Tapestries create Biblical treasures
In the quiet of his living room, surrounded by shelves of books and movies, the walls covered in pictures, Father Gérard Gauthier bends over his cross-stitch, intent on creating a tapestry of the women of the Bible.
This, for Gauthier, is art as prayer inspired by the Byzantine tradition, where iconographers would fast and pray while creating the icons of holy figures.
“It would be a type of prayer, using yarn and a needle,” he said of his work, adding with a laugh of his own efforts that they involve “not too much fasting, but certainly praying.”
Nine of Gauthier’s tapestries of vibrant colours and distinct Biblical scenes adorn the St. Paul Roman Catholic cathedral, with the women of the Bible being his 10th work. The tapestry stretches out three metres long and seven feet wide and resembles a patchwork quilt. It depicts each woman carrying a clue to her identity such as Eve with a rib, Delilah holding the hair of Samson, or Jael holding the mallet and spike that she would use to kill the enemy.
“When it is finished, hopefully it will draw people to want to read the story,” he said, noting that like a stained glass window, the tapestries are a “teaching tool,” with each one capturing the interest of the viewer to find out more. When he came to the St. Paul area to work earlier this year, he brought his work with him.
Gauthier never had too much interest in art in his younger years, saying, “I didn’t know I had an artistic talent.” When he was in the seminary, he had the idea to create a jeweled cross from beads, but found the beads were too small to accomplish what he had in mind. Cross-stitch came to him as an alternative, and after buying some mesh and yarn, he created his first work over the course of nine months, an effort that now looks amateur to him. “It’s what I call Kindergarten art.”
After being ordained, he decided to do larger tapestries, with bigger mesh and more yarn, to do “the same amount of work for a bigger product.
“The more I worked, the more I started having ideas,” he said. The fruits of his efforts represent nearly three decades of work. Each of the tapestries has its own theme and its own unique look, generated through its own creative process. For instance, Gauthier read out loud the Book of Genesis in English and French, to absorb the words and story as best as he could before recreating the book in what he calls “cave art,” with rudimentary pictures of the sun and earth, while his previous time working in the Fort McMurray/Fort McKay areas inspired the native imagery in the tapestry telling the story of the Virgin Mary.
When he decides what idea to pursue, he first draws it out on paper, photocopies to expand that original image, and then traces it to create the outline of figures. Since he is blind in one eye, he has figured out ways to compensate in creating depth perception.
Local artist Herman Poulin called Gauthier’s work “genuine Biblical treasures,” saying that the depicted scenes let the viewers “travel” with the tapestries. And in that travel, one finds out how much they have to learn about the book, he said.
“I feel (like) I practically know nothing about my Bible.”
Gauthier notes that October marks the beginning of the Year of Faith throughout the world, with the church embarking on different activities to celebrate. As part of the Year of Faith, once a month, he will display one tapestry in different locations, such as at the church, at local Catholic schools or at Sunnyside, and explain it in depth and answer any questions people have.
He hopes that like any art, the tapestries will communicate with people on a different level. For those who understand and connect with art, “it’s a whole language,” he notes.
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