Browsing through an old decorating magazine one day, I turned to a page which had photographs of a lovely Italian villa. The owner was a passionate collector of antiquities and his incredible collection included beautiful architectural drawings and what looked to be religious assemblages. They were in glorious gilt frames covering one entire wall.
Nothing much was written about them except to say that they were calendar reliquaries. I wasn’t even sure how to pronounce that second word (relic-quarries). They were fascinating, but I wanted to see them close-up. So I started searching online and in the library for information about reliquaries.
What I learned was that reliquaries are shrines used for storing relics. A relic could be a piece of bone, skin, hair, limb, clothing, or other personal item kept after the death of a person for the purpose of creating a memorial venerating that person. Relics are important aspects of religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism.
During the early years of Christianity, tales began to be told of miracles associated with the relics of saints and other religious people and artifacts. In the Middle Ages, people would go in search of relics and bring them back to be displayed in their churches.
These relics would be stored in all different types of shrines, or reliquaries, within the church. They would often be elaborate vessels of gold encrusted in jewels. Sometimes the reliquaries would be in the shape of the object they were holding such as an arm or a skull. Often the reliquaries would be simply made, using embellishments of quilling or embroidery, beads or shells, and the images of saints.
Relics can also refer to personal items that we treasure and want to keep through time.
I was inspired to create my own reliquaries as a way to combine my love for the beauty of religious imagery, architectural ornament, and altered books.
My reliquaries start in different ways. Sometimes I’m taken by a piece of beautiful paper or fabric. Sometimes I have a religious image that I want to use in my art. Other times I’ve been drawn to the architectural features of a church or temple that I want to try and recreate in my own simplified way.
I pull together paints, papers, fabrics, beads, ribbons, trims, jewels, glitter, found objects, and anything else I can discover to help me create my reliquaries. Sometimes the reliquaries have religious overtones; other times they don’t. It just depends on my mood and whim.
I use children’s board books as my canvas. They are sanded and primed with several coats of gesso. Then I carve through the layers of the books to create the architectural features that I want. The various layers are decorated with paint and/or paper. I often include columns, windows, or curtains to embellish the shrine.
The relic is sewn into the display area, and then the front and back of the book are decorated and the finishing touches are made. Every altered book is special and has its own unique story behind it. Creating these reliquaries has been a joyful experience.
These Reliquaries have a story to tell– a moment in time, a treasured memory, a small artifact enshrined. The Reliquaries were created by altering children’s board books. In keeping with the Christian tradition, the Reliquaries are available for purchase; however, the relics within them are given freely as gifts.