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Art pieces that surpass all understanding

The power of photography to tell peacemakers’ stories

The “A Peace of My Mind” art exhibit offers more than the traditional photography show. Photographer John Noltner uses portraits to “explore the meaning of peace, using personal stories and photos,” he says.
“I am concerned how often the world tries to concentrate on what separates,” Noltner told Metro Lutheran. “I prefer to look at our common humanity, not just the differences but also those things that build bridges.”
Perhaps that commitment explains the variety of individuals included as examples of communal peacemaking. Many of the individuals included in the photography exhibit are not likely to show up at traditional peace demonstrations or marches. Still, Noltner explains, these people are involved in making the world a better, more tolerant, more livable place.

Each of the 52 portraits in John Noltner’s “A Peace of Mind” art exhibit includes a stunning photo displayed with a 300-word excerpt from Noltner’s interview with the “peacemaker,” as well as a short description of the individual. Pictured are the Rev. Andre Golike, president of the Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic, and Al Quie, former governor of Minnesota and associate member of Minnetonka Lutheran Church (ELCA), Minnetonka, Minnesota. Metro Lutheran photos: Bob Hulteen

“This is not necessarily just an exhibit about the peace movement,” he explains. “It is a broader exposition than that. People working against war do bring a lot to the conversation, of course, but so do people who do other work.”
Noltner knew some of his subjects before he began his project; others were recommended. He eventually became conscious of demo- graphics, wanting a balance of gender and ethnicity. “Everyone has something to bring to the table.
“We all have an idea of the person we’d like to become,” Noltner says. “And, for most of us, it includes a vision of personal peace, community peace, and peace in the world. How we live it out may be different, because it is easy to think about, but harder to live out.”
He hopes his artistic offering will move viewers from “angry rhetoric” towards one another and toward looking at “the other” as an authentic person.
“I am pleasantly surprised about how willing people are to have conversation,” says Noltner. “There is a real appetite for this sort of discernment.”
Barbara Lund, director of the Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality, host to the exhibit in July, agrees that people hunger for such discussion. “Artists have a capacity to speak to our moral core more than an abstract campaign.” This fits Wisdom Ways mission to “move toward a love of God and neighbor without distraction.”

Things that make for art

Noltner has produced 52 unique works of art for the exhibit. Each portrait is printed on a 24”-by-36” photographic canvass wrapped around a wooden frame. Each one includes the name of the subject of the portrait, a brief description of her or his work, and an approximately 300 word excerpt from an interview Noltner conducted with the subject.
In 2009, the artist began interviewing people he believed met his definition of peacemaker. The subjects included a former governor and a homeless person.
The project is not complete, and may never be, according to Noltner. He will continue to interview interesting people whose stories and portraits may well be added to the exhibit.

The many faces of peacemaking

Noltner explains that it really is only a coincidence that the name of his church is Peace Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Bloomington. “The name of the congregation didn’t contribute to this exhibit.” Then, after a brief pause, he adds, “The congregation has been very supportive of the project, with members of the congregation being very encouraging after an adult forum.

Artist John Noltner (left) answers questions about his “A Peace of My Mind” art exhibit at the Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality on the St. Catherine’s University campus in St. Paul.

“But, just like my congregation, this project extends an invitation to everyone. It’s an invitation to reach out, to heal the leper, to feed the hungry, to be a good Samaritan. My Christian faith includes a broad view of Christianity’s activity in the world.”
“Our stories are more connected than we sometimes realize,” Lund says. “Artists bring us together in a fresh way.”
“I am touched by people’s ability to find peace and joy in difficult situations,” Noltner said. “There is a lot of grace in that.”
To find out more about where these portraits will be on display, visit Noltner’s website: Accompanying podcasts of the interviews are also available.

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