Creative Quarantining: Families Make Time for Homemade Art
Confined to hearth and home, humans are doing what humans have always done: making things.
Amid all the hardships of COVID-19 comes an unexpected blessing: People have time to create works of art at home again. This new phenomenon harkens to cultures of the past, when most art was created at home. Families entertained each other with storytelling. They played instruments and sang songs. They learned to draw and embroider, and thus they filled their homes with the works of their hands. Out of this hearty domestic culture developed the broader culture of peoples and nations. Now that life has slowed down for most of us, and deposited us squarely in hearth and home, we are doing what humans have always done: We make things.
College senior Rachel Butek, who is now home in Colfax, Wisconsin, decided to commemorate this unique time with her family by creating a 365-day family journal. “Rachel is in love with medieval manuscripts,” says her mom, Frances, who raised her on Catholic crafts through her business Illuminated Ink. Rachel sewed the journal from scratch and used homemade glue to bind it. Each day, members of her family add their own drawings, calligraphy, tributes and prayers. Frances says that it is a work of art “that continues to grow as the days go by.”
Butek family journal
You don’t have to come with a background in medieval workmanship to create a home masterpiece. Moms Rosi Bauer, of Riverview, Florida, and Michelle Hoeper, from Sauk Centre, Minnesota, painted their own stained-glass windows with their kids. Bauer’s four kids are home from school, so in addition to posting grammar charts on the wall, she wanted them to have a daily reminder of their faith.
“Jake, age 8, is preparing for his first Eucharist this year,” Bauer told the Register. “With the unfortunate closing of churches and cancellation of Easter Mass, we wanted to bring some sort of celebration into our home. Using painter’s tape and washable paint, we designed and decorated a stained-glass window on our back sliding door. Jake and his siblings took turns choosing colors to paint the sections. It is the new focal point of our home, as we long for the day we are able to set foot back into our beautiful church with all its stained-glass windows.”
Hoeper’s seven kids “couldn’t believe when Mom started painting on the window.” Eight-year-old Larissa helped with the projects for five solid hours.
Hoeper family stained glass
Michelle said her family found it a way of “fortifying our domestic church!”
This creativity brings to mind times much harder than our own, when home life was the only source of preserving the faith. From 1620 to 1867, Catholics of Japan, under threat of martyrdom, bereft of priests, passed the faith down to their children in their homes. Though we’re nowhere near there, and hope never to be, these saintly souls can inspire modern efforts.
COVID-19 has provoked differing reactions among Catholics. This is expressed well in the embroidered monstrance of Mia Eckes of Coon Rapids, Minnesota. “All that tangled mess of colorful thread in the middle of the cross represents us, joined with Christ.” The piece was originally inspired two years ago by Mia’s doula (a health professional who assists a woman in labor), as Mia fought back feelings of anxiety about the impending birth of twins and many other hardships that surrounded her. “She said to me, ‘Sometimes, the only way out is through.’ This stuck with me and inspired me to continue to stitch and prayerfully work my way through this piece, believing something beautiful would come from it. Prayers were answered in ways I couldn’t imagine. Today I want to encourage any open heart that beauty and joy are the fruits of labor; of enduring difficulty, pain and suffering.”
embroidery of Mia Eckes
Creating art mimics the earthly pilgrimage we are all making. Our goal is the beauty of heaven, or, rather, the divine source of that beauty, but we get there by persevering through the ups and downs along the way.
Erika Vandiver of Owensboro, Kentucky, teaches her children that exact lesson through the simple art of coloring, using pictures she herself designed and drew. When the pandemic hit, she turned the coloring pages into prayer cards and made them available to family and friends.
colorful prayer of Erika Vandiver
Kristina Murphy spends her time in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, watching over someone on dialysis while enriching pictures of Our Lady with a technique called diamond painting. Raised Protestant, she always desired the life of a nun. A convert with grown children, she now enjoys the quiet prayer and slow pace of her work. She gives the finished pictures as gifts.
diamond painting of Kristina Murphy
Christy Wall captures spring and the coming of new life in her photography. “We live in the beautiful foothills of Yosemite on a small ranch. I love watching the mothers and their babies, those looks of sweet tenderness and peace. My own daughter just gave birth to our first grandson.”
photography of Christy Wall
Soundtrack for a Pandemic
And, of course, there’s music. What would an evening at home be without it? Pianist Sofia Escobedo of Diamondhead, Mississippi, and cellist Peter Collura of Hopewell Junction, New York, have found time to compose and record their own music. Both are age 10, by the way.
pianist Sofia Escobedo
Princeton professor Robert George, a self-described hillbilly from West Virginia, posts a “Daily Banjo Minute” on Twitter and Facebook in the certain hope that no one can be sad when a banjo is playing. As he explained, “For Good Friday and Easter I substituted guitar instrumentals: the hymn O Sacred Head Surrounded from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion for Good Friday and Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling for Easter.”
banjo-playing professor Robert George also plays the guitar
In lieu of the Daily Banjo Minute for Day 22, which is Holy Saturday, here is a favorite hymn of mine "Softly and Tenderly." pic.twitter.com/JSBiyYGMD4
— Robert P. George (@McCormickProf) April 11, 2020
Professor George’s remark that where he comes from “little boys are issued banjos at birth” can remind us that true culture is organic. Anthony Esolen, author of The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord, echoes this view. “There’s more genuine culture in a family gathering together with their guitars and fiddles to sing Irish folk songs than in half the English departments in the United States.”
Art From Heaven
Where two or three are gathered seeking beauty, or, rather, the Source of beauty, art becomes a prayer. And if you are Greg and Jennifer Willits, prayer becomes art. They lead a “Rosary Army” online using custom art to aid meditation. “Nearly every night, people from around the world have been sending us photos of them praying along with us.”
A return to home art has become a source of actual grace in this time of anxiety, a way to redeem the time and make it a prayer. But it is more.
Art is the human expression of God’s creativity. It is his gift to us, and it is our gift back to him. Catholic talents may lie in painting furniture or in singing, in rosary-making, or in creating comic-book lives of the saints, in writing Catholic-themed novels or in improvising Gregorian chant on an organ alone in a church. Using the tools the Creator gave individuals, the faithful offer the work back to him. Ultimately, the faithful do so for the same reason the medieval workman carved a detailed figure of a bird into a beam of the cathedral, knowing it would be hidden away by the roof: “Because God sees it.”
Susie Lloyd writes from Pennsylvania.