Each artist took the commission of producing a unique piece of artwork inspired by Hildegard of Bingen very seriously. They researched her life, soaked up her writings, analyzed her art and became immersed in her music to glean their own personal perspective of just who Hildegard was in her day and how she impacts our world today. As a result, each artist came away from their search for inspiration with unique visions and art forms that are best described in their own words.
Nancy Heiser’s artwork inspired by Hildegard is entitled “Illuminating the Ages”. In delving into her creative process for her piece, Nancy was intrigued by the notion of illumination as it pertained to Hildegard von Bingen. Nancy’s research of Hildegard revealed that she was “one woman, raised in seclusion in a monastery during the darkness of the Middle Ages, who has continued to be a beacon of light shining forth to this day. Her contributions have been multifaceted. From her haunting musical chants to her medical insight based upon knowledge of the natural world, her writings and illustrations showcase her broad spectrum of interests and talent. She was not afraid to challenge authority on many levels for social change.” Nancy goes on to say “I hope my work serves to illuminate and honor the legacy of Hildegard von Bingen in the same manner and tone of this one woman who spoke and created for spiritual and artistic growth among a continuum of voices and mediums.”
Sue Kouma Johnson was introduced to Hildegard early on. “Twenty years ago, I first heard the music of Hildegard von Bingen played at a friends’ house. I was drawn to it. I went right out and bought a tape. Later my husband got me a CD of her work. I listen to that music often, even today, and it brings me peace and inspiration.” Sue has completed a 24″ x 48″ piece entitled “Hildegard von Bingen, Medieval Mystic”. “My piece is done in acrylics on canvas. Since I love painting the Saints, this is an ideal subject for me.” In order to prepare for this piece, Sue “prayed for inspiration, read Hildegard’s writings and studied the images she painted. And I listened to Hildegard’s music while I worked on her portrait. I love her mysticism and closeness to God. I hope I have conveyed her love for God and His creation in this work.” Sue felt a personal connection to Hildegard who, Sue learned, “had tried to contain her visions. She got very sick and was in bed for a time. But when she obeyed the Voice of God in her and started writing and painting her visions, she found energy and strength. I can relate to this in that if I go too long without painting, I get anxious and feel “balled up” inside.”
Michael Montag chose to express his inspiration of Hildegard through sculpture. “A Feather on the Breath of God: The Song of Hildegard in Bronze” is a portrait bust of Hildegard. Standing 19 inches tall and cast in bronze. Michael describes the piece as “a celebration of a musician cooperating with the creativity of the Holy Spirit. Hildegard raises her hands in song, letting music flow through her quill feather and into our ears all these centuries later. The light of love swirls and envelops her. Our path is lit by the light of the Gospel set to music.” Michael shared his insights into the life of Hildegard, “Sacred artists and musicians are prisms. They take the light of divine love, filter it inside themselves and project an explosion of color. In her visions, Hildegard was overwhelmed by a brilliant living light coming from the heavens which had opened up. She entered this deep silence of God’s still small voice, and brought haunting music into the world.”
Michael gives a glimpse into the world of the artist and the “ultimate” artist. “Artists like Hildegard sometimes capture a faint glimpse of this beatific living light and bring back a dim ember of awe, joy, wonder and love to set the world on fire. In the creative process it is necessary to discern spirits and live in obedience to God and His church. God is the divine artist, and all creation is His masterpiece. We can only hope to imitate his creative acts like a child following a “paint by number” art kit. In an 1175 letter to her monk friend Guibert, Hildegard poetically describes her abandonment to divine will: ‘I stretch out my hands to God, so that like a feather, which lacks all solidity of strength and flies to the wind, I may be sustained by Him.’”
Liz Shea-McCoy captured her vision of Hildegard in a mixed media work, 25″ x 49″ entitled “Ageless Accompaniment”. In describing her creative process, Liz shares “Art for me is a personal journey. Each concept and type of medium I experience serves as a building block for future works. I can confidently say that my current work would not seem as complete to me if I would not have had such in-depth experiences in textiles and fibers. Right now the media I am exploring seems to perfectly convey my feelings aesthetically and artistically. I continue to surprise myself with the ever-changing styles which I use to reflect my ideas, but I suppose that is what art is: evolving with internal and external change, yet never forgetting where you’ve been and, more importantly, portraying those changes visually.”
Liz has developed a fascination with the elements of nature in expressing herself artistically. “I love capturing a feeling of extreme age and often incorporate subtle, earthy color schemes within my work. My preference for the dark end of the value scale affords my work a depth which allows the viewer personal interpretation as well as the ability to step back in time. I have always loved printmaking and am infatuated with both the collage and assemblage processes, losing myself in compositional development by tearing, cutting, layering and pasting together materials. Not only do I enjoy searching for interesting found elements to incorporate in my work, but I also utilize the printed images I have created.” Liz explains her piece inspired by Hildegard as “an assemblage symbolic of one of the many passions of Hildegard von Bingen who was famous for writing sacred music. In fact she describes it as the means of recapturing the original joy and beauty of paradise…..music was invented and musical instruments were made in order to worship God appropriately. Perhaps this explains why her music most often sounds like what we imagine angel’s singing to be like.”
Ann Williams has confided that she finds her greatest artistic satisfaction when she is painting or building a sculpture. “I believe I was created for this and that it is a personal act of worship to God as I look to Him for inspiration and direction in my artwork. My hope is that the work I create will inspire and encourage visual art as a way of worship and to challenge people to discover what it is God has made them for. I believe that there is nothing like being in the exact place God designed for you to be. He is the igniter of passion and the accomplisher of impossibly enormous things.” As a devout Christian, Ann embraces the idea that “all art is created with some purpose in mind and should be presented as such. Just as the Bible was written with intent, so art is created with purpose, even if it is made as “practice” or to “try something different. I desire to let God lead my life in all aspects, especially art, and hope to worship and serve Him in this manner all my days. I can’t wait to see what He has in store!”
For her Hildegard creation entitled “All Creation Praises”, Ann researched Hildegard’s life, her beliefs, and how she is recognized to help her create her signature piece. “After reading about Hildegard’s convictions concerning creation”, Ann says, “I knew that my piece would focus on this (creation) so I took that information with me and studied the creation story in Genesis 1. Through this study and some divine appointments, I was inspired to create “All Creation Praises.” The piece is an 8′ x 5 ½’ x 2′ glass, mosaic sculpture. “It was immediately evident that the vision for this project was beyond my own abilities and God reminded me that He was able, and we began the journey of co-creating.”
All five artists have found insights and inspiration from the life and work of Hildegard. We, as a viewing public, are enriched by the sharing of their visions and unique perspectives of the creative process and influences that bring their art to fruition. There will be several opportunities in the months ahead to view, experience and enjoy and these five signature pieces before they eventually find a permanent home in a physical facility for the Center. In the meantime, the Hildegard Center for the Arts and all associated with it extend their deepest appreciation for this wonderfully generous contribution to the artworld and Hildegard in particular. Please visit the Artists’ Bio’s section to learn more about them and their art and support their ongoing work to bring Arts to life in our community.