Sunday, March 31, 2013

Ex Votos

Just outside of Deruta, Italy there is an unassuming little church called Madonna Dei Bagni. Encased behind the altar is a fragment of a plate with the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. A local man found the fragment and secured it in a crook of the tree. When his wife was deathly ill, he came to pray to the Virgin Mary. When he returned home, she was healed. Now the walls of the church are lined with hundreds of ex votos, small ceramic plaques that have accumulated over the centuries, given by families whose prayers have been answered. Older ones show people sick in bed, being struck by lightning, trampled by horses or falling headfirst from trees. Car crashes are a common theme of the newer ex votos. Miracles can be small or large. This is a day to celebrate miracles of all kinds and sizes.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Zentangle Lace

While reorganizing my cache of black lace, this piece escaped and fluttered to the floor, landing in soft folds. It’s a machine-made length of chantilly-style lace. Someone added the velvet ribbon, turning it into a scarf. The design made me think of zentangles, the wildly popular doodly patterns that so many collage artists and quilters like to draw or stitch. The majority of chantilly laces were floral designs. This one hearkens back to a whole range of Victorian fabrics that were inspired by coral branches and seaweed.  The designer of this lace varied the patterns and densities of the ground and the background using dots, crisscrosses and zigzags, just like a modern-day zentangle doodler. Hmmm....Where is my sketchbook?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Saint Francis, Bardi Chapel

With the new Pope choosing Francis as his name, I took a look back at my photos of the Cathedral of Santa Croce in Florence. There is a certain artistic irony in the ostentation and richness of the Bardi Chapel, which is dedicated to  the humble Saint Francis. He floats on the golden altarpiece, surrounded by jewel-like vignettes of his life. While this is supposed to represent the saint in heaven, the soft colors of Giottto’s fourteenth century frescoes more realistically portray the man. To me the frescoes seem more spiritually and emotionally moving than the magnificent altarpiece. Both the versions have their merits. But one speaks more clearly of a saint who celebrated simplicity and humility.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


Just a few more minutes of light each day is enough to set off the inner clock of the crocuses. Suddenly they emerge from the grass or the leaf litter under bushes and trees. This week, they have spread their petals wide, capturing light within their deep little lavender-edged cups. Where their was nothing, suddenly there is something: the humble little blossoms that are one of the earliest of the many miracles of spring.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Berries In the Church Yard

We are at the tail end of an especially gray, gloomy winter. The big snows that have swept across so much of the country have passed us by. I see subtle beauty in the stones, bare trees, and carpets of dried leaves. Colors seem more intense on a cloudy day. Further south, in Charleston,  the greens never quite go dormant. It's the bright winter berries that really pop, set against the chilly grays, rusts and browns of the cemetery. Food for the birds and a feast for my eyes, they are enough to tide us over till spring arrives.