Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Art and Prayer

When my father lived in coastal Mississippi, he was just a few blocks from The Walter Anderson Museum of Art. I went there often when I visited him, and fell in love with Anderson's beautiful drawings and designs for pottery and textiles, one of which you can see to the left.

During my last visit there, the week after Christmas in 2005, I realized that Anderson would be a good source of inspiration for one of the characters in my fourth novel (not in the sense that I'm basing her on him, but that she herself learns of his work and is inspired by it). This, of course, affords me the happy opportunity to put off actually writing the novel by doing research on Anderson. Writers love this stuff.

I'm currently reading Chistopher Maurer's Fortune's Favorite Child: The Uneasy Life of Walter Anderson, and have become more fascinated by him than ever. He was a brilliant but troubled man, twice hospitalized for severe psychiatric problems -- including violence towards both himself and others -- who spent much of his later life living in seclusion on Horn Island, away from his wife and children. This must have been more than a bit of a relief to his wife, Agnes Grinstead Anderson, whom he'd hurt both physically and emotionally; her devotion to him and his work, despite the pain he caused her, is deeply moving -- to me, anyway, although if all this were happening now, surely he'd be arrested for domestic violence, or she and the kids would be whisked away to a shelter, or both.

In effect, that's what happened anyway, without the intervention of police. But as much as I abhor domestic violence, I'm glad his wife loved him and stood by him. Rather a contradictory position for a feminist, I know, but there you have it.

She wrote her own memoirs of life with him, Approaching the Magic Hour, and I want to read that next. And then I want to read his Horn Island Logs. And then I want to read the memoirs his children have written -- they and his grandchildren still run a family pottery business -- and watch various documentaries about his life, and then I want to go back to Mississippi and see the museum again and go back to Horn Island myself.

See what I mean about the research? Of course I can't do all of this: I need to stop at some point -- soon -- and resume work on my own novel.

Anderson was passionately, lyrically in love with nature, and believed that the artist was a kind of co-creator, that nature couldn't realize itself fully until expressed in art. He loved animals, although sometimes he treated them not much better than he did people (more often from neglect than outright cruelty). He had a special affinity with cats, "thou who carryest the sun for a head, a serpent for a tail, and for feet four flowers which follow thee wherever thou dost go." After he died, his wife forced her way into a locked room in his studio and discovered that he'd painted the four walls and ceiling of "the little room" with a joyous mural of creation, a visual representation of Psalm 104.

Among other things, reading about Anderson has reawakened my hunger to become more involved in visual arts. (The clay class starts next Monday! Yay!) Coincidentally -- or not -- this month's Episcopal Life has a story about Sybil MacBeth's Praying in Color, about using simple drawing as prayer. I've done a little of that myself, although I didn't realize there was a book about it, and I'd like to do more. If I'm feeling very brave, I may even scan some of the images and post them here.

As I think I've probably mentioned here before, my mother's dad, Jerome George Rozen, and his twin brother were fairly prominent commercial artists; among other things, they painted covers for pulp magazines, which means that I come by my genre leanings naturally! I took oil-painting lessons when I was a kid, and certainly felt encouraged in art both by family and teachers, but I let it go -- electing to pursue a field where there was less family competition -- and now I feel shy about it. Drawing prayers is a way of giving myself permission not to be skillful, since God knows what I meant to put on the paper even if I don't have the technique to get it there.

Elsewhere on the prayer front, I've discovered an online version of the Daily Office with very convenient, easy-to-use versions of Morning and Evening Prayer. The site includes optional audio clips for hymns -- although the music sounds like it's played on a kazoo -- and external links, so readers can learn more about the places mentioned in the world cycle of prayer and the churches mentioned in the denominational cycle of prayer.

Oh, and I called my spiritual director, after not contacting her for oever a year, and she welcomed me back like the Prodigal Son. She was overjoyed to hear from me, and we'll be getting together soon.

I'm doing my homework!


  1. otterb4:49 AM

    The online daily office sounds nice. I subscribe to a monthly magazine (pocket sized) called Magnificat ( ), which has each day's morning & evening prayer, plus the daily lectionary readings and some other odds & ends. It's the Catholic lectionary, is that one of the things Catholics and Episcopalians have in common, or are they different? Anyway, I find the magazine very handy for reading morning & evening prayer on the subway.

    Have you read Robert Benson's book, "Living Prayer"? It talks about his experiences in a very readable voice. I recommend it highly.

  2. Anonymous6:09 AM

    Dear Susan,

    Small world! We say the daily office every morning and evening at my church - but this summer so many of the participants are off to different commitments elsewhere in the world that we are temporarily suspending our services in June and July. One of us had already reported back about how he found the office on-line - the very same site you're using! Nice praying with you, and congratulations on starting your homework right away,


  3. OtterB: I believe that the Catholic and Episcopal churches are now both using the Revised Common lectionary. I haven't read the Benson, no; thanks for the recommendation!

    Jean: Nice praying with you, too! And I owe you e-mail, which I hope to get to tonight or tomorrow!


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