A is for… Art

Yes, I know I did a Pagan art post last year. Yes, I know Quakers aren’t exactly known for their artwork. Nevertheless, there are Quaker artists, and I have three pieces of Quaker art to share with you today (with thanks to the people who put these images online). You may have seen them before, and they might not be representative; I picked them for my own idiosyncratic reasons.

The first is J. Doyle Penrose’s 1916 painting The Presence in the Midst, known to me as the Jesus ghost picture.

A classic Quaker Meeting for Worship is happening in a large room with white walls and big windows. In the foreground, women and childen sit in prayer; the men are on the other side of the room. On the right, the front of the room, some people of both genders sit on benches, while above them hovers the transparent but recogniseable form of Jesus.

The Presence in the Midst

I might have doubts about Jesus, and be glad that we dress differently and have mixed seating and cushions and no recorded ministers, but I still find that this picture captures something about what it is like to be in a gathered or covered Meeting for Worship (one which is going well and Doing Its Thing).
(Image from Arch Street Friends.)

My other two pieces of ‘art’ are actually more like architecture: I’ll illustrate them, but you’d have to visit to really get the idea.

The first is a Meeting House, Come-to-Good Meeting House in Cornwall. (The name is apparently a corruption of something in Cornish, but it has a certain ring to it.) It wasn’t, I think, thought of as very special at the time when it was built; it was just a normal building for that time and place. Now, like many other meeting houses in the country, it’s a historic building with all the charms and challenges which that involves.

a thatched building, with white walls and green shutters on the windows, sits in the sunshine

Come-to-Good Meeting House

We visited relatively often during my childhood, and I remember the excitement of climbing into the gallery, and the smell of thatch. Inside (there are a few good pictures in a Google image search), it looks not so dissimilar from the meeting house in Penrose’s painting.

(Image from Wikipedia.)

My final piece of Quaker art today is James Turrell’s Deer Shelter Skyspace, in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

A blue square of sky can be seen in the ceiling of a white room; a patch of sunlight falls on the wall.

Inside the Skyspace

The Skyspace is essentially a box – a square white room – with a hole in the top – a window in the very thin ceiling which creates the illusion of ‘sky’ as a picture, or directly in the top of the box. It’s both an exploration of the classic Quaker use of ‘Light’ as a metaphor, and a place which encourages connection to the Light.

(Image from Go Inside To Greet The Light, a Facebook page for the film made about the Skyspace.)

There’s a lot of other Quaker art, but hopefully this provides a taster.


2 responses to “A is for… Art

  1. Well I was trying avoid repetition of subjects but it seems it doesn’t matter as we approach these things so differently. Hope you will let me know what you think of my approach at http://stumblingstepping.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/quaker-alphabet-week-2-for-arts.html

  2. Oh that first piece is one of my absolute favourites of Q art. Fun to see the Come-to-Good MH too.

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