Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Cross View Lutheran to host arts festival with traveling Sadao Watanabe exhibit

"Christ Risen," Sadao Watanabe

A Twin Cities Lutheran congregation with one of the longest running juried art shows will celebrate its 30th anniversary with an exhibit featuring the works of esteemed Japanese Christian artist Sadao Watanabe. Cross View Lutheran Church (LCMS), Edina, Minnesota, will host the traveling show “Beauty Given by Grace: The Biblical Art of Sadao Watanabe.”

The show is part of a CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) traveling exhibition. This exhibit celebrates the new book Beauty Given by Grace, a history of the artist featuring a collection of essays about and reproductions of Watanabe’s work.

Watanabe (1913-1996) is considered to be Japan’s foremost Christian artist of the 20th century. Watanabe was baptized as a Christian at age 17 and devoted his life to depicting the stories of the Bible in a visual language understandable to the Japanese.

The CIVA website describes the artist’s goal in creating his art: “Watanabe’s fame notwithstanding, the artist’s chief desire was to create art that could be enjoyed by common people and displayed in ordinary settings. With this goal in view he chose scenes from the Bible as his primary subject matter in order to communicate the truth of Scripture in the Japanese context.” Toward this end, Watanabe used a traditional technique for dyeing textiles with hand-cut stencils from the Okinawa Islands to make prints on paper.

“I think he is well recognized,” Rebecca Waller, director of music and worship arts at Cross View, noted. “He wanted to create art that Japanese people could understand.”

Sadao Watanabe (right) and his wife; photo provided by Cross View Lutheran Church

The artist’s chief desire was to create art that could be enjoyed by common people and displayed in ordinary settings.

She noted that part of the attraction of the show is that Watanabe’s work is accessible so that people can understand the story being told, but it is just different enough from what people have in their homes so an exhibit allows them to appreciate a style they don’t own.

The visual arts convey gospel’s message

The “Beauty Given by Grace” exhibit will feature stencil prints, cards, and calendars by Sadao Watanabe. Additionally, a juried exhibit done by local Christian artists will also be on display. Intricately designed, the cards come in a variety of styles and formats, offering a panoramic view of the Bible beginning with the Garden of Eden in Genesis and concluding with the angelic trumpeters at the end of time in Revelation.

Paul Daniels, archivist at Luther Seminary and a previous juried artist at the Cross View Lutheran exhibit, notes that Cross View is one of a few Twin Cities Lutheran congregations that has raised the bar for integrating fine arts into a congregation. Daniels said that he has seen more congregations interested in featuring art exhibits and galleries, a trend he finds positive.

“More and more research indicates people learn differently and one way is through visual material,” Daniels said.

Noting that the visual arts are more commonly being integrated into the worship experience, Daniels notes that “visual materials help us interpret Scripture.” As an example, he points to the way stained glass was frequently used in churches built in the Medieval era to help people understand Bible stories.

"Pentecost," Sadao Watanabe, 1965

Beyond appreciating fine art, Waller notes that those visiting the Watanabe exhibit will be given a opportunity to experience a different cultural approach to the interpretation of Scripture.

“To see from the eyes of a person from another culture adds depth to their understanding,” Waller said. “It helps people appreciate the faith journey of these people.”

Cross View Lutheran‘s Watanabe exhibit runs April 21- May 19. An opening reception will be held on Sunday, April 21, from 1:00-4:00 p.m. It is free and open to the public. The exhibit is open from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and Tuesday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. More information is available at www.crossview.net or by calling 952/941-1094.

Those interested in purchasing reprints that are part of “Beauty Given by Grace” and/or learning more about the traveling exhibit can do so by visiting, http://civa.org/exhibits/traveling-exhibits/sadao-watanabe.

Waller also welcomes inquiries from anyone interested in learning about featuring the fine arts in their own congregation. She can be reached at rebecca@cross view.net.

“Far more churches are doing this,” Waller said. “Christian art has a meaning and a purpose beyond filling wall space.”

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