I first heard from the patron behind Our Lady of the Cottonwoods over a year ago. She and her husband had just been looking out their window at their Texas property, a Cottonwood-shaded place which they open up to friends and acquaintances for prayer and Catholic formation, and wishing that they had a beautiful "madonelle" -- such as they had seen throughout the streets of Rome -- present there to inspire.
I'm so grateful that they turned to me to help them make this desire come to fruition.
The request was for an image that could be placed indoors in a featured position as well as a copy that could be weather-worthy, to go in an outdoor niche as a public witness, a madonelle. Because of a family devotion to Our Lady of Czeschtohowa, I was to look to that famous icon for inspiration, while of course keeping my own style of Boston School Painting. My patrons asked me to imagine Our Lady with dark hair and blue eyes.
Discussion back and forth led us to the inclusion of certain details. To adopt Our Lady firmly into the land of the Cottonwoods, we determined that she should hold a blossoming branch of that tree in her hand. This seemed all the more fitting as the branch of the Cottonwood hides a distinct star pattern in its pith; the discreet but beautiful star of this plant calls to mind Mary, the modest Stella Maris.
A small team worked behind the scenes to bring the proper elements to my studio for this project: a poised young ballerina served as model across several weeks, her mother looking on; my daughter squirmed through a session in my wife's arms, her fair hair providing the luminous quality for the Christ Child; and a skilled friend was seamstress to provide Mary's regal robe. I did a bit of horticultural hunting and learned that Cottonwoods do indeed grow here in New England.
The painting is now complete and the project is now in its final stages. I will have the image professionally reproduced as a giclee to be mounted on wood and weatherproofed for its outdoor shrine; this will be the madonelle. The original oil painting will be framed and hung indoors in the conference room-retreat space where my patrons host events.
My goal was to depict the Virgin Mary as a woman who is very young yet steady and calm. Her demeanor is modest although her dress - like the impressive, powdery blossoms of the Cottonwood - is stately. On her hand is a ring featuring the Rose of Pallerols, a symbol with significance for devotees of St. Josemaria, founder of Opus Dei. The Bible in the hand of the Christ Child is also a reference to Opus Dei, as it is adorned by the symbol of that apostolate. As you regard the hands of the figures, you will notice that Christ's hand is gesturing towards Our Lady, while Mary's strong but delicate hand is gently gesturing right back to Him. The bright eyes of each call us in and yet both figures point us towards each other. The most luminous point of the painting is where the halos of the two overlap with one another.
It is my sincere hope that this image will be an aid to prayer and a source of inspiration for all the good folks in Texas who see it -- whether they're visiting and enjoying the original painting indoors, or just passing by and seeing it ensconced in its roadside shrine.
Hello there, I'm John H. Folley, an oil painter in the Boston School tradition. Thanks for visiting the Beauty Advocacy Blog, where it's my job to help you become a more discerning art appreciator.
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