Monday, June 30, 2014

Rebekah - High Priestess of Domestic Religion

Today, world-class athletes grace the front of cereal boxes, but it was Rebekah at the well who was placed on household goods to inspire women as they ministered at the nineteenth-century's domestic altars. In 1851 the E.and W. Bennett Company of Baltimore introduced the "Rebekah at the Well" teapot.* Identified by title in a raised panel under the teapot decoration, Rebekah, who answered Eliezer's prayer in this act of hospitality, reminded women of the day that they, too, could be in accordance with God's plan through their acts of hospitality and service. Pouring and offering a cup of tea to a caller was an echo of Rebekah's offer of water to Eliezer.

In addition to gracing teapots, "Rebekah at the well" was also used on ABC plates. These plates, made in Great Britain and America in the 19th century, were designed as educational aids for children. The entire alphabet - upper and lower case - was paired with a picture that might be an animal, a literary rhyme or character or a Bible story. Children could learn while they ate. England's Brownhill Pottery produced ABC plates in the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century and included Rebekah at the well in their Bible Pictures series.
Given what you know of Isaac and Rebekah's family life, how well does this interpretation of Rebekah work for you? Would you consider her an exemplary wife? An exemplary mother?

Other artists chose other ways to illustrate this text. See the Art&Faith Matters Facebook page ( for another consideration of Rebekah. 

*Many companies adopted and adapted the subject matter, so not all "Rebekah" teapots will be Bennett. Produced well into the 1930s, the teapot can be found in pastel-colored glazes in addition to the caramel-brown Rockingham glaze shown here. Both the Brownhill plates and a variety of "Rebekah" teapots are available online through antiques dealers and auction sites.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Competition

The prize would be a commission to create a set of doors for the Florence Baptistry. At least seven artists entered the competition in 1401, creating a competition piece using the specified size, shape and material. The assigned subject was the sacrifice of Isaac. The work - not surprisingly - differed. Only two of those competition panels come down to us today: the panels by Filippo Brunelleschi (below left) and Lorenzo Ghiberti (below right).
In his book The Feud That Sparked the Renaissance, Robert Paul Walker describes the Brunelleschi panel like this: "Brunelleschi's work is by far the more dramatic and disturbing, all angles and movement and raw emotion, like nothing that had ever been created before. His Abraham is a tall, powerful figure, grasping a frail Isaac along the jawline with his left hand, the father's thumb under the boy's chin to better expose the neck, or perhaps to cut off the flow of oxygen so that his son won't feel the fatal blow. In his right hand, Abraham holds the knife, driving the blade forward with such forceful commitment that the angel sweeping down from the sky must grab his wrist to stop the sacrifice. The story literally bursts out from the panel, breaking the boundaries of the Gothic quatrefoil within which it is supposed to be contained, just as Brunelleschi burst through the boundaries of the Gothic art with his creation." 

Walker also describes Ghiberti's panel: "Ghiberti's panel is more elegant and more beautiful. His Isaac is a perfectly modeled classical nude while his Abraham is a smaller, more graceful man, his left arm wrapped around the boy's shoulders while his right hand holds the knife hovering in the air, as if he has not yet made the decision to strike. The angel floats above them, open palm over Abraham's well-coiffed, curly hair, no need to grab the father's arm but able instead to stop him with a word. The whole scene plays out against an exquisitely cascading mountainside, all neatly contained within its quatrefoil boundary. Whereas Brunelleschi's piece demonstrates an artist aching to forge a new and more powerful image of reality, Ghiberti's demonstrates masterful perfection of the art, as remarkable in its own way for the time and place and age of the artist as is the work of his rival."

If you were one of the patrons with a vote, which artist would you choose? Do you think one better captures the story of the binding of Isaac? Consider the position in which each artist places Isaac. Consider how close we are to the death of the boy. How close is the angel? Where is the ram?

How would you choose? Would you select the one that most closely adhered to the details of the text? Would you choose the one with the greatest emotional impact? Would you use a different criteria entirely?

Spoiler alert: The commission ultimately went to Ghiberti (above right). Tradition says that the judges, unable to choose one of these two artists, asked if the two artists might work together. Brunelleschi bowed out, wanting full artistic control rather than collaboration, so Ghiberti received the commission - though the subject of the competition panel was not used in the commission. The two submissions to the competition remain, however, and remind us of the artistic riches nurtured in Florence at the beginning of the 15th century. The panels are in the Bargello National Museum in Florence, Italy:

Monday, June 16, 2014

Hagar and Ishmael: The Journey Continues

Abel Pann's lithograph of Hagar and Ishmael follows the Biblical text: So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. 

It may be worth considering, though, whether Hagar and Ishmael looked much different after the angel helped Hagar. The text says that God showed her where to find water, that she refilled her water container and that Ishmael drank. God was with the boy, Genesis says, and Ishmael was saved.

But what then? Hagar still had to make a life for herself and her son. She still had the water container, though it was now full of water. They were still in the wilderness. So she put the water on her shoulder, took her son by the hand and continued their journey. 

You can see more of Abel Pann's work at the Mayanot Gallery in Jerusalem. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Ten Tips for Orders of Service

How much do you suppose it costs to put an ad in the inside cover spread of Sports Illustrated magazine? And how long do you think people peruse that front cover spread ad on their way to the Table of Contents? It isn't that long, according to research. In that light, think about that order of service handed to a worshiper by an attentive greeter. The worshiper will hold it in her or his hands for the next hour or so. It is also the piece of paper that has the greatest likelihood of going home with a worshiper. Let good art and design make the most of that opportunity.

10. Find the right size paper. Don't put novel-length liturgy on a 5 x 7 card. If the paper isn't big enough, you'll be breaking tip #7 to deal with that.

9. Fold the paper the most appropriate way. 8 1/2" x 11" - folded "hot dog" or "hamburger" style? Maybe a triple-fold. Or maybe 8 1/2" x 14" - folded in half or in a triple fold? Perhaps it is ledger-sized paper that would best suit your liturgy. That 11" x 17" paper can also be folded in halves or thirds.

8. Find the right color paper. Though the congregation may wear red for Pentecost, using red paper to print your order of service can make it more difficult for folks to see. Make sure there is good contrast between paper color and ink color.

7. Use a large enough font size. Remember the older worshipers in your congregation whose eyesight may not be what it used to and the younger ones who have trouble moving easily from line to line. If you need bigger paper to accommodate a larger font, use it.

6. Use the proper number of fonts. Two is usually sufficient: one for headings and one for body copy. Often using a serif font (Times New Roman and Book Antiqua are both serif fonts - they have the little tag or tail on letters (the little tag is called a 'serif') in partnership with a sans serif font (Arial or little tag). Stick with a package of fonts for all church communications. This way members and visitors will come to recognize the "look" of your print pieces. You can alternate the fonts and change their weights and formats to create interest in multiple pieces.

5. Fight the urge to use all caps - especially with a flourish-y font that swoops and dips all over the page. They are beautiful fonts; they just are harder to read, especially in all caps.

4. Use a visual. As a rule, reproducing a work of art somewhere on the bulletin is considered fair use. See the U.S. Copyright Code (section 106ff.) for more information on copyright.

3. Always give credit to the artist, if known. We don't know who painted the catacomb image of the Good Shepherd, but even with ancient work, you can identify where the work is, and perhaps list a website where additional views might be found. Give as much credit to whomever you can.

2. Reduce visual clutter. This may seem oxymoronic in light of injunctions to choose bigger-paper-and-bigger-font-size. Another way to say this might be "have white space and organize it". Take out all the little drop-in graphic files, the clip art, anything that isn't the order of service. You may set up your bulletin so that there is room for a back page to have prayer requests or announcements or some other congregational business.

1.Proofread and edit. And then proofread and edit again. Then have someone else proofread and edit.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Candle Stole

Perfect for Baptisms, weddings, as well as general use on days when the liturgical color is white. Stole is white satin with pieced silver satin candle on bottom right. Candle has raw-edge appliqued flame and "water". Water applique, section on top left and back of stole are dark teal/peacock shantung. Approximately 52" from neck seam to bottom edge. Stole is 4" wide at bottom; 2 1/2" wide at neck.

Tiny ink spot on left side (circled). Reduced price. $100.