-Icon Painting, May 19th, 2007, all photos © 2007 by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved
A week ago, I was at Art-A-Whirl in Northeast Minneapolis, where I spent most of the time in the Casket Arts Building (see Casket Arts Photoblog). ybonesy asked in a comment if the building had a funeral home during the time it was a casket factory.
The answer is no. But what I did find out was there were whole floors of needle-clad seamstresses who sewed quilted silk liners and cushions for the caskets.
I had pictured the factory as mostly men, a likely scenario for woodworking factories during the late 1800′s. According to John, one of the owners, that’s far from true. He said he thought the energy of the building was so good because of all the women that were there every day, honing their craft.
No funeral home. Mostly women. The building produced custom made caskets up until it was sold a few years ago.
I could imagine it – a woman of the time taking great pride in her needlework softening the loss of a family member (and the ride to the other side). John also said that some of the rosewood and cherry leftover from building the caskets had been used to patch the floors up on the 4th level. They discovered it when they sanded and refinished them.
I don’t know about you, but details like this light up my nights. The history of century-old people and architecture gives me something to hold on to, a thread of continuity, a place to stand. Buildings are living, breathing places we walk in and out of every day. We spend so much time there. We take them for granted.
One of the best parts of Art-A-Whirl was walking down the street a few blocks to St. Mary’s Russian Greek Orthodox Catholic Church built in 1905. Haunting melodies echoed between solid oak doors and out into the late afternoon sun. I couldn’t help but imagine some of the casket workers from the early 1900′s walking down to a summer service.
As part of their participation in last Saturday’s community art event, St. Mary’s had been giving painting lessons on iconography . Rows of jars of handground pigments graced a short table at the entrance to the service. When we arrived, they were breaking for a 30 minute service. Incense filled the air.
The man who established the church, Rev. Alexis Toth, was a rebel. What artist wouldn’t like that? The history is rich. You can read the whole account in New Advent.
Here’s a snippet:
The first great impulse to the establishment of the Russian Church in the United States on a large scale was given in 1891, when the late Rev. Alexis Toth, then a Ruthenian Greek Catholic priest in Minneapolis, disobeyed the instructions of Archbishop Ireland and, when threatened with a recall to his native country, left his parish, went to San Francisco, turned Orthodox, and submitted to Bishop Nicholas, and on returning to Minneapolis took over his whole parish to the Russian Orthodox Church.
The guy was on fire. And so were the artists I supported last weekend. I had a peaceful evening, full of art, friends, and the creative spirit. At the risk of sounding overly romantic, these kinds of connections sustain me.
Saturday, May 26th, 2007
-see Because Sometimes Catholicism *Is* Scary for another perspective