Connecting Through Art
Experiencing The Three Faiths Exhibit at Merrimack College
Can art bring diverse communities together? Yes, thinks the Rev. Richard Piatt, an Augustinian priest and director of the Rogers Center for the Arts at Merrimack College in North Andover. On a sunny Saturday in mid-September, he watches a crowd gather in the Thagaste Gallery to sample Middle Eastern food, see traditional and contemporary Islamic art and watch artists demonstrate calligraphy, marbling and henna painting.
Known as an innovative theater director, Piatt has steampunked “My Fair Lady” and turned “Cabaret” into an actual cabaret with a working bar. Now, as the center’s director, Piatt has expanded the exhibition space by opening the gallery, which features exhibits by faculty, students and local artists. Thagaste is the name of the North African community where followers of St. Augustine gathered and learned to be of “one mind and one heart intent on God.” In that spirit, Piatt says, “This gallery explores a variety of traditions and points of view, but mainly we’re celebrating life.”
The title of the gallery’s three-part show is “The Three Faiths: Art From the Abrahamic Religions.” The show includes works from artists representing Islam, Judaism and Catholicism. “All are cousins,” Piatt says, “and they all have beautiful artistic traditions.”
“The Islamic Tradition,” which opened in late August and ran through late October, featured 28 paintings and examples of calligraphy by traditional and contemporary artists. Randa Kasmieh of Grafton, Mass., showed elaborate, layered paintings made with wood, plaster of Paris, acrylic paints and gold leaf. This lush painting style is known as al-ajami, a tradition that began during the Ottoman Empire and was used to decorate palace walls and ceilings.
“The Jewish Tradition,” currently on view through Dec. 22, features 10 quilts by Iris Sonnenschein of Dedham, Mass. Sonnenschein became fascinated by contemporary free-form quilting in 1980 and taught herself this art. The quilt “Yaffo Steps” depicts a setting in the old port city of Jaffa, Israel, outside of Tel Aviv. Drawing upon her imagination, Sonnenschein shows the stairs in cool purple, shading them with lavender, red and green. Even in these vibrant colors, this scene is recognized by those who have been to Jaffa.
The city of Jerusalem inspires Sonnenschein and is the setting for her quilt “Three Chevre” (Yiddish for “buddies”). She uses multiple fabrics and singed tulle as an overlay and the results resemble stones.
Though Cannuli may be known for his traditional icons, his watercolors show a different side of the artist. These vibrant scenes, such as those depicting Scotland, exude joy found in nature and in the small towns and chapels perched along brooks and tucked into hillsides. His watercolors have rarely been exhibited. Until recently, he regarded them as strictly private musings done on-site, during his travels, for his own enjoyment. The artist will make an appearance at the reception on Jan. 25, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
While this series of exhibits seems like an ambitious undertaking, Piatt just smiles and says, “Play big or go home.” Some people dream of changes; others, like Piatt, step forward and make them happen.
Thagaste Gallery at Merrimack College
North Andover, Mass.