Art, Poetry, Music, and Nature for the New Year
Monday, January 25 2021

The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster

Word
Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Psalm 71:3

Art

The Coffee House (1905/6), by Alson Skinner Clark

We fell in love with this painting at the Art Institute a few years ago, and then suddenly, the next time we went to visit it was gone. Oh, it was just on vacation, visiting the Shanghai Museum to be part of an exhibit on American Art in the winter of 2018. Now it’s back (thank God), or at least, I assume it’s still back—I haven’t been to the Art Institute in a while. Check on it for me next time you’re there.

Clark is an often unnoticed and obscure early twentieth century “orthodox” Impressionist artist, who studied in Pairs under Whistler. This painting’s sunset, with its pastels and broad loose brushstrokes show Monet’s influence, while the muted hues and brooding mood at water’s edge embody Whistler’s impact. He was an artist from an early age, using the back empty pages of church hymnals to sketch the bald headed and bonnet-wearing couples sitting in the pew in front of him during worship.

Ever committed to his art, in order to paint The Coffee House, Clark struck up a friendship with the Chicago River bridgetender who managed the State Street Bridge and was given permission to paint snug within the ornate (and warm) bridgetender lookout house. Later painting in the Canadian winter, Clark worked with a tinsmith to develop a winter-weather paint palette to keep his paints from freezing when painting on cold days, complete with charcoal burner and mini-chimney, but I prefer the idea of Clark befriending a bridgetender over the more self-sufficient paint-defroster approach. There is something gospel-adjacent about a stranger who will offer an artist shelter from the cold (I’m probably thinking of Hebrews 13:2 “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it”).

Blessing
God who hovers over blustery State Street bridge, may we shake off our feelings of self-sufficiency and instead extend and accept the hospitality of strangers. Amen.