Laura Duggan is the woman behind the ever-growing Sacred Art Show: Catholic Art by Catholic Artists that takes place in Lincoln, Nebraska, each spring. Her interest in sacred art seems to have been guided by the Sacred Heart. When making rosaries for her son’s teachers as a gift upon his 8th grade graduation, Laura began to wonder if there were other companies making medals and crucifixes for rosaries. One day, she searched online for antique medals for rosaries, and upon finding beautiful antique and vintage medals, she was immediately inspired to start her own business making rosaries and beautiful religious jewelry.
That very afternoon, Duggan told her husband that she was starting a jewelry business.
“As soon as I saw these antique medals, an image of a necklace came into my mind. Instead of hiding these magnificent medals under clothing, women could bring them out for all to see; and it’s a beautiful way to proclaim our faith.” From the first pieces of jewelry with vintage medals, to today when Duggan carves her own religious medals from pure silver and bronze, she has helped to provide people with rosaries, necklaces, and bracelets that are not only beautiful, but also help to provide opportunities for evangelization.
Duggan first found a well-established art show in which to display and sell her art. She made a few secular pieces as well as her pieces featuring vintage religious medals. “I found myself talking only about the religious pieces. For me, that’s what’s so full of meaning and spirituality.”
The moment is still crystal clear in her mind:
“I know exactly where I was standing when this thought popped into my mind; we need to have a Catholic art show, with beautiful pieces of art and all different types of media presented. I imagined a festive atmosphere with priests, religious and laity, and everyone surrounded by complete beauty.”
The Sacred Art Show is born
Duggan approached a few fellow artists, two painters who were friends of hers, and suggested the idea of a Catholic art show. Terrence St. Hilaire’s response was, “I’ve always wanted to focus more on sacred art,” and thus, the idea and the name of the show were born.
That first year, the Sacred Art Show was held in a bed and breakfast with seven artists presenting work. Their mission: “to enhance spiritual devotion and bring beauty into the world, all for the Glory of God!”
When Duggan talked about Catholic or sacred art in those early days, she was often met with confused looks and questions such as: “what do you mean by Catholic art?”
“Even lifelong Catholics would be confused by the idea of sacred art. I would explain by giving them examples such as images of Christ, the Blessed Mother, the Eucharist, the saints, and the Passion. Sacred art lifts your heart and mind to the spiritual.”
Duggan explained that it shocked her that despite the centuries wherein the Church not only supported but also defended and upheld sacred art in architecture, paintings, stained glass, and more, Catholics have lost even the idea of sacred art. “We’ve lost that identity and connection of the Church and art. We’ve gone from a rich tradition to the average Catholic not knowing what sacred art is. Throughout the history of the Catholic Church, people who were illiterate or didn’t have access to books could learn about our Faith and scripture through stained glass and artwork. Today, we have instant access to all forms of media, yet we have lost the connection to art!”
The Sacred Art Show today
Since then, how the show has grown. Now in its sixth year, the show will take place on April 4 and 5, at the Blessed John XXIII Diocesan Center in Lincoln, Nebraska with 20 artists coming from many different states including Georgia, Texas, Minnesota, and more. Even the Bishop of Lincoln, Bishop James Conley, will be participating this year by collaborating on a painting with artist Sue Kouma Johnson, one of the Sacred Art Show’s original artists. The painting will be sold at the art show by silent auction with 100% of the proceeds donated to St. Gianna’s Women’s Home.
The art show has grown thanks to word of mouth and social media. Besides the Sacred Art Show website, there is also a Facebook page where information and pictures of various artists’ works are shared from time to time. Besides the visual arts, a seminarian schola has sung at the show and a violinist and pianist fill the halls with beautiful music on the wine and hors d’oeuvres night. This year, sculptor Sondra Jonson will be giving a talk for the artists, encouraging them to continue in sacred art because they never know whose lives they may touch through their work.
Duggan believes that sacred art should: “draw you in and elevate your mind. Good sacred art should enhance your spiritual life; it belongs not only in churches, but also in the home.”
Not only has the Sacred Art Show brought the idea of religious art back to the Catholic community, but it has also helped in making it easy to place beautiful sacred art in homes. Many of the artists sell very reasonably priced prints and notecards of their artwork at the show that people can take home and use to evangelize and uplift their own families and friends.
The atmosphere is a festive one much as Duggan first envisioned. As laity, priests and religious move from table to table, they are greeted by the artists themselves who are happy to explain the devotion and inspiration that moved them as they painted or crafted each particular image of Christ, his Blessed Mother, or a saint. The artists, who now have a wonderful sense of community with one another, view this time at the show as an opportunity to evangelize.
Fruit of the evangelization through sacred art
These days, Duggan doesn’t hear the question “what is sacred art?” anymore. More often, she’s greeted with questions such as “when is the sacred art show this year?” and “do you have posters and postcards that I can put up and share to spread the word?”
Perhaps best of all, Duggan says that the next generation won’t ever have to ask, “what is sacred art?” Children are welcome at the show on both days, and a little corner is set up for children’s activities and art. “Perhaps some of these children will be the artists creating sacred art in the future!”
image: Rosary tenner with Sacred Heart hand-carved in bronze by Laura Duggan