Over the years, it has given my family a sense of consolation and helped us see the sudden and most traumatic death of our babies in the light of eternity. It reminds me that they are in heaven, and that’s where they are meant to be.In a corner of my daughter’s room rests a religious image that is far more than just devotional. It is a picture that cuts straight to the heart: It is a divinely inspired painting of an angel holding a newborn baby. The artist of the work, Nellie Edwards, gave it to me at a Eucharistic congress shortly after my husband and I lost our conjoined infant twin girls.
When I long to hold them, it comforts me to visually see an image of who is holding them now. When my 7-year-old daughter Mariam has turned to the image in moments of questioning and grief, it has whispered a message of peace to her heart, too.
Numerous people have also been touched by Edwards’ art.
“One young woman approached me at a diocesan event to tell me that she and her husband had had no success conceiving a child,” Edwards told the Register. “She said her husband gave her a print of Mother of Life one day, and after she received it, she felt a great peace come over her. Somehow, she said, she felt assured they would have a child, and they soon did. Furthermore, a gentleman named Steve Gignac called me from Connecticut recently and shared that he has felt called to give prints of Mother of Life to people who are carrying very heavy crosses. He told me that when he gave the print to one woman who had a miscarriage, she held it close to her heart and wept, sensing the love of Jesus and Mary in a way that gave her a great measure of peace.”
Edwards, a mother of eight and longtime pro-life activist (who twice was on trial for sidewalk counseling), began doing sacred fine art in her early ’50s. Today, she is known nationally for her work (PaintedFaith.net), especially for her version of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as portrayed in her work Mother of Life. The World Apostolate of Fatima has accepted her children’s book about the Eucharist to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Fatima (Jacinta’s Miracle Veil). Her “portrait” of Our Lady knighting St. Dominic appears in Marian Father Donald Calloway’s new book on the Rosary, as well.
Edwards’ journey toward discovering her artistic talent is fascinating.
“From early childhood, God put a spark in me, the dream of one day being a fine-art painter. As the mother of eight, I hoped to take lessons once the kids were raised, but that never happened. One night in 2007, a strange idea came to me: to do a portrait of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (now canonized). I waved it off, especially since I did not have the talent for such, but it kept coming back. I finally decided that if it was from God, it should be evident. At about the halfway point [of my painting it], a priest called to ask me to give a pro-life talk at an annual Indian congress. He had no way of knowing what I was working on. Now I suspected that the artwork indeed had a pro-life mission.”
After completing the portrait, Edwards grew certain she was on the right path.
“When I gave the talk five months later, it was a call to action and was well received,” she continued. “I perceived that God wanted the Indian community to have a more visible presence in the cause for life. I felt so blessed when the National Tekakwitha Conference immediately approved of the portrait, which I titled Holding on to Faith.”
In recent years, Edwards’ work has lit a blazing fire of hope in the Catholic community across the country, as many crisis-pregnancy centers, pro-life groups and individuals have found Mother of Life to be an evocative visual aid, including National LIFE Runners, a dynamic ministry with more than 4,500 teammates in all 50 states and 26 countries that raises prayers, awareness and funds for pro-life ministry (LifeRunners.org/about).
LIFE Runners discovered Mother of Life in 2011 and asked for permission to use it on “LIFE Runners Creed” holy cards. LIFE Runners marched with a banner of Mother of Life at the 2012 March for Life, as well.
“Her holy artwork has helped keep me close to Christ,” said Pat Castle, National LIFE Runners coach and founder. “Mary said, ‘Do whatever he tells you’ (John 2:5). Nellie’s holy artwork has helped fuel the team that I am blessed to lead in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
“Mother of Life is such a powerful image of a crisis pregnancy (from St. Joseph’s perspective). This image reminds us of Mary’s ‘Yes’ to God and his gift of life and inspires us to do the same as she did.”
By offering her talents to the pro-life effort, Edwards uses them to help the gospel of life to flourish.
“The Church, from its infancy, employed visual aids to teach and to inspire the faithful to great devotion to God,” she said.
“Often, an evocative piece of art serves as a springboard for conversion ... igniting a longing for relationship with Christ, for learning more about him and his Church. I’d also like to let pastors and pro-life groups know that I am making banners and canvas prints of Mother of Life available with no great profit to myself, with the hope that they may stir the hearts and minds of those who, heretofore, think of abortion as a right.”
By keeping up her spiritual life, Edwards is able to keep her work focused on the glory of God.
“Before I set my feet on the floor, I pray the Morning Offering and the Chaplet to the Holy Face, which helps protect against the evil one. The sacramental life is a vital avenue to oneness with Christ. I try to receive the holy Eucharist at least four days a week, go to adoration and pray the daily Rosary. These spiritual practices help to keep the focus on Christ and remind me that my artwork is a total gift of God, to help build the culture of life.”
Supporters of Edwards’ work, such as Bishop John Folda of the Diocese of Fargo, North Dakota, say Edwards’ art is a blessing.
“I have been privileged to meet Nellie Edwards and have seen some of her works of art. Her art has a meditative quality and conveys the beauty of the human person. I believe we need pro-life artists like Nellie because the arts are so much a part of our culture.
“If we truly wish to build a culture of life in our time, then our arts must reflect the sanctity of life. So much of what we see today in the media and the arts demeans the value of life, so it is a blessing to find artists like Nellie who can express visually the graciousness of God and the beauty of life.”
Amanda Evinger writes from Bismarck, North Dakota.
EWTNRC.com has a version of Mother of Life available on a coffee mug.