Catholic Vancouver Sept. 24, 2018

Sacred artists, musicians putting beauty back in churches

By Agnieszka Ruck

Iconographer Patricia Ballard is a member of the Epiphany Sacred Arts Guild, a Coquitlam-based group hoping to revive sacred art in local Catholic churches. (BCC file photo)

Icons, wood carvings, and chants never before seen or heard in public will soon be on full display.

The Epiphany Sacred Arts Guild, a collective with 20 artists (and 70 associate members) from across the Lower Mainland, is hosting its largest-ever exhibition from Oct. 12 through Oct. 20.

“For a lot of people, this is a whole new experience,” said guild president Steve Knight. “So many of our churches have no or minimal art, and many people have lost touch with the imagery.”

So this October, members of the guild will place on full display some of their latest charcoal drawings, calligraphy, gold-laden icons, mosaics, stained glass, woodcarvings, and even hand-sewn vestments.

Knight said the vast array shows much can be done to make Lower Mainland churches more beautiful and artistic, and to tempt younger artists to join. In fact, the guild is hoping to start something of a revival.

“We are part of the new evangelization,” said guild member Patricia Ballard. “We’re trying to make a culture of Catholic Christian art, and it’s very important to reestablish a sense of beauty in the Church.”

Guild president Steve Knight at work on an icon for the exhibition. (Photo submitted)

In Ballard’s view, too few local churches have sacred art inside their walls, and too few Catholics seem to understand the significance and symbols behind much of traditional art.

“We want to educate and restore the knowledge,” she said. For Catholics, “this is our heritage.”

Ballard is currently writing an icon of The Coronation of the Virgin, inspired by a 14th-century Giacomo di Mino work, for the exhibition. It won’t be finished by Oct. 12, but she is looking forward to putting it on public display and teaching people about the symbols and the process of creating it.

“There’s something in our soul that gets new life and gets invigorated when it looks at beauty.”

The guild’s largest exhibit yet will for the first time feature sacred music as well as artwork. Vocalists Mark Donnelly (famous for singing O Canada at Vancouver Canuck games) and Alex McCune are composing and compiling music for the exhibition.

“Visual sacred art and sacred music go hand in hand in terms of support of the liturgy,” said Ballard. “We are two sides of one coin.”

The Epiphany Sacred Arts Guild was founded at St. Jude’s Parish 15 years ago and now hosts regular meetings at St. Clare of Assisi Parish in Coquitlam. It hosts exhibitions every two years, but not in such a large venue or with quite so many artists.

Iconographer Ana Maria Silva, like Ballard, hopes traditional Catholic art will make a comeback in the Archdiocese of Vancouver. “It makes a difference all over the world, I think,” she said.

Sacred artist and guild member Ana Maria Silva at work in her home studio. (Photo submitted)

Silva began studying iconography under the instruction of monks in Brazil in 2002. She moved to Canada one year later and was excited to discover a sacred arts guild in Vancouver.

In honour of her heritage, and her love for the country to which she immigrated, Silva has painted a religious image of Our Lady of Aparecida (patroness of Brazil), with Brazilian, Canadian, and Vatican flags in her robe.

That unique artwork, along with Silva’s icon of Our Lady of Tenderness, will be displayed for the first time at the exhibit.

“I hope people will be touched by the images, very deeply, and stay in God’s presence,” she said.

The exhibition will be held at the John Paul II Pastoral Centre, beginning with opening ceremonies by Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, and a Gregorian chant choir Oct. 12. The exhibition runs with no admission charge through the week and concludes with an Eastern Catholic chant choir Oct. 20. Details available at