Some 5,000 years ago, written communication began as pictographs, pictures used to represent words. Then, art and writing were one and the same.
Historically, art played a central role in religion. Medieval churches were filled with artwork -- stained glass windows, mosaics and murals -- depicting stories from the Bible. It was a time when many were illiterate, and the written word was of little use in reaching the masses.
Part-time Hilton Head Island resident Sandra Bowden, a renowned Christian artist, strives to resurrect the images of the Bible.
"To be human is to be more than just words -- it's to be feeling, it's to be seeing," Bowden said. "Art touches us in the realm of emotion, of unspoken thought and associations. It touches us at another level that words cannot."
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Bowden has spent the greater part of her career helping churches become more interested in the visual arts. She served on the board of the national organization Christians in the Visual Arts for 32 years and was president for 14. She is also one of the founders of the Museum of Biblical Art in New York City.
"When I go to a museum, I often come out feeling as if I've been in a worship space," Bowden said. "Art is a means of communication, of meditation and inspiration. It's a means of illumination, of helping us see more deeply. I think that's exactly what worship does."
She owns a dozen art exhibits that travel the country, and one of them, "The Rains Came Down," will be on display at the First Presbyterian Church on Hilton Head from Jan. 23 to Feb. 28, with an opening reception on the first day. The traveling mixed-medium collection depicts the story of Noah and the Ark and contains about 35 pieces from artists around the world. Two pieces from Bowden will be on display, as well as two from Savannah artist Rudolph Bostick.
The exhibit is a look at how artists have interpreted the Bible story, with works dating back to 1649. The Bible story, which has become a favorite among children, isn't a pleasant one. It's the story of God cleansing a corrupt world of all living creatures except for Noah, his family and a male and female of each animal.
"Prior to 1900, all the artists dealt with the catastrophic event and the horror of Noah's Ark -- the pictures of women holding up their babies trying not to drown, of animals being washed away," Bowden said. "The images drastically changed after that. It became a children's story focused on the cute animals and the rainbow and was, in many ways, trivialized."
This is the first art exhibit at First Presbyterian. When the church expanded a year ago, they wondered what could be done with the larger wall space. An opportunity for art was seen, and in response, the visual arts committee was founded.
"There was a feeling that visual art is a form of worship so it became a very important part of our church," said Mary Princing, chairwoman of the committee.
In addition to traveling exhibits, the committee hopes to have a permanent collection and a rotating exhibit featuring a local artist each month.
"I hope it brings to the congregation and the community an understanding of how art is a form of worship and is definitely a form of improving our life," Princing said. "Art is a way to look at the worship differently. It is just another dimension of what it means to be a spiritual person."
Follow reporter Laura Oberle at twitter.com/IPBG_Laura.
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