Grace: Artists’ spirituality takes many forms in Hot Shops exhibition - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, December 25, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 4:14 pm
Grace: Artists’ spirituality takes many forms in Hot Shops exhibition

They were asked to show that which cannot always be seen — one’s relationship to a higher power.

So one artist wove a loose basket out of wire, its many strands and twists signifying a journey rooted in Judaism.

Another artist burned the image of a woman, eyes heavenward, into a piece of birch wood, painted it bright colors and called it “Blind Faith.”

A third submitted a large geometric design of circles that were all white except one that was red. He called it “Alone,” which is exactly how he felt years ago when he announced his disbelief. He is an atheist.

A unique exhibition called “Envisioning Spirituality” at Hot Shops offers a window into the spiritual lives of 32 artists. It opened Dec. 1, during Hanukkah, and continues after Christmas, through Sunday.

Omaha artist Dorothy Tuma curated the exhibition, which includes a black-and-white photograph she took of snow-covered trees at Walnut Grove Park in Millard.

The image evokes stillness and calm — the characteristics Tuma says are necessary for her own spirituality and for her creative process.

“You create from the quiet,” she said.

You also can create when you’re not sick, when you’re not lying in a hospital battling infection as she was several years ago.

Tuma, now 69, had fallen ill in 2007. A severe infection spread through her body and hit her brain. She suffered memory loss and might have died had the infection continued. It took a year for her to recover.

As she slowly got better, Tuma thought of a theme that consciously — and sometimes subconsciously — entered her work. Tuma is Catholic and had worked for Catholic institutions. She took pictures for the Catholic Voice, assisted on the annual Cathedral Arts Project flower festival and served as principal photographer for the major renovation of St. Cecilia Cathedral. Her photos appear in a 2005 book about the cathedral called “The Beauty of Thy House.”

People would tell her that everything she created had a religious element, and she’d shrug and say something like: Yeah. That’s who I am.

But it made her wonder where inspiration lies for others, especially those of other faiths.

“I wanted to ask more people,” Tuma said. “Maybe other people would like to examine their center of creativity and name it.”

Tuma wondered what would happen if she asked explicitly for works dealing with spirituality. She decided to sponsor a show and called Project Interfaith, a local nonprofit that seeks to build bridges between people of different faith backgrounds, to help her solicit submissions.

She got 125 pieces from 52 artists. Tuma and Omaha painter and printmaker Lori Elliott-Bartle chose 32 pieces. They made their selections, in part, because of connections they saw between various pieces.

As you might expect, each work in the collection is as different as the artist. And takes on the subject of spirituality range from the literal — a gold-painted Virgin Mary, a mixed-media Jonah and the Whale, a painting of Hindu god Ganesh — to the very figurative.

Take a sculpture called “Conscience.” The red-painted metal shape standing 3 feet off the ground is a human shoulder blade. Inside the shoulder blade are black and white balls. The shoulder represents how the artist, a self-described skeptic, bore the weight of questioning his conservative religious upbringing. The balls represent the various scenarios that require the conscience to act.

Then there’s “My Most Important Self-Portrait Yet #1 (my anxiety is real my gender is constructed).” This artist sewed a photograph of himself onto the corner of an otherwise blank piece of paper. He used red thread and left the still-attached needle dangling.

“I currently don’t identify spiritually,” he wrote in an explainer that runs with the exhibition. “I don’t think there exists a term that truly describes my beliefs.”

The exhibition includes nuanced works that are neither overtly religious nor overtly anti-religious.

One work, called “Passage,” features a red circle painted atop a yellow background and flanked by heavy brown rectangles.

“Are those doors?” I asked Elliott-Bartle, the artist who painted it.

She said yes and then choked up. Her stepfather, to whom she was very close, had died. Elliott-Bartle, an agnostic, said she wanted to express her grief, express the comfort that our loved ones give us.

“The things I was working on felt real trite and unimportant,” she said. “I wanted to try to paint what I was feeling and thinking about.”

Tuma saw something in “Passage.”

“Can I tell you what I see?” she asked. “I see the light beyond.”

The three of us walked around the gallery, poring over the works and reading the artist statements.

Here was a photograph of the Dome of the Rock, a stunning and contested piece of architecture in Jerusalem.

Here was a mixed-medium sculpture of the city of Jerusalem created by an artist who used to live there. The miniature city rotates. Quotes from Scripture are embedded, and this one from the Book of Psalms is an instruction for the viewer: “Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers, consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation.”

Then, in the center of the room, was a giant, rusted metal sculpture holding colorful flags, on which prayers had been written.

The piece was a Christian take on the ancient Eastern practice of hanging small flags with symbols or prayers outside. The flags were meant to wave in the wind, sending prayers through the cosmos.

It was a fitting symbol for what Tuma is trying to do.

Each piece of art, revealing the thoughts and desires of the artist, is a prayer of sorts. These prayers hang here for you to see and experience and carry on.

Contact the writer: Erin Grace

erin.grace@owh.com    |   402-444-1136    |  

Erin is a columnist who tries to find interesting stories and get them into the paper. She's drawn to the idea that everyday life offers something extraordinary.

Sioux City riverboat casino prepares to close, still hoping to be saved
Omaha high schoolers to help canvass for Heartland 2050
Mizzou alumni aim to attract veterinary students to Henry Doorly Zoo
Grant ensures that Sioux City can start building children's museum
Party looks to 'nudge' women into public office in Iowa
For birthday, Brownell-Talbot student opts to give, not get
Sole big donor to Beau McCoy says he expects nothing in return
Two taken to hospital after fire at Benson home
Grace: Pipe organ concert a tribute to couple's enduring love
Omaha-area jails and ERs new front line in battling mental illness
Convicted killer Nikko Jenkins might await his sentence in prison
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
Civil rights hearing to consider voting policies in Midwest
Firefighters battle brush fire near Fontenelle Forest
17 senators in Nebraska Legislature hit their (term) limits
It's a pursuit of pastel at Spring Lake Park's Easter egg hunt
Financial picture improving for city-owned Mid-America Center
No injuries after fire at midtown's old Mercer Mansion
29-year-old Omahan arrested for 22nd time in Lincoln
Police: Slaying of woman in Ralston apartment likely over drugs
Explosion near 29th, Woolworth damages vehicles
Omaha police arrest man, 19, accused in March shooting
Earth gets its day in the sun at Elmwood Park
Beau McCoy strikes Obama doll in TV ad; Democrats are not happy
Keystone XL pipeline backers blast 'political expediency' as foes hail ruling to delay decision
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
A World War II veteran from Omaha will return this week to Europe to commemorate a tragedy in the run-up to D-Day.
Dickson’s Week in Review, April 13-19
On Twitter some guy tweeted that the spring game isn’t taken as seriously as a regular-season contest. What was your first clue? When the head coach entered waving a cat aloft?
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
The main speaker at today's Ivy Day celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a college president who grew up roping calves and earned her Ph.D. at the prestigious Oxford University in England.
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »