Envisioning Spirituality, a new exhibit that opens today, Dec. 5, at Hot Shops Art Center, is truly a “group effort” curated by artist Dorothy Tuma. Organized in conjunction with Project Interfaith, the exhibit features more than 30 area artists devoted to “exploring religious and spiritual identities through multi-media.”

Though Envisioning Spirituality is a visual response to the project’s “RavelUnravel” program, it was born initially as a result of a traumatic experience for Tuma herself. In 2007, the artist nearly died and then retreated from her previous daily lifestyle for nearly a year to rebuild the memory loss accompanying the illness. In the process of healing, Tuma felt an intensified closeness to God, which seemed to help her with the long and tedious path of healing. 

Tuma then teamed up with artist Lori Elliott-Bartle and Project Interfaith 18 months ago, to actively reach out to artists, asking that they investigate and “envision their spirituality” and express it somehow in their chosen medium. As Tuma’s life became more inward and contemplative, this process of retrieval also affected her art.

Tuma’s photo in this show, “In the Quiet of Winter,” done during the healing period, is an example of this profound and ultimately content-rich change in her work.  Giving it enough time, viewers can relate to this work as a visual reminder of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” We can feel the cold of the scene, as well as its quiet serenity, experienced by so many of us on snowy Midwestern days. The black-white neutrals seem a necessary choice of values.

The artists’ task was to first examine their beliefs, and then to sort out a way of expressing their thoughts in a visual format that was true to the original impulse—a way to creatively translate that belief on a meaningful level for themselves, as well as their audience. This objective seemed to push the general content level of much of the work higher than they might have otherwise done in the final work. The challenge forced artists to spend much more time contemplating how they could express their personal beliefs.

Stand-out pieces in this show are ones done by long-time art practitioners:  Lori Elliott-Bartles’ “Embrace,” shown above, three oil images from Paula Wallace, a    lovely portrait, “Wondering”, from Pat Lontor, Dar Vande Voort’s “The Means of Grace”, and Linda Hatfield’s “Blind Faith.”  All of these works not only fulfilled the spiritual assignment, but also are of high quality, aesthetically. 

 Responses varied widely, from literal religious responses, such as a photo of the “Dome” in Israel, by Monica Blizek, or Duane Pieper’s “Walk Around Jerusalem” and Caroline Schmitz’s “Spirit of God” ceramic figure, to the text-laden approaches of Sara Sumnick Wamsat’s sculptural assemblage, Bill Roberts’ humorous “22.2 Psalm”, and Neil Orian’s “Best Ever Self-Portrait.”

Several stitched/fabric pieces are also in the show: Laurie Mason’s intricately stitched and beaded rondo, Tearee Caswell’s abstract machine-quilted squares, a weaving by Agneta Gaines, “Unraveling”, and Randi Hunter’s complex canvas street scene, with glued fabric and mixed-media additions.

 There are also children’s responses—drawings  by Tarini Reddipalli and Yutika Singh, as well as a “Tibetan Prayer Wheel” done by kids at Augustana Lutheran Church, displayed on Mark Goodall’s sculptural wheel shape. 

A few works offer a more oblique approach:  Bart Vargas’ “My Country” and David Williams’ “Alone”, asking us to stretch our understanding of their intent more than other works tended to do.

Envisioning Spirituality will show at Hot Shops’ north gallery until December 30th, with the opening December 5th, 5:30-9:00, plus the regular Holiday Open House at Hot Shops, 1301 Nicholas, on December 7th and 8th. For details go to hotshops.com.

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