I don't remember who introduced me to Mel Ahlborn at the 2006 General Convention. I was roaming through the exhibit hall and she was sitting at the booth sponsored by Episcopal Church in the Visual Arts, of which I believe she was then president. She had heard of Daily Episcopalian, the one-person blog I was then running, and we got to talking about my plans for something bigger and more far reaching--the thing that eventually became Episcopal Café.
I told her that I wanted the Café to have a homepage built around a featured work of art that would change monthly, but that I had no idea how to acquire such art.
"I am going to tell you something," she said. "And then you are going to want to kiss me."
I did not actually kiss her when she told me that she would be happy to provide such art and essays to accompany it, settling instead on spasmodic arm motions that made me look as though I were being administered mild, rhythmic electrical shocks. I would like to think these conveyed my excitement and my gratitude.
Now, after almost three years, Mel is stepping down as Art Editor of the Café, and it is time to convey my gratitude once again. Without Mel's contributions, the Café would have been a darker, duller, more predictable place: another text-heavy talk shop where beauty and wonder might occasionally be discussed, but never exhibited. Our distinctive front page works almost entirely because week after week Mel supplied the centerpiece. We are going to miss her, both as an artist, a curator, and, especially, as a colleague. I asked Mel, if she had any parting words, and this is what she wrote to me:
"Deep within each of us lies an innocence that desires to look upon the face of God and live. Art offers a way to address this universal desire. While engaging the viewer and the artist in the same plane of attention, art can break open our accustomed ways of seeing, and make room for new understandings.”
To learn more about Mel and her work, click Read more.
One favor Mel did for us before departing was to suggest that I ask C. Robin Janning to be her successor. Both Robin's art and her prose will be familiar to devotees of the Art blog. She is the editor in chief of the Episcopal Church in the Visual Arts, and former keeper of ECVA's blog Image & Spirit. The blog Gramercy Digital Diary may be the best place online to immerse yourself in her bold, vibrant paintings. But you can learn a lot about her here (pages 62-66) of Oranges and Sardines as well.
In accepting my invitation to become our new art editor, she wrote:
I would like to mention that the community of The Artists Registry @ ECVA is populated by artists who represent most of the mainline Protestant denominations, congregational churches, the Roman Catholic Church, Judaism ...as well as artists who are Episcopalian. It is a point of pride for me that I can say that The Episcopal Church supports artists who work at the intersections of art and faith. That, for me, is a far broader sense of mission and purpose than simply promoting Episcopalian artists.
Certainly as my knowledge of the mission and workings of The Episcopal Church itself has been expanded by my reading at Episcopal Café, I would like to continue that trend at the Art Blog. I believe that God and Art happen everywhere (or Ein Od Milvado: There is nothing else besides God.) I would certainly wish to open eyes to the art that brings God to earth in places other than one church, one temple, or another.
Thank you, Robin. We look forward to having our eyes opened.
Mel Ahlborn is the principle of Illumination Studio, an artists’ studio in San Francisco’s East Bay serving museums, film companies, academic institutions and private clients since 1989. Her work is shown throughout the United States, with venues including The Getty Center in Los Angeles; the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, and the Washington (D.C.) National Cathedral. She has also exhibited in England at the British Library, Oxford College and Corpus Christi College. Ahlborn's most recent show was 'Mira! Hark!,” an Advent season exhibit of interpretative oil paintings based on the Book of Hours, Corr Hall Chapel, Villanova University. The 14 works in Ahlborn’s exhibit explore the moment of vision when, according to the Gospel of Luke, shepherds and shepherdesses are met with a light of unspeakable beauty. The figures in the 16" by 12" paintings are styled after miniatures found in surviving hand-written and illuminated copies of the 15th century book of worship.