By Laurelle Walsh
A new exhibit titled “Shrines, Altars and Sacred Objects” opens this week at the Winthrop Gallery, with an artists’ reception on Saturday (Oct. 4) from 5 – 7 p.m. The show runs through Nov. 24.
As fall’s harvest is brought in, the days grow shorter, and people of the northern hemisphere prepare for the darkest months of winter, one naturally contemplates the spiritual, the year past, and in some traditions, the afterlife. Shrines or altars focus one’s attention on the holy, and sacred objects inspire awe and help maintain traditions across generations.
In fact, this season marks holy days in sacred traditions all over the world: Yom Kippur and Sukkot for Jews; the month of the Holy Rosary for Catholics; All Hallow’s Eve and the Day of the Dead in the Christian tradition; Samhain for the Celts; Diwali for Hindus; and this year Dhu al-Hijjah, when Muslim pilgrims gather in Mecca.
The 30 member artists of the Winthrop Gallery contemplated the objects, places and memories that feel sacred to them, and have expressed those feelings through various media in this show: paintings, woodwork, photographs, ceramics, fabric arts and more.
“What makes an object sacred is culturally specific,” said woodworker Don McIvor, who set out to create an object that might be an antique or an artifact, or that may have meant something to a culture that is no longer with us, he said.
The desire to recreate antique or prehistoric artifacts runs through McIvor’s work of late, expressed as wooden vessels with the look of centuries-old Native American pottery in a show last May, and in the heavily patina-ed, Bronze-age looking sculpture, “Orbit,” on display in the current exhibit.
To make “Orbit,” McIvor turned a slab of maple burl on the lathe in three axes, creating overlapping circles that evoke celestial bodies in orbit. Next he applied dyes to enhance the patterns in the raw-edged maple, and mounted a planet-like oxidized metal disc in the center of the orbit.
McIvor, whose work reflects an ongoing fascination with archaeology, admits that “Orbit” is partly “a tongue-in-cheek nod to the fact that a disproportionate number of ancient cultural objects get assigned some astrological significance” by archaeologists.
Dennis O’Callaghan built his photograph, “Woodstock, Vermont,” around the traditional image of a white church steeple — this time framed by the vivid foliage of the Green Mountains in the fall. “It brings back many memories of childhood, and a respite from the hubbub of the world,” he said.
While native trees in their autumn splendor dominate the foreground of the picture, the white buildings of the New England town appear as toy miniatures in the valley below.
“Whether one was inside being inspired in their own way, or contemplating the marvelous gifts of nature which framed the church, it was a spiritual moment,” O’Callaghan said.
Carol McMillan drew on pagan symbology to portray what is sacred to her in the watercolor “Dancing the Sacred Oak.”
While churches and temples “didn’t offer allure,” McMillan conjured a circle of women dancing around an ancient oak under a full moon rising in the cobalt sky.
“I admit that I didn’t get to spy on a group of fairies in order to paint this from life, but, who knows, perhaps they’re out there somewhere dancing,” McMillan said.
The Winthrop Gallery is at 237 Riverside Ave. Fall hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday through Monday, closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. For more information, call 996-3925 or go to www.winthropgallery.com.