One of the first St. Francis of Assisi parishioners to contact me to become a member of the Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts is a wonderful lady and artist by the name of Valerie Szlatenyi. In our discussion she shared with me the work she had recently done for the Wakefield Baptist Church Memorial Garden here in Wakefield, Rhode Island. The work is a large garden mosaic casting in glass and stone. It appears in a quiet corner on the Baptist Church yard grounds.
Valerie described the process she went through as she decided upon her composition for the church yard. She mentioned “Like a voice talking,” an impression “came to me that a mosaic dove would be part of the garden.” At first she wasn’t sure how to do it but she resigned herself to forge ahead and listen to her Muse.
It wasn’t a simple task, details of the dove began to fill her mind, and she realized that careful planning was essential for it to be a success. Combining prayer, with the assistance of a friend, she made numerous visits to the Atlantic coastline a few miles away and began to reflect on the shapes of the various stones that she was collecting.
An assortment of shapes, sizes, and shades of color, all began to fill her mind with impression that some of the stones had characteristics of various human personalities in that some were worn, some scarred, and some smoothed with the passage of time. The rough and tumble of countless waves, sand particles, and fellow stones sliding, and sometimes crashing into them, forever changing their appearance.
Valerie’s meditative trips to the shore helped her formulate her design which required stones of various quality, texture, and definition. In some cases she could see that the stones were made better for all the tumultuous behavior they had undergone. New lines of grain were exposed: mica, colored granite, sedimentary rock, or various minerals long hidden after eons of time now exposed to the elements of sea, wind, and sand. It was as if the best of the stone had to be burnished by nature – and nature’s God – in order to show its true complexity; the life of the seashore mirroring the life of the land walkers.
Like Valerie, my wife and I enjoy walking the beautiful Rhode Island beaches that face the Atlantic Ocean. We are amazed at the lovely collection of small stones and rocks that at times appear after an especially violent storm. Our imaginations kick in when we come across broken, yet harmless, sea glass.
Colored glass has a unique role to play in the enjoyment level of many beachcombers. Especially along the Atlantic Coast we are probably all impressed by their similarity to jewels from the treasure chests of long dead pirates. They sit at the shoreline, under a clear blanket of water, shimmering in the afternoon sun – beckoning you to pick them up and rejoice at your good fortune.
Valerie decided to center her creative efforts on composing a mosaic dove for the local church’s healing and prayer garden. She explains that the dove has always been a symbol of peace, love, and purity. Expanding the symbolism out onto a theological level, we can say that the dove, as one of the symbols for the Holy Spirit, is a representation of God’s love and grace coming to those who participate in the Sacramental life of the Church. Her composition also asks us to find the three feathers on the neck of the dove. She explains that they represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit united in love. The heart of the dove expresses the never ending love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father – and united as the Holy Trinity – their love for us.
Well done Valerie, it is a beautiful and inspiring composition.
Copyright © 2011 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved
Photo and image Copyright © 2011 Valerie Szlatenyi All Rights Reserved