Arts News

Biologically speaking, we can sustain life without art, but it wouldn’t be a very human life. L’Arche is all about sustaining and celebrating a fully human life, which makes the April art exhibition at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts so important, said Colette Halferty.

Halferty is part of the team at L’Arche Daybreak putting on With Our Own Hands, an art exhibition featuring the work of L’Arche core members and other artists who participate in L’Arche day programs.

Chesterton gives us best understanding of Dickens

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As the English-speaking world celebrates the bicentennial of Charles Dickens’ birth — according him a crown second only to William Shakespeare’s for sheer fecundity in the service of literary genius — we should also acknowledge how our understanding of Dickens was framed by the great Catholic writer and apologist G.K. Chesterton.

His acclaimed biography of Dickens was published in 1906 when Chesterton was 32. Today a literary biography usually includes a fair amount of material recounting its subject’s life. That was not the tradition a century ago, when biographical detail was lightly sketched and most attention paid to a writer’s books. It might be more accurate to call Chesterton’s biography a critical study, though even that term would mislead, suggesting as it does a level of objective detachment which the ever-exuberant Chesterton never displayed. It might be truest to call it a celebration.

The value of all of Chesterton’s biographies, particularly his Dickens, wasn’t so much their biographical veracity — the strokes were much too broad and even reckless for that — as Chesterton’s uncanny ability to isolate and magnify important truths about his subjects’ writing and thinking that no one had identified before. 

Early on in the book — and writing at a time when not so much was known about Dickens’ appalling treatment of his wife or the tetchiness of his relations with his publishers and professional colleagues — Chesterton makes a situation from Dickens’ infancy serve as a kind of template for his life. Commenting on how Dickens’ father would get the boy to sing for his elders, Chesterton writes:

“Some of the earliest glimpses we have of Charles Dickens show him to us perched on some chair or table singing comic songs in an atmosphere of perpetual applause. So, almost as soon as he can toddle, he steps into the glare of the footlights. He never stepped out of it until he died . . . Dickens had all his life the faults of the little boy who is kept up too late at night
. . . . In all the practical relations of his life he was what the child is in the last hours of an evening party, genuinely delighted, genuinely delightful, genuinely affectionate and happy, and yet in some strange way fundamentally exasperated and dangerously close to tears.”

Chesterton’s book appeared 36 years after Dicken’s death in 1870 at the age of 58, so the gap between their lifetimes was not unfathomably large. It would be like someone writing today about J.R.R. Tolkien or P.G. Wodehouse. Though Chesterton was born four years after Dickens’ death, in most ways they occupied the same world. Chesterton wrote at a time before Dickens was regarded as a classic writer.

The cultural overlords of the time tended to sneer at Dickens as today’s academic and critical writers reflexively dismiss a novelist who cranks out bestsellers a little too quickly. In the years between Dickens’ death and Chesterton’s book, the literary fashions of realism and expressionism led to criticism that Dickens’ world view was un-lifelike, that the perils his characters faced were exaggerated and their outcomes overly optimistic.

Chesterton argued that, of course, Dickens exaggerated, but like any self-respecting artist he only did so “when he found a truth to exaggerate. It is a deadly error (an error at the back of much of the false placidity of our politics) to suppose that lies are told with excess and luxuriance, and truths told with modesty and restraint. Some of the most frantic lies on the face of life are told with modesty and restraint; for the simple reason that only modesty and restraint will save them. . . . Truth alone can be exaggerated; nothing else can stand the strain.”

Chesterton believed Dickens achieved a rare and mystical balance in his books that awakened a drive for social reform. He makes the salient point that “this happy dreamer, this vulgar optimist
. . .  alone of modern writers did really destroy some of the wrongs he hated and bring about some of the reforms he desired. Dickens did help to pull down the debtors’ prisons. . . Dickens did leave his mark on parochialism, on nursing, on funerals, on public executions, on workhouses, on the Court of Chancery. . . If Dickens was an optimist he was an uncommonly active and useful kind of optimist.”

Chesterton’s biography of Dickens was an enormous commercial and critical success which, one typical review said, “marks the definite entry of its author into the serious walks of literature.” The book not only established Chesterton, it re-established Dickens as marked by the publication the very next year of the Everyman editions of Dickens’ entire oeuvre, with specially commissioned introductions by Chesterton to all two dozen volumes.

(Goodden is a freelance writer in London, Ont.)

Bite the dust: Vatican Museums employ old-fashioned way to preserve art

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VATICAN CITY - To counteract the onslaught of 20,000 visitors a day -- upward of 5 million a year -- the Vatican Museums have adopted an old-fashioned method to help protect its priceless works of art: dusting.

Current best practices for the preservation of museum pieces entail preventing or hindering problems from developing in the first place, Antonio Paolucci, director of the museums, said at a March 15 conference.

So-called preventative conservation includes high-tech solutions like climate control, protective displays and lighting systems that keep delicate colors and media from damage and deterioration, he said.

But the most overlooked -- and yet, best -- solution is the low-tech practice of dusting, buffing and tiny touch ups, he said at a conference on the museums' efforts to better protect the Vatican's artistic heritage.

With 200,000 objects -- 20,000 of which are on public display -- 27,000 square feet of frescoes, and 4.35 miles of exhibit space, the Vatican Museums have plenty to keep clean and cared for.

Past practice had been to care for items by restoring them after they succumbed to the forces of time and nature, said Vittoria Cimino, head of the museums' Office of Conservation.

Prevention, however, is the best medicine and in that effort, Paolucci established the conservation office in 2009 to be "the eye of the museum director to track the health of the (museums') heritage," he said.

The office then began a systematic protocol of dusting, monitoring and documenting every object, and storage and display room in the museums' custody.

Five days a week, every afternoon, four specialists trawl a designated area with brushes, dust cloths and specialized vacuums strapped to their backs. Workers may be mounted from cherry pickers, ladders or scaffolding to reach high ceilings, window sills and walls, bent over floor mosaics, gently polishing pottery and marble or sucking dust from the velvet drapes of gilded papal carriages.

The experts photograph every object and area they clean and write up a report documenting its current state and potential problems, Cimino said. Every department, including the restoration department, then have access to the data and know exactly what got cleaned and how it looks.

The cleaners make at least two rounds a year while heavily trafficked areas get a cleaning seven or eight times a year, she said.

The office has also installed nearly 100 sensors in various places to monitor and record everything from temperature to humidity and UV light intensity. Remote radio sensors relay the data to the central office in real time, allowing workers to pinpoint problems immediately and contact the appropriate technicians to intervene, she said.

Unfortunately, only a small portion of the museums is properly climate controlled. And custodians opening the windows to alleviate the stifling heat and humidity in the summer only make the problem worse, she said.

Some areas now have special drapes that reflect the sun's rays cutting down on the amount of heat and light pouring through, she added.

Paolucci said establishing the conservation office was one of his proudest achievements.

He said it is helping him fulfill his duty to his clients: preserving what was handed down from the past for "the men and women who stand in line waiting to see the museums and the men and women who have yet to born."

Autistic Edmonton artist finds a voice with her work

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EDMONTON - Meghan Burnside has been painting proficiently for seven years — about as long as she has been able to speak more than a few words.

The 27-year-old Edmonton artist is autistic and for the first 18 years of her life barely uttered a word. But last month one of her paintings — The Sacred Heart of Jesus — went on display at City Hall after she won first prize in a competition sponsored by Grant MacEwan University.

Tapping on heaven's door: New York Seminarian keeps a foot in the dance world

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VATICAN CITY - David Rider still does the occasional barrel roll, but now he usually does it wearing a Roman collar. He's kept his tap shoes since entering the seminary, but his goal has changed dramatically.

"I just want to be a normal parish priest. What I see myself doing is the thing I'm preparing to do, which is celebrate the Mass devoutly, hear confessions, baptize babies, and bring God to people in their suffering and their joy," the 27-year-old New York archdiocesan seminarian said.

Getting to the heart of the legend of Joan of Arc

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The product of a decidedly old-world upbringing, French-Canadian filmmaker Dany Chiasson has produced a thoughtful meditation on one of the world’s great saints that feels utterly timeless.

Chiasson grew up with her five siblings in the remote Iles de la Madeleine region of Quebec. Raised in a devoutly Catholic home, as a young girl Chiasson would make the long trek to Mass each Sunday and would listen, enthralled, as her grandmother talked about the saints, most particularly Joan of Arc (1412-31).

“Through Joan of Arc’s story, I learned about devotion, courage, going beyond our limits, France, the medieval times, women, the Catholic Church, the big schism, royalty . . .  all that was fascinating to me,” said Chiasson, wife of Toronto director Bruce McDonald.

God's Word: New exhibit shows Bible's evolution, beauty, perseverance

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VATICAN CITY - Desecration, censorship, the ravages of time and even nesting mice have been unable to destroy the word of God, handed down for millennia by people of faith.

The endurance of sacred Scripture is the centerpiece of a new interfaith exhibit called Verbum Domini, which brings to the Vatican rare biblical texts and artifacts spanning a period from the third century B.C. to the 17th century.

"We seek to tell the amazing story of the preservation and translation of the most loved, most debated and the best-selling book every year and of all time," said Steve Green, an entrepreneur and the primary benefactor of The Green Collection, a private collection of more than 40,000 biblical antiquities.

Vatican Secret Archives marks 400th anniversary with Rome exhibit

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ROME - Working with the city of Rome, the Vatican Secret Archives is celebrating its 400th anniversary with an exhibit designed to shed light not only on its holdings, but on some of the myth and mystery surrounding its collection of millions of documents.

"Lux in Arcana: The Vatican Secret Archives Reveals Itself" opened at Rome's Capitoline Museum Feb. 29 and is scheduled to remain open until Sept. 9.

Vatican archives' officials and exhibit curators said about a hundred original documents are being displayed outside the Vatican for the first time.

Reaching across the Israeli-Palestinian divide with Salt+Light's new documentary

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TORONTO - Fr. Tom Rosica knows he’s going to get letters. You don’t wade into the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis expecting bouquets of roses.

Controversy has never been a hallmark of Salt + Light TV. Since its launch in the wake of World Youth Day 2002, Rosica has consciously shaped the digital broadcaster as a voice of hope — clear, Catholic evangelism without the rancor, resentments or fear that so often mar religious television.

Despite efforts at balanced, just-the-facts reporting, Salt + Light’s next big documentary will elicit partisan passion for and against Israel, for and against the Palestinian leadership, when it airs later this year.

Messenger of the Sacred Heart won’t give up, and neither will its editor

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TORONTO - In 1966 Fr. Frederick Power, S.J., was assigned to be the editor of Canada’s longest running Catholic magazine. He was 42 years old and had no idea that he’d still be at the helm 46 years later. But earlier this month, the 500th edition of Canadian Messenger of the Sacred Heart was published under Power’s stewardship.

Power will turn 88 in May but says he has no plans to step down from the magazine that has been continuously published since 1891. Asked if he has worked out a succession plan for his retirement, the venerable editor smiled and said: “I’m working on it.” In 1997, when he passed the 31-year tenure of a previous editor, he thought: “I might as well keep going.”

Since every saint has a story, artist Caruso will try to tell it

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RICHMOND HILL, Ont. - Artist Antonio Caruso’s Catholic faith has influenced him from a very young age. And as a sculptor and painter, it has had a strong impact on the artist he became and the various religious subjects he pursues.

Growing up in a very religious family in Italy, he lost his father when he was only 13 years old.

“But I always had visions of my father through Jesus,” said Caruso, who moved to Canada permanently with his family in 1995. The artist now lives in Woodbridge, Ont.