Tapestries weave spiritual message into church life
The Rev. Nature Johnston was so moved by her church’s new tapestry, with its image of Mary, the mother of Jesus, kissing her babe’s cheek, she says “I almost felt the kiss myself.”
“It truly is sacred art.”
The woven wall hanging and its companion piece that depicts a shepherd were dedicated this month in the sanctuary at the Episcopal Church of the Nativity, 2175 Broadway, where Johnston serves as priest. Each tapestry measures 20 inches wide and 40 inches long and adorns the wall on either side of the altar, complementing a round stained glass window above.
This liturgical art was commissioned and donated by David and Deese Dancy of Grand Junction, who have been members of the church for more than 30 years.
“After we left family in Texas, the Church of the Nativity became our family,” Deese Dancy says. “We felt really blessed and wanted to give a lasting memento to the people.”
Dancy — an artist herself — went to local weaver Kathy Spoering, a contemporary tapestry designer and painter with whom she once shared a downtown art gallery.
“I’m always in awe of the intricacy of Kathy’s work,” she says, and Dancy knew Spoering’s tapestry work would be perfect in the spiritual setting.
Spoering worked for 18 months on a large loom in her home studio to make the two tapestries, which are rich in symbolism. Examples include the bright blue of Mary’s robe, the dove of peace representing the Holy Spirit and the grapevine to express not only the Grand Valley’s wine country, but Scripture that says: “Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches.”
The companion piece features a shepherd surrounded by a sheep, a fox, a mule deer and a mourning dove, animals familiar to this region. Spoering intends for the viewer to interpret the identity of the male figure; he can be perceived as a shepherd, Joseph or an adult Jesus.
Johnston, whose congregation numbers about 125, likens the animal imagery to the idea of a “peaceable kingdom, that ideal time in the future when all of God’s creations will be in harmony.”
She says deer often visit the Redlands’ church property, and the tapestry also reflects the church’s animal ministry.
“We have a short prayer service for animals on the first Sunday of each month, and people bring their pets,” Johnston says.
Sometimes, the church conducts memorial services for pets that have died, with appropriate liturgical readings by the church deacon Teri Shecter.
“That can be very comforting for our church members,” Johnston says.
Spoering, whose weavings are exhibited nationally and internationally, works from photos and her own sketches. She paints her scenes first, then alters them a bit on a computer.
Spending five days a week at her loom, Spoering explains that it takes six to eight hours to weave a row 1 inch deep across 20 inches of width.
Cotton seine yarn forms the warp (length) of the tapestry, and imported Scandinavian wool is used for the weft (width).
This time-consuming process is a meditative one for her, and “that’s a good thing in my life,” she says.
I’ve always believed at the heart of an artist’s motivation is inspiration ... the spark that turns a vision in the mind’s eye into reality. Sometimes, the end result is merely mundane; sometimes it’s divine.