In a style reminiscent of the John Steuart Curry's murals at the Kansas Statehouse, Nora Othic depicts the Old Testament patriarch Noah as a farmer wearing a ball cap, denim shirt, blue jeans and work boots loading two-by-two aboard an ark cattle, horses, goats, swine and cats.
The Kansas City, Mo.,-based "neo-Regionalist" painter's "Loading the Ark" is among the works in the fifth annual showing of Christian art at Beauchamp's, the Westboro Mart gallery at 3113 S.W. Huntoon, and one of the stops on the First Friday Art Walk, which this month coincides with Easter weekend.
The exhibit, titled "Christian Themes V, Contemporary Visions," marks modern interpretations of what was once the dominant theme of Western art, said Beauchamp's owner Bob Swain.
"Much of Christian-themed art remained locked into the classical style of the past," Swain said. "Newer and drastically different art styles were emerging, but many of the modern innovations were deemed unworthy of the Christian message."
Because the newer art genres were thought to lack the dignity, grace, harmony and beauty fitting for the subject matter, Christian art remained frozen in time, Swain said. However, more recently the leadership of both Catholic and Protestant denominations have come to understand the evangelical power of art.
Pope Benedict XVI even summoned artists from around the globe to the Vatican for a gathering at which he told them he wanted to "renew the church's friendship with the world of art." Swain, who describes himself as a devout Catholic, has been doing that with the Beachamp's Christian-themed art shows.
"My idea with 'Christian Themes V, Contemporary Visions' was to include artworks that connect in deeper ways to contemporary society," he said of the show he assembled of modern-day interpretations of specific Christian themes and biblical passages.
In addition to Othic's "Loading the Ark," other examples include a painting by Jim Janknegt, a Texas artist, inspired by the New Testament story of a young Jesus Christ separated from his parents who after a frantic search is found teaching the elders at the Temple.
In Janknegt's "Jesus in the Temple," the young Messiah is depicted in a college classroom answering questions posed of him by scholars who resembles Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Charles Darwin.
Topeka artist Phil Herschberger's painting "Word" makes a strong statement about the meaning of "Word," offering an alter-image overshadowing an obscured collage of religious text.
Swain said these paintings and others in the show "are finely executed and thoughtful artworks that should not be limited to churches or liturgical arenas."
"In fact, they wold fit well into many contemporary settings," he said.
Others included in the show are Kansas artists Mike Henry, Jim Munce, Stephanie Munoz O'Neil, Judith Sabatini, Swain and Janlynn Nesbitt Tucker; Mike Buesking, of Missouri; Barbara Fast, of Virginia; and Tennessee artist Tony Novak.
Beauchamp's will stage a reception for the artists from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday as part of the First Friday Art Walk, the monthly self-guided tour of Topeka's art spots. "Christian Themes V, Contemporary Visions" closes May 5.
Bill Blankenship can be reached at (785) 295-1284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.