Mending the “Broken Jug”– An Interview with Kathleen Carr

Catholic Art Guild
Kathleen Carr at Catholic Art Guild Conference. Photo Credit: Ruth Durkin.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the Catholic Art Guild’s first annual conference and meeting the President and Founder of the Guild, Kathleen Carr. I followed up with what I naively thought a simple question, “What is your hope for the Catholic Art Guild?” What I received in return was such a thoughtful, detailed response it warranted its own article. Kathleen is an artist with a passion for restoring the Sacred in the visual arts. When I asked for a photo of herself to include along with this interview, she sent me a photo of a self portrait she painted in 2016. At first glance, I truly thought it was a photograph. I am still in awe at the level of detail in this painting. When I opened the attachment, I turned to my husband saying, “Look! Can you believe this is a painting? Someone actually painted this!” We were both amazed.

Self Portrait, Kathleen Carr
Self Portrait. Painted by Kathleen Carr in 2016.

Check out the interview below to learn more about the Catholic Art Guild and Kathleen’s vision for the Guild.

Kate Frantz (KF): What is your hope for the Catholic Art Guild?

Kathleen Carr (KC): The most succinct way I could put it would be, “My hope for the Catholic Art Guild would be that it helps to “restore the Sacred” in the Catholic Church which begins and ends with the Holy Mass.”  However, because of the work needed to do that, as well as helping artists/architects and those with a gift for beauty to offer their gifts for the greater glory of God, there are many things that need to happen to “mend that broken jug.”

KF: I enjoyed the analogy of the “broken jug” used at your annual conference. Could you summarize what you mean by this for those who were unable to attend?

KC: The mission of the Catholic Art Guild is analogous to the “miracle of the jug,” a well-known miracle performed by St. John Cantius, the patron saint of the Catholic Art Guild. The story centers around St. John Cantius walking in the town square when he encountered a servant girl who was sent into town to fetch a jug of water. Upon filling the jug, she accidentally dropped and broke it, and began to weep fearing punishment from her mistress. Moved to compassion by her weeping, St. John Cantius collected the pieces of the jug and miraculously restored it to its unbroken condition through prayer. When the servant arrived back to her mistress, it was discovered that the jug was no longer filled with water, but it had been miraculously changed into sweet milk. Such was the holiness of St. John Cantius– to restore what was once broken through the power of prayer.

This miraculous story is emblematic of what the Catholic Art Guild hopes to achieve in “restoring the Sacred” in the visual arts and the Holy Mass. In fact, this miracle is so emblematic that it’s at the center of the Catholic Art Guild logo:

Catholic Art Guild Logo

Like St. John Cantius restoring the jug, we believe the best way to restore beauty to the culture and within the Church is through prayer. Prayer is at the heart of our organization along with our educational, philosophical, social, and skill building events.

KF: This is a beautiful symbol of the change you seek. What are some of the broken pieces, so to speak, or challenges to “restoring the Sacred” in the visual arts?

KC: Sadly, modernist philosophy with its desire to cast away traditional beauty and order, in favor of novelty, resulted in a loss of skill building for artists. Personally, I went through one of the top art colleges in the country but there weren’t atelier style skill building rigors as part of their curriculum. Atelier means “workshop” or “studio” in French and is a growing movement in the art world. It refers to the Atelier Method, training artists in the time-honored techniques that were passed down through the centuries.  Instead, artists taught themselves and attended critiques and were subjected to all sorts of confusing modernist art theory. Since I had natural ability, I managed to do okay but was detoured down a road of abstract painting as an impressionable young student who was looking to my professors for guidance and affirmation. It was only until I discovered the atelier movement years later and sought out better skill building, that my work really did turn a corner and I was better able to express myself, control my materials and paint to the vision I had in my imagination, something all artists require. When I spent the time and many hours learning from a master artist, something that was the norm from the Renaissance until the dawn of modernism, my work vastly improved.

The Man of Sorrows
The Man of Sorrows. Oil Painting by Kathleen Carr.


KF: Now that we have a better understanding of the “broken pieces,” how do you propose we “mend the broken jug”?

KC: So much of what has transpired in the Church, meaning the destruction of beauty in the liturgy, church buildings, vestments, and art, is down to Modernist and Utilitarian thinking getting into the Church. In order to counter this erroneous philosophy which produces such ugliness, it’s necessary to provide sound philosophy and theology which in turn will help to re-educate artists, patrons, clergy as well as your everyday church goer.

KF: How will the Guild, specifically, support this mission?

KC: The Guild seeks to form a community. We seek to help form artists to better offer their gifts to God and their fellow man, and we seek to give voice to Truth, Beauty & Goodness. Our events revolve around philosophical talks with top scholars, artists, architects and the like. We also offer social events which help foster community. Most events involve the beautiful Holy Masses at St. John Cantius, where we receive the graces for this mission, pray together for renewal, and are formed properly by the beautiful liturgy.

As the very least, the Guild can become the voice for the “custodians of beauty.” This means the Guild is not just for artists, but for anyone who cares about and sees the importance of beauty and helping our mission.  Presently in the Church we don’t have a voice or at least one that’s unified into a large organization and community. There’s strength in community. We can do so much to support one another, network, and offer good philosophy and theology on the apologetics of beauty and the great need for it in our culture and world.

Sadly, unless artists are made to understand that there is better training, the art produced by many seeking to offer their gifts to God, will fall short and remain amateurish. The Guild has begun to address this very component to “restoring the Sacred” by beginning to offer old world, skill building workshops and making artists aware of atelier programs, until the time comes—God willing—that an atelier could be offered directly through the Guild. That remains to be seen at the moment. The Guild does hope to showcase the work of some of the more accomplished artists by staging a juried exhibition and show sometime in 2018. Beautiful religious art is being made today and we’d like to showcase it, even if it’s a small and growing pool of artists.

Lastly, but arguably most importantly, the Guild is about evangelization. There’s a lot of talk about evangelization and renewing the culture these days and differing views on how to go about it. Our Church is a mission church, so we should all be working to use our individual gifts for evangelization. The Guild is finally offering a place and a voice for those with a gift for beauty or desire to restore it.

“I believe God given artistic gifts are directly connected to the Sacred liturgy, helping to make the unseen, seen and therefore bringing the heavenly liturgy into something that’s experienced by the senses.”

This is seen especially through visually framing the Mass with beautiful churches, art, vestments and instruments.  The ancient Latin phrase “Lex orandi lex credendi lex vivendi ” best sums up this notion. Essentially, how one prays, changes what one believes and one’s belief system changes one’s behavior, or “How we worship changes how we live!”  If we want the culture to change, then we must focus on the “cult” i.e the Holy Mass or the way we worship. If we want people to behave morally and beautifully then the way the Mass is offered matters greatly, particularly if it is beautiful, transcendent and reminds us that we will one day stand before God.

“Beauty helps to draw us out of ourselves and it points to the eternal. It reminds us that we’re mortal, so we must begin to focus on God.”

If the Church begins to focus again on beauty and invest in it, the better it is for those of us wanting to offer our gifts to God and the more visible witness the Church becomes to the fact that it is also True and Good. Beauty, Truth & Goodness are always intertwined and if one is denigrated, so too will the other attributes.

KF: Speaking of worship, I recently attended my first High Latin Mass at St. John Cantius. Can you describe how Latin Mass fits in with your vision of “restoring the Sacred” in the visual arts?

KC: My heart was so gladdened to read that the conference provided your first experience with the traditional liturgy. It was one of my sincere hopes that I could help make the traditional Mass, which in my opinion is largely invisible, visible to more people, especially to those of us with a sensitivity to beauty in art, music and architecture and a deep desire for reverence.

When I first encountered the old Mass it was at St. John Cantius as a result of my work with the Guild. I found it a transporting, life changing experience, even more breathtaking than what I saw in the documentary video on the church:

For years I felt the Novus Ordo Mass was too casual, and the music usually subpar. I was especially irked by the ugliness of all the churches around me in suburban Maryland, and most of all deeply troubled by the irreverent way communion was distributed, but I had no idea there was any other liturgy! I thought something was wrong with me for finding the Mass distracting, noisy and one where I found it difficult to pray. All this consternation which I carried around for decades evaporated when I came to St. John Cantius. Moreover, it was amazing to feel connected to the Saints who prayed the old Mass as well as my parents, grandparents and their grandparents stemming back to the apostles!

St. John Cantius Church
Mass at St. John Cantius Church. Photo Credit: Ruth Durkin.

Since I felt the traditional liturgy was hidden from me for so many years and I instantly liked it more, I wanted to make the old Mass visible to those with the same sensitivities. I’ve been attending it now for over two years and I know it’s formed me in ways that are difficult to explain, but my faith has deepened, and my soul truly rests each Sunday and time I can attend the old Mass. I’m glad you were able to experience it.

KF: Thank you so much for taking the time to share your vision for the Catholic Art Guild with me. If someone were interested in joining the Guild, how would they do so and what would membership include?

KC: You’re welcome! I’m so grateful for the interview and article.

Regarding membership, anyone interested in joining and supporting our mission can visit  Members receive discounts and early enrollment opportunities to special events and workshops. Our workshops this year sold out quickly so being notified and allowed to enroll ahead of non-members is an attractive perk.

One of the most unique and profound benefits of joining the Guild is becoming a member of the Catholic Art Guild Mass Association. All members are remembered in weekly Masses said by the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius as well as remembered in a special annual Mass. We believe this special spiritual benefit is critical to our mission to “restore the Sacred” and give a voice to the “custodians of beauty,” a term coined by Pope St. John Paul the Great. I believe a “custodian of beauty” is anyone who is interested in safeguarding or wants to work to renew beauty in our culture and Church.

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