All the Broken Beauty of Community: An ArtLuck Recap

I’m running late. It’s the third ArtLuck in our new space and I should have this down by now. But I don’t. I should have enlisted some more help. But I haven’t. So I’m running to get coffee from The Carrot down the road. I’m setting up tables. I’m sweeping floors. I’m trying to be hospitable.

ArtLucks are all about hospitality. About sharing space, and food and beauty with each other.

We begin with a smaller crowd than usual, but we do begin. When I say smaller I mean both numbers and size. Edward Van Vliet has brought his two sons, Samuel and Aden. Our youngest ArtLuckers in a while. It’s always inspiring to see what kids bring to the table.

On a table by the door, the kids leave their sketchbooks, next to paintings by Daniel Van Heyst. With two Vans and a Von (that’s me), we’re definitely ready to begin.

Edward Van Vliet

Edward has been pushing through a 30 day writing challenge. National Poetry Writing Month, or NaPoWritMo, has Edward crafting one poem every day in April. It’s brought out some great work. He shares one of the earlier pieces with us tonight. Maundy Thursday.

We talk about the piece. We talk about the process of writing so much in such a short amount of time. The value–and exhaustion–of creative sprints. The seasons we find ourselves in as creatives.

This particular poem references a day in the Christian calendar. Maundy Thursday remembers a moment when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Adam speaks up for those who don’t already know this history. We talk about the significance of the day. We discuss the richness of tradition and the potency of symbolism. We wonder, now that the Church has faded as a dominant cultural force, what our modern symbols are. Our new metaphors. Our formative stories and mythologies.

It’s the kind of discussion we could spend an evening on, and we come dangerously close. The show must move on.

Samuel & Aden Van Vliet

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Edward’s wife Lisa is arriving to pick up the two boys. But first they must share what they’ve brought.

Each has drawings to share. Manga characters that show strong and developing talent. They pass the drawings around the room. We take turns sharing comments and encouragements. Asking questions about choices.

The boys tell us that their drawings are appreciated at school, but not by everyone. There are factions. There is the Disney faction, which they are not a part of. Then there is the Manga faction, of which they are the Vanguard. We’re all interested in this peek back to school life.

Adam Tenove is particular is interested. He’s made fast friends with Aden. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I look over at one point and catch them both drawing, side by side, in the exact same position. Leg crossed. Sketchbook on lap. Head cocked to one side. These connections happen naturally at ArtLuck. Community. Mentoring. Sharing.

Marcie Rohr

Marcie is up sharing now, and I know she’s come in from a difficult place. She is connected with a children’s home in Nepal. This is less than a week after the initial quake shook that country to her core. Marcie is still grieving. Still in shock. Still searching for a response.

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The response she is forming is remarkable. A new project, 40 Days of Prayer for Nepal, brings together so much of what I know of Marcie. Visual art. Rich cultural history through written prayers. Discovery. Community. Both care and action towards social justice. Through this project, Marcie will post an image and prayer every day. A way to intercede for the Nepalese. A way to connect our worlds.

The project can be found online here. It culminates June 4th, with an event and auction to raise funds for those affected by the earthquakes in Nepal.

Marcie is barely able to share all of this. Barely able to keep herself together. The wounds are too deep and too fresh.

Pam Baergen–a fellow artist–responds to help heal.

Pam Baergen

Pam asks to go next. Marcie’s is tough act to follow, with the emotional punch of a cannonball to the gut. Pam feels led to follow–feels that her offering is somehow connected Marcie’s.

Pam is sharing two images in the same vein as last ArtLuck. Tiny ink paintings on glass, interpreting found photographs from long ago. The pieces have multiple dimensions, and multiple meanings. There is the foreground, but also the textures and fabrics an inch back from Pam’s ink paintings. Then there are the spaces between. The shadows cast by our new gallery lights.

All of this is ghostly. The work references memory. Temporality. Death.

Pam reads some passages from the Bible. She feels these passages connect to the work. They also connect with Marcie’s pain.

In my religious tradition, this is called prophecy. Not a telling of the future, but one person, speaking a message from God to another person. In this instant the ArtLuck becomes Church. We feel something–SomeOne–beyond ourselves.

That feeling continues as Janae shares her writing.

Janae Mercier

Janae reads a piece she was not sure she would share. She had planned earlier to come but not share. She has changed her mind.

The piece is about princesses. About Janae’s view of herself. About who she is becoming and who she has been. It’s a personal piece, full of difficult hope. And that is the best kind.

Janae references princesses often. She is part of the ‘Disney faction’. But to see the princess mythology laid over her own life, I realize there is more to this connection. Something deeper. Something I hope Janae continues to explore in her writing. 

Janae writes regularly on her blog at https://thelittlethingsoflife.wordpress.com/

Daniel Van Heyst

If princesses are cliché in some circles, old barns and rusted cars are certainly a trope in others. Fully aware, Daniel Van Heyst has brought us just such a painting.

He confesses his difficulty selecting what to bring. Assuming this is a ‘Christian art group’. Fearing that we may want explicitly religious work.

I shudder. All respect to Daniel of course. He means no harm, and any misconceptions of what we are to should be blamed on these old lenses we've all been handed to look through. These binaries or sacred and secular. 

A 'Christian art group' is exactly what I do not want the ArtLuck to be. And it is not. But this gets complicated. 

We certainly tread on sacred ground. We do so respectfully. I certainly believe that Jesus himself would be happy to hang out with us. And that in some mysterious way, he is hanging out with us on this particular night. Some of us would agree, some may not. I certainly gain spiritual insight and health from these evenings. They are, for me, an extension of that best kind of Church. But there, again, is another tangled word.

For this evening, let us call this a room full of friends and seekers who, like Daniel, see the sacred beauty in a well composed painting. An old farm house. A rusting truck. A stark white goat in the foreground.

That goat makes this painting interesting. Brings new life. New eyes. Fresh perspective. Tears the trope apart.

We discuss Daniel’s piece for quite some time. Until we realize we all have to work in the morning, so we'd better move on.

Adam Tenove

Adam is next, and like Edward’s boys, he is sharing his sketchbook. He has passed it around. I feel like I’m reading someone’s diary. Like the Colonel is revealing his secret 11 herbs and spices. Like I’m privileged.

In the book there are ideas. Seeds and shoots. Paintings in the making. Poems in progress.

Here is proof that we have not seen the half of what Adam has to offer. Perhaps by next ArtLuck, one of these ideas will have leapt onto a canvas.

Dave Von Bieker

I want to end the night, even though it is later than it should be, with a sort-of-benediction.

I was writing a poem a day along with Edward. And I have just finished my final poem in the series. Just today in fact. It ties together not only my own experience of NaPoWriMo, but, I feel, my experience this evening. The way we seek and share the beauty that can be scraped from the hard places of our world. The way pain brings us together. The way we pass on what we can to those who are coming after us.

For all who have shared, and for Dan and Lori and Lisa, who’ve taken this night in as a gift, I close with this poem.

 

In Conclusion

 

Walking the back alleys along the river valley edge

I find I'm always drawn toward the flaking fence paint

the muted dusty blue of bygone skies across a garage door while the grey-rot white disappears into the oblivion of time

 

It is only after noticing the pull of decay that I realize I haven't even thought about the valley to my right

the way it devours shopping carts and the cast off clothes of the homeless

the way all that God has made is good and I should offer praise for every little leaf we have not ruined

 

but I've given my praise away already

 

praise to the mural of an old pioneer fading away on a neighbour's garage,

protected by the same fence that obscures it

praise to the workers restoring concrete in the strip mall parking lot

praise for the wafting smell of donairs so close to lunch time

praise for the old car half covered and rusting to her bolts

praise for the tired man who owns the car and will not let her be dishonored

praise for his little secret smiles on seeing the car some sunny Saturdays and planning to restore her

praise for the failing fences and the collected curiosities of the hoarder's backyard

praise for the basketball net left here for a kid with full knowledge that it must be shared with every passer by

 

praise for all this broken wonder

 

is this not the song I have been singing all along?

Redeem! Redeem! Redeem!


The next ArtLuck, our last before the summer, happens June 30 at 7 PM.


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