IT'S A SHAME that in the days of the Renaissance, they didn't have Dumbarton United Methodist Church around to help artists get work.
As an offshoot of the church's "Seasons of the Spirit" festival of the arts they have overseen the printing of a directory of artists and their availability to do work for churches in the Baltimore-Washington area.
Michelangelo's entry in this directory might have read: Italian painter and sculptor available for commissions from local chapels. Completed paintings--The Creation of Man, Last Judgment. Themes--the synthesis of Greek philosophy and the Christian revelation. Fee--unique and negotiable.
Any artist whose work fits under the heading of fiber arts, pottery, dance, drama, clowning and mime, metalsmithing, liturgy of the word, paper works or graphics was eligible for inclusion in the 24-page, black and white catalogue. The directory, which costs $1, is available through Saturday, during the church's "Seasons of the Spirit" festival in Georgetown, at the fair's book stall. After the fair, the directory will be available at the church office.
Susan Gilpin, who heads the church's worship committee and is the coordinator of the festival and the directory, felt churches needed to have an alternative to using objects that are mass-produced.
"Liturgical artists are people who do artwork for the church. You only hear of them through the grapevine. When you meet these people, some of their work is inspired, and is inspiring, and that keeps you going," she said.
For the artists listed in the directory, inspiration to sculpt, to design earthenware chalices or to embroider can be much the same as religious inspiration.
"Religion and my life aren't separated at all," said Lorraine Arden, who began sculpting a year ago. "I'm trying to be, in my whole life, closer to God."
One of Arden's pieces--a bronze statue of Moses--resulted from an image she saw in a dream. In another dream, she was able to read a holy book that had blank pages because beams of light streamed down and threw shadows on it. From the recurring theme of letters in light falling on pages, she has sculpted a series of works on holy books in Sanskrit, Hebrew and Arabic.
Another artist, Marjorie Coffey, combined her interest in bright colors and her work with fibers and designed banners for priests she knew at Catholic University. While she was receiving more orders for banners, a priest asked her to design a bold, colorful vestment, one that did not resemble the classic styles of vestments in mail-order catalogues. Since that assignment, she's been designing symbolic vestments and liturgical dance costumes.
"I find that it's a challenge," she observed. "It's as though the banners that had been hanging on the wall have stepped down to dance. It's the feel of things being used and coming to life and moving and being such a vital part of the religious experience of the people in church."
Not all artistry in worship is confined to the brush, needle or sculptor's block. The sacred drama of the early church, used to tell stories, is the model for the Parsons Players, a drama group whose goal is to liven the liturgical message. The troupe, whose members are from different churches in the metropolitan area, draws on humorous Erma Bombeck articles and Mark Twain tales for its scripts.
"Many people believe drama is a very important part of the church. Sometimes that type of medium hits people more directly than a sermon," said Susan Kovalick, who with her husband, Walter, helped form the group six years ago.
Another medium listed in the directory, silversmithing and goldsmithing, is the technique jeweler Etta Smith uses to interpret people's feelings. Some of her customers are members of religious orders.
"I'm able to draw out what the feeling is that they want--I'm transforming personal beliefs into metalwork. I can work with my stones and metal to reflect the feeling between two people in love, for nuns--all these feelings I can make into reality for people."
Frequently she receives requests for rings. "They're looking for a piece of jewelry to reflect their spiritual and religious beliefs. I use the wheat staff, the fish shape and grapes," she said.