March 11, 2011

Through Lent with Images

Episcopal Church and the Visual Arts has opened a Lenten gallery "Word and Example" and one of my "rapid icons" (a technique I use in teaching iconography as a means to seeing what is to express what might be) forms what might be called "the last Word."

The icon is called, "The widow waits for justice." She is the widow who persists in knocking at the judge's door, and will not give up until her righteous claims are recognized and met.

The model for this icon is the African-American actor Ruth Attaway. I had the pleasure of working with her many years ago when I designed the lighting and took the company and production photographs for the Theatre Off Park production of Harlem poet Owen Dodson's The Confession Stone — a powerful retelling of the story of Christ through the lens of the African-American culture and tradition. Ruth, whom some may recall from her role as housekeeper to Chance (Peter Sellers) in Being There, played Mary Magdalene at the age of 86, still keeping witness, still waiting to join her Lord and God. Her fierce characterization struck me as so suitable as the subject of this icon, written late last year. Ruth died some years back, in a fire in her apartment building in Harlem. She too has joined her Lord and God, and if she waits for justice, it is the justice we all await, tempered with the mercy of God.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Josh Thomas said...

I'd like to use this at Our Lenten theme this year concerns violence, abuse and exploitation of women. This is a wonderful illustration that does not need my words. Well done, Tobias.

(I got here from your Facebook post.)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Josh. Please feel free to use it at dailyoffice.

I was looking through some of Dodson's wonderful poems from "The Confession Stone." Really powerful stuff, all the more striking for the anachronisms. The section Ruth performes is called "Journals of the Magdalene: The Last Entries." It begins,

I'm eighty-six years old:
short of breath,
short of time.
I have no teeth to bite my enemies.
It is time to munch
up time, memories, enemies,
letters, crosses: repair my soul,
by drinking his water I washed
His feet in. Ahahaaaaahhhhaah!
Give me dandelions,
fresh potatoes, grapes,
to make my wine for drink
before my hair falls out.

Oh God, mend the scratches
in my mind:
I want Jesus to know me
as I was.
Oh god, heal my humpback,
clear my eyes of rheum,
grow my hair to red---
reverse me.

I want Jesus to know me
as I was.

Sadly, the book is out of print. Perhaps one day it will see the light of day again...

Anonymous said...

Tobias -

I saw this when saying MP from Josh's site today. I told my wife that it was almost unfair that someone should be as multiply talented as you are. I've known you as an exquisite writer. I didn't know you were a taletned visual artist as well. Thank you for sharing your gifts and vision.

Jack Zamboni+

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Jack, for your kind words. I hope the image helps focus the prayers of God's people on the patient endurance of the saints. A blessed Lent...