Catholic artists marry their art with their faith
September 14, 2022
When Anna Koehn of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Gretna first saw a photograph of “The Child Who Was Never Born,” a sculpture by Martin Hudacek, she immediately felt inspired to choreograph a dance.
“Beauty evokes a response,” said Koehn, an accomplished dancer with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Ballet. “It is an invitation. When I encounter beauty, I long to be a part of it.”
Koehn’s encounter with the sculpture also sparked a desire to gather Catholic artists of all genres for camaraderie and mutual encouragement. After several years of prayer and consideration, she launched the Fellowship of Catholic Artists in Omaha to do just that.
“We meet with the purpose of encouraging one another in our art and in our faith, inspiring and helping one another use our gifts for the kingdom of God,” Koehn said. “We’re trying to marry the beauty of art and the holiness of our faith.”
Koehn, also a painter, said the group started in 2020 with just a few members and now includes more than 20 professional and amateur artists including musicians, poets, painters, sculptors, playwrights and more. Group activities range from creating personal works of art to attending cultural events and discussing “Letter to Artists” by Pope Saint John Paul II, who, as a young man, was himself an actor and playwright.
The group meets the first Friday of each month at the Holy Family Shrine in Gretna.
Annemarie Drvol, poet and member of St. James Parish in Omaha, said she values the support provided by other artists in the group, particularly as she strives to make time for writing amidst the busyness of raising a family.
“I’m trying to live the dream of the married vocation while at the same time exercising that artist side of me,” said Drvol, a mother of three young children. “(I enjoy) meeting other mothers who are trying to do this ‘mom-thing’ and also be an artist.”
Koehn said she understands this tension keenly as the mother of six children, including a set of twins.
In the early years of her marriage, Koehn taught ballet and shared her art with local nursing home residents. As her family grew, Koehn said she “phased out” these activities, but experienced a void that impacted her spiritual life.
“In parenting, you can really burn out,” she said. “To be able to do something creative on the side is really recharging for my vocation.”
ALL BEAUTY POINTS TO GOD
Following a family tragedy, Koehn said she felt drawn into a deeper relationship with God, and through prayer she realized her desires for creativity were a gift from him.
“I felt this permission to start creating again,” she said.
Koehn transformed a corner of her garage into an art studio and now sells acrylic and watercolor paintings along with trays and coasters made of resin. While few of Koehn’s pieces are overtly religious in nature, she said she believes that all beauty points to God.
“We need beauty because it helps us realize there is much more than this material world and much more than the sadness, sin and ugliness,” she said. “Beauty gives us hope.”
As such, Koehn said art plays a “key role in evangelization.”
“Some people need a real tangible experience of encountering beauty that touches their heart to be able to receive the truth,” she said.
“I sometimes like it when (poetry) is not overtly Christian or Catholic in content, because I want to raise people’s minds to the Lord without them knowing it, if they’re resistant,” she said. “You don’t want to be too clear in a poem. You’ve got to have some mystery in your writing.”
Drvol said many of her poems originate in encounters with God in prayer or through enjoyment of nature with her family.
Following the sudden death of her husband, Michael Burton, in 2013, Drvol turned to writing as a way to process her grief. In addition to finding an outlet to “release” these difficult feelings, Drvol said she noticed a desire to encourage others with her art.
“I hoped (my poetry) could be an example to other widow and widowers – anyone who has lost important people in their lives – to be observant and watch for the way the Lord is touching them too,” she said.
SUPPORT FOR LOCAL ARTISTS
Stephen Tefft, a singer and songwriter of 30 years, joined the Fellowship of Catholic Artists at the invitation of his wife, Nancy, a storyteller and rosary maker.
“I went into it thinking, ‘I’m going to encourage some of these other artists out there that are struggling a little bit with their identities,’” he said. “It’s difficult to get your art heard, seen or appreciated. You can start to feel like you’re all alone.”
Tefft, a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha, encouraged Catholics to support local artists when possible.
“There are so many really good musicians just in our community,” he said.
Father Taylor Leffler, associate pastor at St. Wenceslaus Parish in Omaha, said that although art does not seem as popular in Nebraska as sports, scouting or 4-H, it is vital in developing the human person, and it provides a contemplative gateway for learning how to pray.
“In the long run of Catholicism, the Church is to thank for the safeguarding and fostering of so many of the arts throughout history,” he said. “Even in our churches now and the way we celebrate the liturgy, the arts play such an important role.”
Father Leffler said he admires the Fellowship of Catholic Artists and enjoys participating in their events on occasion as a musician. He said he especially looks forward to the group’s upcoming event, “Life is Beautiful: Visual and Performing Arts Show,” at the Holy Family Shrine throughout the month of October.
Father Leffler called the line-up “a real showcase of the sacred” and encouraged people to attend.
For Koehn, the show is a fulfillment of the dream that began when she choreographed her pro-life dance years ago. In addition to a desire for artistic community, Koehn envisioned a collaboration of Catholic artists performing together to celebrate the sanctity of life.
“I’m hoping that this show just surrounds people with beauty and lifts their minds and hearts to God,” she said.
For more information on the Fellowship of Catholic Artists and the “Life is Beautiful: Visual and Performing Art Show,” visit www.fellowshipofcatholicartists.com.