From nine months of planning, to a joyous opening gala, to the enthusiasm of hundreds who saw the show, the Sacred Threads Art Quilts Exhibition marked a growth spurt for the Arts and Spirituality Ministry at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church Hayesville.
Sacred Threads is a traveling exhibition that showcases 40 of the 300 or more quilts created by artists in the United States and Canada and shown biennially in major cities such as Washington, D.C. and New York. Jane Oliver, co-chair of Good Shepherd's exhibit, speaks of the “good luck of being granted the gift of this amazing exhibit.” But Oliver's tenacity was more a factor than luck. Working with Betsi Wilson, Oliver organized Good Shepherd's first Arts and Spirituality event five years ago, inspiring parishioners to display their own work, ranging from oil paintings to trout flies. Then when she saw the Sacred Threads exhibition in Washington last summer, she realized that bringing the travel show to Good Shepherd would foster further growth between the arts and spirituality, as well as providing a gift to the Western North Carolina community.
Convinced that her mountain parish with fewer than 300 parishioners could host a major exhibition, Oliver applied, emphasizing the proximity of the John C. Campbell Folk School and Good Shepherd's long association with it. She assembled a steering committee, including co-chair Barb Redmond, then applied for a grant. Thankfully, the Congregational Vitality Ministry Commission of the Diocese of WNC provided a grant.
Good Shepherd's rector, the Reverend Dr. Bill Breedlove, embraces the ministry, because it “is an expression of our unique spiritual DNA and is one of the ways the many artists among us practice the stewardship of their God-given creativity. Good Shepherd is home to a wide range of artistic expressions including the more traditional arts and crafts as well as spiritual gardening, story telling, spiritual writing, paper crafts, the culinary arts, and more.” Eager to grow the ministry, Father Bill “welcomes all to come and see.”
The process of procuring and mounting the Sacred Threads quilts presented challenges, but on May 8 when excited parishioners gathered to launch the show, all the work proved worthwhile. Over the next two weeks, visitors poured in, visibly touched as they gazed at the quilts and listened by audio to the stories of their creation. Each quilt illustrates the artist's response to a strong emotion such as love or loss. Exploring themes of joy, inspiration, healing, grief, peace, and brotherhood, many of the quilts express a spiritual connection, though no particular religious tradition.
Many visitors to the exhibit were quilters, who expressed their awe at not only the beauty of the quilts but the inventiveness and originality of the techniques used to create them. The word they used most often was “amazing.” One initially reluctant visitor, the Reverend Dr. Phil Kuehnert of Williamsburg, VA, raved, “After two quilts and the accompanying audio narrations, I was hooked. The dazzling variety of the quilts along with the unique story that went with each stunned me. The quilter's narration transformed the quilt into a spiritual experience as I shared her despair, or joy, or grief, or sadness.”
Good Shepherd parishioners believe, as writer Julia Cameron says in “The Artist's Way,” that “Art may be the finest form of prayer. Making art is quite literally a path to our Maker.” And creating art signals vitality in the church. After the Sacred Threads show closes, parishioners will continue to create art in multiple forms.
The growth of Good Shepherd's Arts and Spirituality Ministry can be tracked on the church's website: www.goodshepherdhayesville,org.