Artist: Painting of Mary Magdalen reminds us of our mortality and that Jesus is calling us to himself

E. Vincent Wood III painted this year’s stewardship poster which was unveiled at the “A Gift Unveiled” event held Sept. 9 at Church of the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Wichita. (Courtesy photo)

E. Vincent Wood III couldn’t commit early last summer to a request to paint the next image for the diocesan Stewardship Office.

The paint was drying or was ready to be applied on so many other commissions, he said it would be difficult for him to take on another project.

“I really want to,” he told Jim Simpson, “and so let me let me kind of give you a bit of a non-committal – I’m basically in. And that’s kind of how it started.”

Met with Jim Simpson

It took a meeting at the Chancery in Wichita with Simpson, a Wichita artist and co-chair of A Gift Unveiled, Audrey Ronnfeldt, the director of the Stewardship Office, and Fr. John Jirak, the Vicar for the diocesan office of Evangelization, Discipleship, and Stewardship, for Wood to commit to painting the next stewardship image.

“At that point Jim and I had a talk about the theme, ‘I’ve Been Rescued. How Will I Respond?’ and I threw out a few ideas,” he said.

They discussed an image of Jesus and Peter and other ideas when the thought of an image of Mary Magdalen came up.

“I’ve got some other projects,” he said at the meeting, “but I promise it will be on my mind. I want to listen to what is on your heart and what your leanings are and to be responsive – and not necessarily that I’ve got an idea and I want to make this.”

Waiting for inspiration

The meeting ended without a decision and a commitment by all to keep considering where the Holy Spirit was leading.
A couple of months later Ronnfeldt emailed an article to Wood about Mary Magdalen that had moved her. “I read that article and at that point, it seemed like, OK, this is the direction…and in my mind I had a preliminary idea of a composition.”

Wood, who has a bachelor of fine arts from Wichita State University and who continued his studies at an art school in Umbria, Italy, began researching how other artists have depicted the idea of mercy and Mary Magdalene.

“You don’t have to be an art historian to pick up on certain repeated visual elements or visual styles,” he said, “So, I put together two compositions, one with Christ’s hand reaching out, and one with Mary on her own.”

The decision to use the proposal with Christ’s hand was unanimous, Wood said, adding that his art students agreed with the consensus.

Elements in the painting

Why a skull? A skull in art primarily represents death but also represents transformation and change.

“In many paintings it’s to remind us of our own mortality,” Wood said. “From my research of painting of the Magdalene, she is often depicted with one so that we might consider that death is coming. But also the idea that isn’t it more valuable to spend a life in righteousness versus the temporary pleasures of this world?”

Wood said he wanted to bring the sense of wonder to Mary Magdalene’s face, adding that he wanted to get across a sense of the salvation offered by Jesus despite our personal brokenness and our sin nature.

“And that outstretched hand…am I really being offered this? I tried to capture that,” he said.

It took about three weeks of painting from a live model using a photo as a reference to complete the work, Wood said.

The painting is being purchased by the Church of the Magdalen and will eventually be displayed there.

Stewardship is not about getting, it’s about becoming Jesus’ disciples

The spirit of stewardship is not about getting, should not be undertaken with a sense of entitlement, nor is it like a contract, according to Fr. John Jirak, the diocesan vicar for Evangelization, Discipleship, and Stewardship.

“We are the ones called to be sent to bring about this renewal at what I call the subterranean level – it has to be in our blood,” he told a gym full of the faithful attending A Gift Unveiled on Friday, Sept. 9, at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Wichita.

Those attending the social and banquet were surrounded by displays of religious art by local artists.

Seeing God in beauty

“We’re highlighting the transcendental beauty tonight as part of our stewardship,” he said adding that St. Thomas Aquinas says: “Beauty is the good made visible.”

“That’s what we need to be as disciples, the good made visible,” he said.

In referring to this year’s stewardship image of Mary Magdalene, Father Jirak said. “I think she captures wonderfully where we are at and where we are being invited. We’re being invited to go to a whole next level.”

The Magdalen was rescued

Mary Magdalene understood herself as one who had been rescued, he said. “That is our next step in renewing and reclaiming the stewardship way of life.”

We should be passionate about the stewardship way of life because we have been touched so deeply, he added. “I’m Mary Magdalene. You’re Mary Magdalene.”

The starting point of stewardship is understanding that we are all sinners. “Once I begin to taste how close the Lord is and how he saved me, a whole new life begins to open along with a whole new passion and energy for responding to God.”