Chris Ware, a 20-year professional artist who works full-time for the The Lexington Herald Leader, said, “If you judged the historical significance of 2,000 years of Christian history by the secular media alone, you'd get two things: a sense of anticipation and celebration about the dawning new millennium, and a sense of urgency about what we may face with Y2K. The secular media preys on those topics, but loses perspective of what we're celebrating — 2,000 years of Christian history.” That's where Thomas' work fills the gap, he said.
Not only is the scope of the work impressive, said Ware, but so is the scholarship and research that went into creating it. “She was so exacting in terms of getting the details right,” Ware explained. “She carefully weighed the importance of each of the figures she chose to portray. … It almost takes your breath away to see, in one sitting, the unbroken chain of our Christian heritage all the way back to the birth of Christ. You realize that the saints from each century stand on the shoulders of those from preceding centuries, back to the early martyrs.”
‘Photo Album of Ancestors’
“Thomas' exhibit gives a new dimension to the understanding of history,” added Warren Carroll. “These images give Catholics a clearer idea of the history of their Church — all of its difficulties, sufferings and glories.”
Ware agreed. “She has given faces and bodies to saints we don't have photographs of. … When you realize, as a Christian, that this is like looking at a photo album of your ancestors, it's very moving and inspiring.”
Carroll called the exhibit a fitting example of the millennium recommendations issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Paul Henderson, executive director of the U.S. Bishops' Office for the Jubilee Year, explained that the NCCB Parish Guide to the Jubilee Year 2000 lists calendar events and celebration recommendations that include having two parish missions (on Feb. 26-27, and on Nov. 25-26) which emphasize the art and history of the Church.
“We recommend that parishes have exhibits featuring the art and history of the Catholic Church over the past 2,000 years,” said Henderson. He added that a parish might also consider including its own history, that of its diocese and patron saint.
An Exhibit for All
Thomas is working with the St. Martin de Porres Lay Dominican Community to produce the large, high-quality replications of the entire collection in a ready-for-display exhibition kit, including brochures and audiotape. In addition, a full-color, coffee-table-quality book featuring both the art and historical commentary will be ready for distribution early next year.
The exhibit is currently on display three days a week at Lexington's Gothic-style Christ Episcopal Cathedral, an opportunity arranged by the artist's sister.
Despite its clear Catholic content, Christians from other faiths are also flocking to the exhibit and giving it rave reviews. This thrills Thomas, who hopes to awaken a deeper appreciation of the history of Christianity among people of all faiths.
Karen Walker writes from San Juan Capistrano, California.