and is sized to easily move from place to place.
As usual with a commissioned piece, I worked with the client in developing the artwork to reflect their vision. In this case I collaborated with notable friend of the arts Carole Horowitz, who was instrumental in founding Ames Children’s Theater and throughout its run. It was fun for me to work with Carole because I’ve worked on so many committees when in Ames and we could reminisce about happenings in the art world.
Carole and Children’s Theater board member Maureen Friedrich spoke with the Ames Tribune for the article, “End of an era: Ames Children’s Theater disbands after more than 40 years.”
You can listen to Carole Horowitz’s radio program, “KHOI Previews the Arts,” from the Archive page of the KHOI FM website.
Update January 2022:
I’m sad to relate that Carole has passed away; see my blog post Carole Horowitz for a link to her obituary.