STORIES FROM THE ROAD: Cloud Forest Conservation Center, Coban, Guatemala
Our friend from LPGM, Paul Steen asked us about an idea for an upcoming trip to Guatemala and decided to work with our World Canvas Project. Here are Paul’s notes from the trip:
“We returned from Guatemala over the weekend, and wanted to share a brief email with you. The Prayer Canvas was a tremendous experience, and a highlight for the children of a local village school who participated with us. Our group brought a 6′ x 6′ canvas divided into small squares, as well as several tubes of paint, brushes and pencils. We were hosted by the Cloud Forest Conservation Center, located outside of Coban, Guatemala. The local village had a 1-room school for about 30 students (9 preschoolers) and 1 teacher – from very poor families of Mayan descent who are farmers and laborers. In total, there were 21 students from the village school, 4 adults (teacher and 3 fathers), our group of 11 travelers, and 5 from the host facility/school including their founders and staff. It was a wonderful couple of hours as we prayered together, sang together and shared our hopes and prayers through art. It was so meaningful and amazingly quiet as we wrote and painted shoulder-to-shoulder. We wanted to thank you so much for sharing your idea with us, and allowing us to share ministry in this way!” – Paul
STORIES FROM THE ROAD: ALCM Conference, Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kansas City, USA
Our studio was asked to join the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians Summer Conference being held at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City. The theme for the Region 3 event was titled Setting the Table Well and was designed for spiritual renewal of leaders and musicians. Over 100 people gathered for the three day event that focused on rethinking worship strategy to include the use of visual arts, choral and organ to connect with a multigenerational community. Our studio was invited to design and paint a prayer canvas to engage conference participants through an artistic spiritual practice that would transform individuals and build community in the process. The conference concluded with a closing worship service that included the prayer canvas. The service was arranged and performed by Dr. John Ferguson, Former Professor of Organ and Church Music at St. Olaf College.
STORIES FROM THE ROAD: Teaching at Seattle University: School of Theology and Ministry, Seattle USA
We taught a graduate class at Seattle University: School of theology and Ministry that explored the power of art and imagination to build a community for social change and reconciliation. Seventeen of us gathered for an intensive week to create a space for imagining and reimagining our stories with color, shape and form. Through image, word and dialogue we shared our individual creative energy from a place of wonder, while creating the essential dynamic of community. Together, we created art that lead to painting a prayer canvas that drew us into a Taizé style worship service. The interfaith service was an invitation to share our common humanity, prayers for peace and reconciliation for our broken and divided world.
STORIES FROM THE ROAD: Siloam Danish Mission Boarding Home, Tirukoilur, India
Our art and teaching has lead us to India, where nearly three weeks were spent near Chennai. We had designed a prayer canvas for Quo Vadis, an interfaith dialogue center in Tiruvannamalai. Our travels took our LPGM group to Siloam Boarding School, where nearly seven hundred girls live and are educated. Siloam is located in the heart of the Arcot region in the town of Tirukoiler. The headquarters of the Arcot Lutheran Church School Project is located on the Siloam campus along with a school, boarding home and church.
Siloam is where I met Pr. Janne Anita, an amazing woman who is the Deputy Manager of the school. She is a teacher and tasked with the education of the girls. She also had a love for art and asked if I would talk to a number of the girls who were serious about their art. We gathered one evening and found, with the help of a translator, their art to be a language that allowed them to express their stories. I met, Priyanka, who is pictured with me above and found her to be a very gifted artist. We spent a long time talking about what art meant to her and how she found it to be a spiritual language.
That night after our conversation, she found art materials and stayed up most of the night drawing the Taj Mahal. Priyanka knew I was leaving in the morning for Northern India and wanted to see the Taj. That morning she found me on the campus before I left for Delhi. Priyanka presented me with this amazing drawing as a gift of our new friendship.
STORIES FROM THE ROAD: Palmerston Center, East Belfast Northern Ireland
Our team of senior design students from the University of Kansas: School of Architecture, Design and Planning traveled with our studio to Belfast, Northern Ireland where we completed our Palmerston Mural Project. Our studio was challenged to create a design that would invite curiosity, have a narrative and encourage residents to go into the outdoor garden space. As dementia is an issue that effects residents, design proposals had to be given very careful consideration to the impact of the color palette and the complexity of the narrative.
We completed the painting of the mural with family and staff of the Abbeyfield Residential Home for Dementia. It took nearly two weeks to complete the painting before the Palmerston Community had a launch party. Residents, families, staff, the U.S. Consul General Gregory Burton joined us to celebrate the completion of the mural.
FROM OUR STUDIO: Genesis+Art Studio, Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Genesis+Art Studio has been working to design and create a 150′ x 6′ mural for the Palmerston Alzheimer’s Facility in East Belfast, Northern Ireland. We have been exploring with our design team the impact of art on wellness and how many people with dementia retain access to their creativity and imagination, despite having impaired memories. we will create a mural in the outdoor garden area of the facility.
We have been working in our studio with five talented senior design students from the University of Kansas: School of Architecture, Design and Planning. Brenna Paxton, Breanne Fencl, Christina Fountain, John Reynolds and Luke Englert form the design team participating in the departments Think Tank Project.
Our team will travel to Belfast in mid May and together with residents, family and staff of Palmerston, will complete the painting of the mural. To find out more and to follow our progress go to: Genesis+Art Palmerston Mural Project.
On this Good Friday I came across some writing I had done on the book of Job. This is a day of reflection on pain and suffering. Kansas City has been in the news for senseless killings at the Jewish Community Center. The world seems to groan under the weight of the trampling of life and oppression. The author of Job captures this human condition and gives us something to think about today in our modern culture.
The journey for Job is a treacherous path of pain and suffering. His long fall from his understanding of grace, pushes a confrontation with God through sacred questions; “What have I done to you oh Lord? Have you not guided my steps through life, did you not create me in my mother’s womb? Will you destroy what you have created? Why have you made me your target? Why have I become a burden to you? Is there hope?” He struggles with moving beyond what he has known about community being built upon common wisdom of divine reward and punishment. He goes on to challenge God’s creative motives. Job speaks from the “bitterness of my soul” to confront God and attempts to provoke a response to find his own reason for being. What Job sees in God’s creation transforms him. We hear the writer’s words, but Job sees and feels something in the magnitude of the cosmos. As he rides the whirlwind Job moves outside of his suffering, sees his questions not answered directly, but becomes satisfied with God’s response. What does hope look like? What was so powerful in the vision that Job becomes a new person? His pain and loss aren’t erased from his mind, but once again the breath of God kindles love in his heart. Job is renewed and shows us hope springing forth from the despair that life produces.
Job is transformed and decides to live a creative life rather than the letter of the law. He has changed how he himself lives life, remains faithful, humble before God but his very being has been changed and enlightened.
United Theological Seminary hosted the first stop of our traveling art exhibition titled: Beneath the Surface: Exploring the Layers. This body of work is a result of reflections during our recent trip to Palestine and Israel. We were also influenced by our art workshop at Dar al Kalima College in the West Bank. The rich time spent with the talented art students who shared their art and our travel companions helped to shape our understanding and the prayer paintings. For more information on our traveling exhibition and its locations refer to our Events page of our Genesis+Art Studio web site.
Exhibition Statement: “While we have tried to draw deep inspiration from our first journey into the ancient world of Palestine and Israel, we can in no way represent the realities that we encountered. The Holy Lands offered us personal glimpses into it contrasts, vibrancy and yearnings for the elusive dream of peace. We experienced the complexity of daily life, that in many ways defines our world, whether we like it or not. We encountered unprecedented hospitality, warmth and generosity from Palestinian, Arab and Israeli, from Muslim, Christian and Jew.
We shared stories immersed in ancient religious traditions that often overlapped and interacted in unpredictable ways, creating layers that engaged the soul in combinations that belong to specific groups, yet belong to everyone. There is an immense and intricate mosaic of people where much is divided and in conflict. Its diversity and richness exudes passion, emotion and spiritual energy as much as it does intolerance, danger and the trampling of basic human rights. It’s filled with harsh reality, yet sensual. When you touch the ancient walls and stones it’s as if you are making connections with all who have touched them.
Our creative process, like our journey, is not to render something but to allow the texture, layers and paint to suggest an ancient path through the work as it develops. Although visually abstract, we often retain faint echoes of symbol and landscape inspired by the colors and layered mark making we found so prevalent in our pilgrimage. Our abstractions are memories, spiritual reflections and prayers forged in color, shape and form.”
– Chuck Hoffman + Peg Carlson–Hoffman / Genesis+Art Studio
This past March, Chuck was invited to speak at the Restoration ARTS Conference at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri. Restoration ARTS was a gathering of culture-makers and catalysts from across the United States that engaged in lively debate about the role of beauty in a broken world. Mako Fujimura, a NYC artist, writer, and keynote speaker at the conference, is recognized worldwide as a cultural catalyst. The panel discussion explored the landscape and role of beauty, love and art as a shaper of culture. Participants were challenged to consider the ways in which the arts play an ever-growing role in reconciling diverse communities. Artists, theologians, and academics gathered for 36 hours to explore beauty’s role in a broken world. The conference seemed to generate more questions than answers that made for an enriching experience.
My talk was titled: Can I borrow your ladder? Bridging what separates us with art and story. The ladder as dream and a way forward. I intentionally used an economy of words in my title because I was curious as to who would attend my lecture from many options over the course of the conference. I’m pretty certain the curious attended my presentation. My title was based on a true story and experience I had while working on a mural in East Belfast, Northern Ireland. I needed a ladder to complete the mural and I borrowed it from one community to be used in another. Not a big deal to borrow from your neighbor here in the states, but it is where communities are divided by decades of violence and separation. I saw the ladder as a bridge between these two communities. In a small gesture it required an uncomfortable yes to give and an uncomfortable yes to receive and in the space between something new was forged. I’m not that naïve to think that borrowing a ladder leads to peace, but I do think that peace comes dripping down slowly and many small drops create a sea of possibility.
As artists and community builders, Peg and I have witnessed the process of creating as a source of transformative power, hope and beauty in the lives of people and community. As I reflected on this experience and our work with art in community I have seen how beauty can reveal itself out of brokenness. That art is a transformative process in personal lives and the life of a community. In the spiritual realm the tears of brokenness are the prelude to a shower of blessings. Perhaps when we make ourselves (and our art) humble and transparent we follow a desire to connect with something bigger than ourselves. I also believe that creativity becomes the bridge (ladder) between broken and beauty. It comes out of my experience and belief that creating is a healing gesture, as sacred as prayer, as essential of the spirit as food to the body. Creating becomes an act of prayer and way of connecting with the divine. Dreaming and imagining are the ingredients of creativity and open the door to making things new. Imagination allows us to see what is not yet there and dreaming is a place where seeing forms vision. The connecting soul work of the arts opens the door to our imaginations to reveal, heal and renew our spirits. Something sacred and transcendent can happen on this ladder.
I fell in love with India, its people and a spiritual connection that I can’t really explain. All I know is that many months later it is at the forefront of thought and affection. Perhaps its the new friends I made in Tamil Nadu, or my travel companions from the States or the creative passion and talent expressed by my young artist friend named Priyanka, who has a raw talent that is both expressive and insightful beyond her years. Whatever ingredients were stirred into my creative soup I passed over a threshold.
We arrived at the Gateway to South India on the southeastern coast of India on the Bay of Bengal in the northeastern part of Tamil Nadu. Genesis+Art was commissioned by LPGM to create a prayer canvas with the people at Quo Vadis. Quo Vadis is an Interfaith Dialogue Center managed by a very creative soul named JP. The vision for the center is to bring peace and reconciliation between different religions through interfaith dialogue. The process of creating the canvas together created a visual dialogue that bridged religions and languages. Over 16 countries are represented on the canvas with the language of color, shape and form we created a world canvas together that we could not have done alone. We lifted our prayers for peace and healing in our world at a candle light service lead by pastors from three continents and over 50 participants from around the globe. For an hour we came together in the beauty of our diversity and offered prayers for our broken world.
In our community of diverse religious rituals and languages we came together to experience familiarity, security and clarity as a human family.