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Cathedral of the Rockies: A Home to Art During Holy Week

Local artists illustrate the Stations of the Cross

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A cathedral, according to Debbie Coutts, is more than a house of worship, it's "a home for the artist."

Coutts is the pastor of family life at the Cathedral of the Rockies First United Methodist Church, located downtown behind Boise High School. Coutts said the Cathedral of the Rockies, which is one of only two cathedrals in the city of Boise, works hard to honor that mission by inviting choirs, musicians, performers and visual artists into its immense hall.

The cathedral even served as a venue for the 2015 Treefort Music Fest, with Josh Ritter performing in the sanctuary on March 25.

This week, cathedral staff have transformed the walkways of the sanctuary into an art gallery with work chronicling Holy Week, when Christians observe the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Station 9 represents when Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem. It was painted by Amandalynn Sharbino.
  • Station 9 represents when Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem. It was painted by Amandalynn Sharbino.

Lining the pews are 14 works of art, each portraying one of the 14 Stations of the Cross, which depict Jesus on the days leading up to his crucifixion. The Cathedral of the Rockies started bringing local artists together to make a display for each station five years ago. The works are high quality and created in various media, from abstract and realistic paintings to photography and sculpture.

For local crafter Sue Roberts, it's a profound experience. She usually displays her work at Art in the Park and the Boise Art Museum's gift shop, but she has participated in this project since the first year, making her way through each of the stations.

This year she was tasked with Station Five, in which Jesus is judged by Pontius Pilate and sentenced to death.

She created a faceless, puppet-like figure to represent Pilate. His hands, made of clay, are dipping into a pot of water to wash away both the blood and his guilt, according to Roberts. Around Pilate's beard—made of sheep's wool from Nampa—she pinned words and sentences to represent what may have been going through his mind when he made the decision to execute Jesus.

"A lot of these things have stretched my abilities as a crafter," Roberts said. "I am used to making Raggedy Ann dolls. ... It's pushed me forward as an artist and very much enriched me spiritually every year."

Roberts also created prayers to go with each station, so worshippers can go on a self-guided tour and reflect on each piece through prayer. Roberts and Coutts have both worked in past years to make their stations interactive and thought-provoking.

One year, Coutts made a life-size cross. People could write down their sins and then nail them to the wood.

"Each time that hammer would hit the nail, it would echo through here," Coutts said, looking up at the tall ceilings and stained glass windows. "It's heavy, but it's very moving. Before it was over [last year], the entire cross was covered."

Coutts estimates that hundreds of people will walk through the sanctuary to look at the art. The tradition attracts people from outside the First United Methodist Church congregation as well, such as Nampa artist Connie Sales.

Artist Connie Sales tackled Station 12, where Jesus is on the cross and surrounded by his mother and disciples. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Artist Connie Sales tackled Station 12, where Jesus is on the cross and surrounded by his mother and disciples.

Sales' had never been in the cathedral before starting on her piece, which represents Station 12, in which Jesus is on the cross surrounded by his mother and disciples. Looking at it, though, observers wouldn't be able to tell. It's the only purely abstract piece in the lineup, with the canvas covered in soft earth tones, golds and touches of blue.

She made it with latex paint, charcoal, graphite, metallic grit and handmade ink. She makes her ink from steel wool and vinegar, along with dead leaves she picks up on her walks and leftover coffee grounds.

For Sales, making this painting was a deeply spiritual experience. She used a meditative practice called Visio Divina, or divine seeing.

"It's an ancient, contemplative form of prayer, a meditative form of reading the scriptures," she said. "The process is a matter of really sitting and letting the drawing speak to you."

She believes that if she creates an abstract image, then the observer can connect on a more emotional level without preconceptions, and feel more immersed in the artwork.

Sales is an artist by trade and has a show opening up on First Thursday as well, at Gallery Five18.

The artwork will be on display through the evening of April 3 and the church is open to the public 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. throughout the week.