Monday, October 14, 2013

IONA ART SANCTUARY

When I exited a Sunday afternoon reading at a unique art gallery on The Mountain, and a man with deep blue eyes, wearing a baseball cap, bowed gallantly, kissed my hand, and invited me to read at a literary event in the Fall of 2014, my response to the invitation was a resounding “yes.”

Yesterday, I attended a reading by local authors of the Autumn Assembly of Authors at IONA Art Sanctuary.  I had been invited by my friend, the Rev. Francis Walter, who read from his novel, Goldilocks and the Three Bears at Mobile Bay. Following this amusing reading, I was re-introduced to Edward Carlos, a sculptor and artist I met the first year I moved to Sewanee, Tennessee, shortly after he opened his Art Sanctuary. I had been deeply impressed by his religious and spiritual art, some of which reflected visionary events that he experienced during four visits to Iona, a small island off the western coast of Scotland.

On this particular Sunday afternoon, three writers performed at the reading: my friend Francis who read from his unpublished manuscript, David Bowman who read from his book, Sewanee in Stone, and Lynn Cimino Hurt who read from her unpublished manuscript of poetry. The reading was one among a slate of Fall readings and art exhibits sponsored by Carlos, who was called to “offer a place for writers and artists to share their creative work with each other and the community, and the emphasis is to source creativity and spirituality,” Carlos says. I might add that many Sewanee writers and artists produce rich creative work that isn't read at the annual Sewanee Writers Conference, which features mostly national luminaries, so Carlos provides an outstanding service for less-recognized literary and artistic figures.
The IONA Art Sanctuary sits atop a hill off Garnertown Road and overlooks a field of dried sedge grass and seven acres of lake and woods. The building is situated on a N-S, E-W axis and offers art lovers a view of colorful sunsets as they exit the 70’x64’ building. The interior of the sanctuary follows the design of a nave with a Celtic cross shape. A 20' high gate stands in the center of the field of sedge grass and symbolizes an entrance between the physical world and the spiritual world. It reminded me of a similar gate at Rip Winkle Gardens on Jefferson Island near my home of New Iberia, Louisiana. Above the entrance on the IONA veranda the sculpt of an angel hovers, part of a scene about the Nativity, which is further carried out inside with a life-sized “Creation Nativity.”
At the reading, before Carlos introduced the first writer, he pointed out a vertical 19 l/2' x 10’ piece of art behind the improvised stage, a complex photographic work by Carlos’s son, Adam Carlos, that depicts an earth mother figure superimposed over images of a forest and a lake. Entitled “Lost Love," it contains 260 separate but overlapping 16”x20” black and white photos..  It is a stunning backdrop to reading performances, and Carlos explained that the building ceiling was constructed to accommodate this piece of art.

When I’m in New Iberia part of the year, I often read some of my poetry at Paul Schexnayder’s Art Gallery and am scheduled to read at this gallery with the new Louisiana poet laureate in November. I know that combining art exhibits and literary performances in one event results in an afternoon or evening of interesting entertainment, so I understand the efficacy of holding the Autumn Assembly of Authors at IONA, a highly creative venue.
Carlos has also sponsored the exhibits of many talented art students and area artists at IONA Art Sanctuary. The year that he retired from his position as chair of the Fine Arts Department and director of the university gallery at the University of the South, staff, community members, retired faculty members, and students helped install his two-month long exhibit, “Creation: Aurora Borealis” at the university gallery. My architect friend, Sarah Boykin, a graduate of Sewanee who now teaches at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, spearheaded a drive to raise funds to provide for a new gallery in the Nabit Art Building, which was named the Edward Carlos Gallery of Art.  Although Carlos lives on campus with his wife, Sarah, and a flock of dogs, he spends his meditative moments at the IONA Art Sanctuary. 
I look forward to seeing my blue-eyed host and to reading my poetry next Fall during the Autumn Assembly of Authors at IONA Art Sanctuary, another "thin" place of inspiration and beauty on The Mountain.  
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