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Loretto Home residents' portraits

Artist Louise Kenney is shining a light on the uniqueness and dignity of each resident of Loretto Home in Rutland, creating one pastel portrait a week to give to them.
Cindy Johnson of Christ the King Parish in Rutland was the first to be drawn when Kenney began the project on March 8, Johnson’s 62nd birthday. “It’s something you’re going to remember,” she said of the experience being interviewed by the artist and having her photo taken.
“It’s something you’re always going to have,” she added of the portrait, which clues the viewer into Johnson’s enjoyment in calling bingo on Sundays at the elder care home administered by Vermont Catholic Charities Inc. (A basket of bingo balls is seen in the bottom right corner of the portrait.)
After meeting with the resident, learning about him/her and taking photographs, Kenney returns to her studio and spends about 10 hours on each portrait before returning to Loretto Home the next week to deliver it and begin another.
“Every Wednesday people wait for Louise to see the portrait” for that week, said resident Thomas Munukka.
In his portrait he is wearing a shirt with a deer emblem, a nod to his interest in hunting. His children liked the portrait so much, they got two copies so one could have the original and the other two could have the copies. “I loved it, and the kids liked it better,” he said with a smile.
Resident Norma Patterson was pleased to have a portrait of herself, “which is very rare,” she said. An award she received from the Paramount Theater can be seen in the background.
“And it will probably be the last” portrait done of her, she added.
As much as the residents enjoy the portraits, they also like to visit with Kenney, and they feel honored.
There are about 43 residents at Loretto Home; Kenney has done portraits for about two dozen.
“You see a twinkle in their eye when they get their picture, and it gives them something to look forward to,” said Maryese White, activities director.
Her predecessor had been looking for someone to do portraits of the residents, so when Kenny – a retired speech-language pathologist -- had “divine inspiration” to embark on the project and contacted her, it was a go.
She specializes in pastel portraiture. “I find it is so rewarding to produce a painting that not only captures a physical likeness but portrays the essence and personality of my subject,” she notes on her website.
Frames for the portraits are courtesy of a friend of Kenney who wanted to support the endeavor, and a volunteer provides high quality digital prints of the photographs from which Kenney works.
Kenney – a wife, mother of two and grandmother of one – was not formally trained but has taken workshops and classes.
She called the Loretto Home project “extremely rewarding” because of the smiles she sees when residents receive their portrait.
“I was really surprised how it looked like me!” Manukka enthused.
For more information, go to louisekenneyportraitart.wordpress.com.
  • Published in Diocesan

Syriac Christian artist

A huge plume of grey smoke billows into a vivid blue sky as rooftops and buildings buckle into twisted iron and debris and then begin to fall. Beneath the smoke, human wreckage of the blast is visible: faces of victims contorted in pain and others dead, lying in pools of their own blood.

The painting is called "The Explosion" and is one of 11 works inspired by the Syrian war being shown in the Catholic cathedrals of northwest England and Wales in an exhibition called "Portraits of Faith: Syria's Christians Search for Peace."

They are the creations of Farid Georges, a Syriac Christian from Homs, Syria, who has depicted the six-year war in his native country in about two dozen paintings.

In a late-June interview with Catholic News Service in Lancaster, Georges, 70, a professional artist, recalled how in 2013 he personally witnessed the explosion that he would later capture in oil on canvas.

"This was particularly painful to paint," he said.

"I saw the smoke rising and knew there was an explosion, and when I eventually went to the scene I was confronted with the scale of the damage, the destruction, and the sheer number of casualties, people who had perished of all different ages," Georges said.

He added that to this day he does not know the source of the attack.

"I don't care to know," he said, adding: "This sort of thing shouldn't happen anywhere."

Homs was a city on the front line of the war and, as fighting engulfed residential areas, Georges and his family stopped sleeping in the bedrooms because they were exposed to gunfire and shell blast, choosing instead to spend their nights downstairs in the sitting rooms. Eventually, they fled into the countryside and spent a year there before finally leaving Syria for the safety of other countries.

Georges said he knew "many, many people" who died in Homs. They included Father Frans van der Lugt, 75, a Dutch Jesuit shot in the head in 2014 by assassins after he refused to abandon the poor and homeless of the city.

Georges painted a montage of 16 images in tribute to Father van der Lugt, and it now hangs in his home in Nuremberg, Germany, where he has lived since 2015. The painting forms part of the English exhibition arranged by Aid to the Church in Need, an international charity set up to help persecuted Christians.

Georges said he was "very shocked and saddened" by the priest's murder.

"I knew him very well, we had a very close relationship," he said.

"He has quite a legacy in Homs," said Georges. "He treated all the people of Homs as equals. Even if they were Muslims, they were all his children. His monastery at Homs had Muslims and Christians in it all the time. He would give them refuge there and feed them."

The paintings in the exhibition were created between 2012 and 2014 and, together, they work like a narrative.

An early one, called the "Flower of Homs," shows the Syrian city at peace before the violence, for instance. As the paintings progress to the horror of the war, the images darken, and dismembered bodies fill the canvas as people and their dwellings are destroyed.

"Forgiveness in Ma'aloula," one of the later paintings in the exhibition, points beyond the war to the hope of Syrian Christians for final peace and reconciliation.

It depicts an enormous figure of Christ standing astride two hills representing the ancient Syrian village where Aramaic, the language of Jesus, was still spoken. The hills form faces staring at each other.

Georges said: "It (Ma'aloula) was invaded, the people were displaced, the churches were destroyed. To me, the people who did that do not represent Islam, because Muslims have lived there together with Christians for a very long time."

The paintings in the exhibition were created between 2012 and 2014 and, together, they work like a narrative.

"I wish and hope that it will return to the diverse mosaic of peaceful coexistence that we have," he said. "We have more than 20 sects of different confession in Syria. We have always lived in peace and coexistence."
  • Published in World

Deacon/artist reveals 'vision of hope' in his work

MONTPELIER—An onion, houses, a butterscotch candy, a rabbi with the Torah, flowers.
These are all part of one work in a series of “spiritual bouquet” paintings done by Deacon Regis Cummings of St. Augustine Parish. “It’s an expression of (the Gospel of St.) Matthew (chapter) 25: When you share your life with somebody, it is a sacred thing,” he said.
His work is eclectic: some politically motivated works like a reaction to the 1998 murder of James Bird Jr. in Jasper, Texas; some interpretations of Bible stories like the Seventh Son in the Book of Maccabees; others inspired by Vermont scenes like a tree at the pond at Weston Priory.
His painting of a Montpelier scene was selected to be displayed on the submarine USS Montpelier when it was commissioned in 1993.
Most of his work is done in acrylic, some uses collage. It is influenced by his interpretation of Old and New Testament scriptures and by artists and authors.
“I consider myself to be a self-directed studio artist having developed over the past 40 years by studying other artists’ work, being especially influenced by the Impressionist painter Marc Chagall,” he said. “Chagall’s blending of the sacred in the ordinary and the sacredness of the ordinary of life spoke volumes to my understanding and reflection on the meaning and purpose of religion, myth, politics and art in the ordinary of life.”
Deacon Cummings traces his lifelong passion for art to elementary school. “If you couldn’t read well, they sent you to art (class),” he said with a laugh. He began painting seriously in the early 1960s.
Art is his voice. “I paint because I have to paint….Some people have to play the piano. It’s just who I am,” he said.
Over the years his work has changed from a focus on landscapes and portrait work to more of a spiritual reflection on different events or works.
For example, one book that has influenced his art is “The Brothers Karamazov” by Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. In one chapter, an onion is, for Deacon Cummings, an image of salvation, so it has become a significant part of his paintings.
Jesuit Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and his “notion of the cosmic Christ” also inform the deacon’s work, as does Meister Eckhart’s notion of God as “green and flowering” to represent new life and new beginnings.
“Those are common, current themes,” Deacon Cummings said of his work.
The father of four and grandfather of six, Deacon Cummings is married to Vermont State Sen. Ann Cummings, a former mayor of Montpelier. He works as a roofing consultant for a commercial and industrial roofing company.
He has lived in Montpelier since 1975 and was ordained to the permanent diaconate in 1982. As a deacon, he preaches, visits the sick and those in nursing homes, teaches Christian meditation, directs the parish Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program, counsels and offers spiritual direction. He also works with cancer support groups.
In the past he has lead prayer and Bible study groups, served as president of the local clergy association and coordinated seminars.
For Deacon Cummings, painting is a prayerful experience. He usually paints for an hour or two a day in his basement studio with about 10 paintings in the works simultaneously; some take a couple of years to complete.
He gives some of his paintings to charities for fundraisers, gifts some and has a collection of his own.
He acknowledges the “patient endurance” of his wife and family for “putting up with” him as an artist.
Summing up his work, Deacon Cummings said: “I hope my art reveals a vision of hope.”

Author's note: If you're wondering why he included the butterscotch candy in a painting, it was an acknowledgment of a man in a nursing home who showed him kindness by offering him candy.
  • Published in Parish
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