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Windsor parish's Tooker paintings continue to draw interest

One section of George Tooker's painting of the Seven Sacraments features Father William Giroux --then a transitional deacon -- assisting a bishop. Photo by Cori Fugere Urban One section of George Tooker's painting of the Seven Sacraments features Father William Giroux --then a transitional deacon -- assisting a bishop.
WINDSOR—For 32 years, artist George Tooker’s legacy to his parish has hung in St. Francis of Assisi Church.
 
The body of paintings hangs on the brick walls of the church: 14 egg-tempera Stations of the Cross and a seven-panel polyptych depicting the seven sacraments.
 
“They are a precious part of the artistic patrimony of the parish and the Diocese” of Burlington, said Father Charles R. Danielson, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church and of St. Anthony Church in White River Junction. “They are an expression of the living faith of this parish community, done by a parishioner.”
 
Tooker, a Brooklyn native, was a parishioner of St. Francis of Assisi Church; he died at his home in Hartland at the age of 90 in 2011.
 
His best known paintings carry strong social commentary and are often characterized as his public or political pieces, including The Subway and Government Bureau.
 
He was awarded the National Medal of the Arts in 2007.
 
Tooker had several major museum exhibitions during his lifetime in such venues as the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco; the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Mass.; the National Academy Museum in New York; and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.
 
A convert to Catholicism, he was present on Nov. 26, 1984, when then-Burlington Bishop John A. Marshall dedicated and blessed the Tooker Stations and polyptych during an evening prayer service.
 
The Stations are unique in that they have no full human figures, just hands.
 
“Our spirit is invisible,” Bishop Marshall said, but “hands are a beautiful symbol” of life.
 
The framed Stations, about 14 inches square, show the hands of Jesus and others who accompanied him to His crucifixion. The hands are in front of a red cross and gold circle. Jesus’ hand is shown carrying the wood of the cross or nailed to it, for example.
 
Jesus carried and hung from the cross to redeem humankind, Bishop Marshall said. “Through Jesus’ hands our human life was redeemed.”
 
At the time of the dedication of the paintings, Tooker told The Vermont Catholic Tribune, former newspaper of the Diocese of Burlington, that he chose to use hands for the Stations because “I didn’t feel I could represent our Lord’s face.” He did not use a model for the hands.
 
A former pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, LaSalette Father Rene Butler, wrote special prayers – often mentioning Jesus’ hands -- designed for the Stations of the Cross painted by Tooker.
 
Father Danielson said parishioners take pride in the Tooker paintings in their church, “and justifiably so.”
 
“We want the place where we worship and offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to be a place of beauty and to be marked by beautiful things,” the pastor said, “because we are worshipping God, and we owe God the best we can give Him.”
 
Parishioner Joyce Corbin, a former director of religious education, said she used to use the Seven Sacraments paintings – located in the fellowship hall -- as a teaching tool. One former student who is now in his twenties told her he learned about the sacraments from that painting, not from a book.
 
The painting has been prominent in many persons’ faith journey, she added.
 
The pastor at the time the polyptych was painted, Father Forrest Rouelle, is depicted as the priest in the center, raising the Eucharist. A former transitional deacon in the parish, Father William Giroux, now pastor of St. Patrick Church in Fairfield and St. Anthony-St. George in East Fairfield, is shown assisting the bishop in the confirmation scene.
 
“These paintings are also seen as an important connection to the wider community,” Father Danielson said. “People come to see them. Understanding that this is a church – not a museum, not an art gallery – we do accommodate as we can requests to come and see the paintings.”

 
 
 
Last modified onFriday, 28 October 2016 09:27
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