Elders of the Benedictines:
A Portrait and Interview Project
This project consists of a series of 30" x 30" acrylic on canvas portraits and companion written interviews with each elder from thirty Benedictine monasteries throughout the United States.
A variety of experiences I have had in previous projects inspired me to want to know more about the Benedictines. I decided to undertake a project that gave me the pleasure of meeting elders from various monasteries around the United States.
I approached monasteries that were on travel routes that I was taking on other business and on two month-long sweeps of the country, one in 1996 and one in 1998, that were planned to specifically interview Benedictines. The abbots and prioresses of these communities were kind enough to have me and many times my wife, Sammy, as their guests and in most cases they or the monastery's council of elders selected the representative of the community with whom I would work. Participants in the project were interviewed and photographed in a one- to two-day visit to each monastery. I then developed the written interviews and painted portraits in my studio. The portraits are not an attempt to give a photographic likeness of the elder. The paintings are an interpretation of my experiences with the elder and the monastery through my painting style. The character of these portraits hopefully expresses some of the range I found in these remarkable people: kindness, seriousness, intensity, gentleness, intelligence, and sincerity are all qualities I hope are reflected in the faces I have painted. The portraits are also filtered through my painting style of emphasized textural and color qualities which creates a personalized representation. After I distilled the taped interviews and my notes into written form, I sent a copy of the interview to the elder for corrections. It was imperative to me that the interviews accurately reflect the elders' ideas. The interviews consisted of the following set of questions that were sometimes all dealt with and sometimes edited to suit the elder.
- What led to your decision to join the Benedictine Order?
- How does the Benedictine tradition serve as a foundation for the way you live your spiritual life?
- How does the Benedictine tradition serve as a foundation for the way you live your physical life?
- What have been your primary duties within the order?
- Is there part of the Rule of St. Benedict that has a special significance to you?
- How has the monastic life shaped your attitude to the outside world?
- What do you believe are the most important values to uphold and promote?
- What has given you the most joy in your life?
- What has given you the most sorrow in your life?
- What are your hopes for the future?
- Do you have any regrets in having chosen a monastic life?
- What would you counsel a young person who was contemplating joining a Benedictine monastery?
The following are short excerpts from each of the thirty interviews to give you a sample of the elders' insight and wisdom...