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.
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.
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.
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.