Shades of Mary at Neighbourhood Congregation – Lauren McKinley Renzetti

(this article appeared in The Canadian Unitarian, volume 55, number 1,  Spring 2013)

As a visual artist and a Unitarian, I wanted to stamp messages in a spiritual context, with an icon. For me, the Virgin Mary was possible, tangible, and real.

The Mary Installation at Neighbourhood Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Toronto consists of 9 groupings of framed prints, printed on a variety of papers, in various colours. These hang in the main sacred space, the “wiggle room” (for young children and nursing mothers, with a view of the sacred spaced, and audio from the sermon piped in), as well as the hallway.

The installation includes a print that measures 11 feet, with 10 Mary images on it. I initially planned to create 10 images all on one large piece of paper with the bible’s 10 Commandments written below, but I found the Commandments too negative. As Unitarian Universalists, we have seven main Principals. Some of them speak to more than one aspect of living well. I decided to take the essence of these Principals to create 10 practices, for viewers’ consideration:

Be Fearless–Express Yourself

Belonging–Find Your Community

Heed–Learn To Listen

Love–Cherish All Around

Go Deeper–Search for Truth

Think–Use Reasoning and Change Your Mind

Respect–Democracy Can Work

Faith–Keep Grace Present iI Your Life

Peace–All Life Is Truly Interconnected

Equality–All Life Is Equal

Along the broad staircase walking up to our sacred space, hangs another 11-foot panel in black and greys, with spiritual practices printed around the edges:

Practice

Acceptance

Compassion

Love

Truth

Forgiveness

Tolerance

Justice

Liberty

World Peace

Spirituality

Practice

As a printmaker, one of my influences is the silkscreens of Pop artist Andy Warhol. Warhol used bright, complementary colours to make his celebrity portraits vibrate. In my Mary print series, I played with analogous and complementary hues. The ritual of making was also important: more than 450 times, I rolled ink onto Mary’s image and burnished her onto paper. Most of the prints are layered reductions (material from the printing block is carved away between colour applications on a single print); each print contains four or more colours.

Growing up, my experience of traditional religions was very black and white, with no room for my ideas. It seemed to me I was being told what to believe. I was impressed with Unitarian Universalism’s invitation to come up with my own practice–how it allowed for individuals’ shades of religion and spiritual paths.

The words in my titles speak of Mary’s many faces. She’s described in much liturgical/academic writing as the first disciple and first saint. She was Mary, the poor human mother, the Mother of God, and has been depicted as belonging to a multitude of races, around the world. In this installation, Mary also speaks through me, through my art. Her words are not specific to any one religion. They remind, elevate, and encourage the growth of the human race.

If you would like them in your home, church, or congregation, please contact Lauren

These works can be viewed by clicking here