Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Winona's Sacred Heart Cathedral features Panamanian hand-sewn artwork featuring biblical scenes.

If you need to brush up on Bible stories, the walls of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart will help.

The Cathedral is exhibiting a show of 41 hand-sewn Panamanian molas depicting biblical scenes.

A mola is a panel of reversed appliqué that is worn on the front and back of the blouses of the women of the Kuna Indians of the San Blas Islands, off the eastern shore of Panama. The word means shirt or clothing in the Kuna’s native language. They don’t have to be religious in nature, although this collection is.

The exhibit, “Molas: From Eden to Eternity,” is the work of Christians in Visual Arts, an organization of artists, pastors and supporters of the arts who try to use the arts to teach about Christianity. The exhibit has traveled the country, including a stop at Yale.

Eileen Daily, a professor of theology at Saint Mary’s University, helped curate the show. Daily did her doctoral dissertation on using Christian art in religious education.

“It’s not often that you get this broad of a spectrum of Bible stories told,” Daily said.

The molas reflect different viewpoints of the same scene. Three panels show scenes of Adam and Eve. One is modeled after Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam.”

Each image is accompanied by a caption in English and Spanish. A Spanish class at SMU helped translate the captions. Daily came up with a question for each to help prompt discussion.

One of Daily’s favorite molas depicts Daniel in the Lion’s Den.

“The King has thrown him into the lion’s den and he’s just hanging out,” Daily said. “He has such a comfort level with his faith. He knows God’s there.”

The question accompanying the image: Where do we see evidence of this kind of faith?

Other religious-themed molas are for sale at the church’s gift shop, priced from $60 to $200. The Rev. John Sauer, the church’s rector, was the first customer. He bought one depicting Santa Claus to add to his Santa collection.

“Each one is so unique,” Sauer said. “The personality of the artist really comes through.”

Show highlights new space

The show is the first in the Cathedral’s new gathering space, which was created as part of a $5.1 million renovation of the church that began in January 2006.

One of the things Sauer hopes the gathering space of the church does is help provide a connection with the arts.

“The church has such a strong tradition of that, whether it’s theater or music or visual arts,” Sauer said.

The next scheduled display will be woodcarvings by a nun from Notre Dame and will tie in with the Lenten season. The five-piece exhibit will show the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Daily sees the exhibit of molas as a celebration of the Bible and a celebration of art.

“It isn’t about worshipping these images,” Daily said. “It’s about learning from them.” Winona Daily News

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