“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines… [God] will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations. [God] will swallow up death forever. Then the LORD God will wipe away the tears from all faces…. It will be said on that day,… “This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice.” – Isaiah 25:6-9
One year ago, I started a project. My pandemic painting project. In response to all the stress we were facing at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stan Franek suggested to me that it might be helpful for me as an artist to create art during my free time. So, I decided to try doing one painting per week.
Years ago during an art class I took at the Grand Marais Art Colony, the instructor Kat Corrigan talked about the importance of doing art every day. She showed us how to use a special wet palette that keeps acrylic paints wet for long periods of time—making it easy to sit down and paint something without a lot of prep. She also introduced me to using a black canvas (instead of the traditional white one.)
On March 30 of last year, I did my first painting. It was an orchid—a gift I received when I worked at The Aliveness Project, a Minneapolis community center for people living with HIV/AIDS. The orchid was given to me by Scott, who has been a “long-term survivor” since the 1980s. Scott used to be the director of Aliveness before me.
Scott was an orchid expert. He had a dozens of them in a rainbow of colors—purples and yellows, whites and pinks. When I asked Scott how he did it, he told me about his weekly ritual of soaking his orchids in a bathtub. And how every summer, he moved them outside for natural sunlight, then back inside when the weather turned cool. Which sounded like a lot of work to me.
Then one fall, Scott convinced me to take an orchid. His special gift for me. I tried to follow his detailed instructions. I watered the plant each week. I fertilized it once a month. Sometimes at the end of a workday, I’d pour in some leftover liquid from my coffee mug. But for a long time, nothing happened. Finally, during the last spring I worked at Aliveness, my orchid bloomed! Scott was very pleased. So pleased, that he gave me another orchid as a going-away present.
Both plants sit in my church office today. And both have bloomed here in Fargo with delicate white and yellow flowers. When I started my pandemic art project last spring, it seemed appropriate to paint an orchid that came out of my previous experience with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Which also led me to focus on painting flowers and other symbols of life—in the face of a new pandemic that has brought so much sickness and death to our world.
So for the past year, each week on my day off, I’ve committed time to creating one more new painting. I’ve painted tulips and peonies, iris and lilacs, violets and daylilies, carnations and wildflowers. Plus sailboats and lighthouses, tomatoes and tangerines, sunsets and butterflies. And on March 15 of this year, I finished my fifty-second painting—of the other orchid in my office (both paintings are included with this article.) A milestone in achieving what seemed like an impossible goal when I started.
I’m pleased to share that we are going to have an art show with twenty of my paintings in our office building this spring. The Arts Partnership has a program called ArtWORKS—which partners with local businesses to provide a regular rotation of exhibits by local artists in non-traditional spaces like restaurants, banks and dental clinics.
The Irv Rustad Regional Small Business Center is one of their partners. So, from the beginning of May until the end of July, my artwork will be on display here on the first floor and in our church office space on the fourth floor. For me, this is tremendously exciting because it’s the first time I’ve ever had a formal show. And all the proceeds will be donated to St. Mark’s Lutheran.
An open house is scheduled for Saturday, May 15, 1-4 p.m. I hope you can join us then, or just come by the office during regular business hours.
For me, this project represents how symbols of hope and beauty can sometimes grow out of the middle of despair and pain. Just as on that first Easter, Christ rose from the dead to bring us the promise of new life. And a promise of joy, despite all the losses we have faced during the past year. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia.