Images of Christ

Two local artists named finalists in National Sacred Art exhibit

By Emily Booker

Picture Christ. What image comes to your mind?

Sacred art forms our understanding of religious concepts, like who Christ is, and educates us on the faith, using rich imagery and symbolism to pass down stories and meaning.

Two artists in the Diocese of Knoxville, Clorinda Bell and Katie Schmid, use their artistic gifts to create beauty and share the faith. And their talent is getting noticed. Both women have been selected as finalists in the National Sacred Art Exhibit.

The National Eucharistic Revival partnered with St. Edmund’s Retreat, which hosts the Sacred Art Institute, to invite artists from all over the country to share their talents in exploration and celebration of sacred art, especially Christ and the eucharistic mystery.

A sneak peek of the 109 selected pieces was shown at St. Edmund’s Retreat in New London, Conn., in April. The art exhibit “Do This In Memory of Me” will open May 31 at the Blessed Michael McGivney Pilgrimage Center in New Haven, Conn.

EWTN host Father Chris Alar will present the awards to the winners at the exhibit’s opening reception on May 31. Selected works will be showcased at the 10th National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in July.

Ms. Bell and Ms. Schmid’s paintings each show the deep love of Christ in unique and beautiful ways.

Artist Clorinda Bell sits in her Knoxville art studio. To the right is her latest painting of Jesus and Mary, which will soon be displayed at a church in Jasper, Ga. Ms. Bell sees her religious art as a way of sharing the love of God and the faith to others. (Photo Emily Booker)

A watchful eye

Clorinda Bell was born in Peru and now lives in Knoxville. She studied at the National University of San Antonio and earned a bachelor’s degree in education. Ms. Bell is self-taught in the Cuzco style of painting. The Cuzco style, which is defined by its predominance of red, yellow, and earth colors; the use of gold leaf; and its dramatic imagery, dates back to the 16th century in Peru.

Ms. Bell learned about the National Sacred Art Exhibit by chance at the St. Joseph School Christmas market in December.

“One lady came to my booth, and she said, ‘Oh, you should enter the sacred art competition. It’s huge, and you are a great artist.’ And she gave me the information. So, I said OK, thank you so much.”

There wasn’t time to begin a new painting for the competition, but Ms. Bell happened to be working on a piece for herself that she believed would be perfect for the exhibit.

“Deacon Danny Herman had come here to buy a painting, the Good Shepherd,” she said. “And he explained to me why he is connected to the painting and all this, and I thought, this is so beautiful.”

After speaking with Deacon Herman (who will be ordained a priest for the Diocese of Knoxville in June), Ms. Bell began reflecting more on Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

“The Good Shepherd refers to Jesus Christ’s role as a caring, protected leader, similar to how a shepherd looks after sheep,” she explained. “In the Bible, Jesus describes Himself as the good shepherd who knows each of His sheep by name and lays down His life for them. That image emphasizes His dedication and love for His followers. He guides them, provides for their needs, and protects them from harm.”

Artist Clorinda Bell demonstrates Christ’s love and protection for His sheep in her painting of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The title of Good Shepherd conveys a message of safety and trust. (Photo courtesy Clorinda Bell)

“The good shepherd metaphor is powerful because it conveys a message of safety and trust and love and care. It shows that like a good shepherd, Jesus is always present, guiding his followers through life changes and ensuring they are never alone,” she added.

She began working on another painting of the Good Shepherd and had been working on it bit by bit when she learned about the competition. After putting the finishing touches on the painting, she submitted it, and it was chosen.

The whole process felt like God was guiding it, she said.

“For me, it is an honor to be there just participating. And I think everything is God’s planning. I didn’t look for that exhibition. The way it all turned out is like God the Spirit telling me to do it. I think it’s God guiding me,” she said.

“The Good Shepherd” shows Christ lovingly holding and protecting a sheep.

“The portrait is meant to inspire faith and belief and show Jesus as an ever-watchful caregiver,” Ms. Bell said. “I think that is very powerful for us because we’re the sheep of God, right? So, He cares about us. I think this image can represent that for everybody.”

Ms. Bell hopes her art can inspire faith and remind believers of the love of God. She is currently finishing a commissioned piece of Jesus and the Virgin Mary for Our Lady of the Mountains Parish in Jasper, Ga.

“I use the beauty of the art as exactly that: beauty, to share the love of God and the faith. So, I hope it helps some people open up better and look for that truth,” she said.

You can see more of Ms. Bell’s work at www.clorysgallery.com.

Katie Schmid paints at an outdoor event. Ms. Schmid says at the core, all artists want to make artwork they love and share that with people. She does that both through her art and her teaching. (Photo courtesy Katie Schmid)

A self-giving love

Katie Schmid, who is the art instructor at Knoxville Catholic High School, also learned of the art competition by chance through someone else.

“I found out about it through Sister Madeline Rose [Kraemer, OP]. I shared it with the students at the school,” Ms. Schmid said.

Her painting, “Sacrifice of the Pelican, Passion of the Christ II,” was one of the pieces selected.

“I felt very blessed by it. I’m honored and really grateful that they considered me and picked this piece for the exhibit to share with people,” she said.

“I think people coming to it will have a great love for the Eucharist, but maybe there will be some who are learning and growing. I love that aspect of people just being where they are and coming to understand different things through these different pieces that are at the show. I’m really glad to be a part of so many other great works that are going to be at the event,” she added.

Ms. Schmid has both bachelor of fine arts and master of fine arts degrees from the Laguna College of Art of Design. She described her style as classical in the realm of realism, inspired by artists like Zurbarán and El Greco and “those artists who had that depth of faith in their work but were able to use technical skills that really supported that love and faith that they had behind the painting.”

As part of her graduate schoolwork, Ms. Schmid looked at expressions of Christian faith in art, particularly ones that were lesser known or had been forgotten about over time. That is when she learned about the sacred pelican.

Artist Katie Schmid uses the image of the pelican to represent the self-giving love of Christ. The pelican, once thought to strike its own breast to feed its children, has been used as a symbol of sacrificial love and charity in the Church for centuries. (Photo courtesy Katie Schmid)

The legend of the sacrificial pelican predates Christianity. The legend was that in times of famine, a mother pelican would strike her chest with her long beak and feed her children with her own blood. The pelican therefore became a symbol of sacrifice and charity, Ms. Schmid explained. In the early Christian Church, Christians used this symbol to represent Christ’s sacrificial love.

“I think that people would often see that mothering love, that you give yourself to your kids. And the Church is such a mother to us, and Christ is like the head of the Church. He made the ultimate sacrifice for us to be with Him forever in eternity. It’s such a huge thing to contemplate on. I think that God knows how to understand things through things that we know in our own life and see. Being able to contemplate on things for a while and having these animals kind of be a conduit for understanding and deepening of faith is rather beautiful,” Ms. Schmid explained.

The sacred pelican can be found in art, architecture, and literature throughout the centuries, from medieval bestiaries, to Shakespeare, to parish altars right here in the Diocese of Knoxville.

“I think it kind of connects people to the history, like, oh, this has been in the Church for a very long time actually,” she said. “With that sacred symbolism, hopefully more people come to realize that, yeah, these are ways that we can connect to our faith in Christ more and really enrich us and help us to grow, keeping our eyes out for how He speaks to us through beauty and through art and through nature.”

In “Sacrifice of the Pelican, Passion of the Christ II,” Ms. Schmid has a pelican set in a dark sea sitting on a crown of thorns. The baby chicks are close to the mother’s chest. A large red moon is in the background.

“I was looking at parts of the book of Joel. There’s a reference to the blood moon in regard to Christ’s coming,” Ms. Schmid said. “So, for me it was kind of representing His presence to us, whether that be His coming again, but also more of that dramatic presence of Him shedding His blood for us. Because it’s like this circular shape, [the moon] behind the pelican can also represent the Eucharist and coming to us in the Eucharist.”

Ms. Schmid tries to inspire her students to create work they are passionate about and to deeply engage with art. She said she had supportive teachers herself as a young artist, from her mother to her Catholic high school art teacher in Birmingham, Ala., to college.

Both Ms. Bell and Ms. Schmid expressed the love for fine art’s ability to touch the soul and teach others about the faith.

“I found at the core of every artist they want to be making work that they love and that they find a desire to produce and share with people,” Ms. Schmid said. “All of the arts engage the human person in different faculties, in different senses. With the visual arts we’re really appealing to the eyes and the eyes connecting to the heart and mind. For me, there’s nothing greater than being able to paint about the life of faith and all the beautiful history and aspects of that: our life and the life of mankind and Christianity.”

You can see more of Ms. Schmid’s work at www.katieschmid.com.

Comments 1

  1. The Good Shepherd image is beautiful. Congratulations to the artist.

    The Pelican is less recognizable as our Lord, but the image does convey a sacrificial love.

    I was blessed to work as a nurse for many years. As I cared for my patients, they would tell me stories about their lives. One story was told by a Vietnamese gentleman about his journey from Vietnam to America traveling by boat. He was one of many “boat people.” He said the conditions aboard the boat were deplorable. He told of many instances where staying alive was a matter of the most importance, which led to desperate measure. One story that I remember was about a young mother with a nursing baby. She was emaciated and so malnourished that her milk stopped flowing. She did the only thing she could think of to do. She cut her ripples to allow blood to flow. That is how they found her, with her baby nursing after she died. It was and still is a story that makes me cry. Her trial led to her sacrifice for her child much like our Lord on the cross.
    Congratulations to the artist of the Pelican.

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