New exhibit at The Turner seeks out ‘enlightening spirit’ of print collection
Transcendence is the capacity to move outside one’s self and to engage the world beyond one’s own concerns and one’s own comfort zones. Experiencing transcendence can happen in a moment or over time. … Artistic expressions are a brimming resource for the spiritual journey of transcendence.
—The Rev. Jim Peck
Until now, Chico State’s Janet Turner Print Museum (The Turner) has never had a member of the clergy serve as guest curator for one of its shows.
But this past spring, The Rev. Jim Peck, pastor of the Congregational Church of Chico, was invited by Turner curator Catherine Sullivan to select the current show, Transcendence: Enlightening Spirit in Prints.
Peck was given the opportunity to choose from the 3,500 prints in the Janet Turner collection for the show, which features 43 beautiful, thought-provoking pieces hanging in The Turner and 10 more on the first floor of Ayres Hall. Artists range from local (Claudia Steel, Jerril Dean Green-Kopp) to internationally known.
“I received an award for work in theology and the arts when I graduated in 1999,” said Peck, speaking of a master of divinity photo project on church architecture that he completed while studying at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in New Brighton, Minn. It was his discussion of this project with Sullivan, about a year ago while attending a Turner exhibition, that resulted in her inviting him to guest-curate a show.
Peck has organized his show into five categories—“Journey,” “Light,” “Evolution,” “Celebration” and “Dilemma,” plus a special section comprising two striking, iconographic prints by late American artist Sister Mary Corita Kent and Mexico-based printmaker Charles Barth.
“The story that guided me [for the ‘Journey’ section] is from the gospel of Matthew,” the calm 52-year-old offered as we toured the exhibit. “After Jesus was born, he and his family fled to Egypt to keep from being killed by King Herod.”
Peck pointed to a tiny, framed etching reproduction of Rembrandt van Rijn’s “Flight Into Egypt” hanging in the “Journey” section near the entrance to the gallery, describing it as his impetus for creating the “Journey” theme.
After picking out the Rembrandt piece, he discovered the 1871 Randolphe Bresdin etching, “Repos en Egypte,” which hangs next to it. From there, the other pieces in the section—including a lovely piece also called “Flight Into Egypt” by late-20th century Japanese printmaker Sadao Watanabe, and Stephen McMillan’s large, photo-like “Desert Wanderer”—simply fell into place.
Peck lingered a while, after moving across the room to the “Light” grouping of prints, before Robert Vickrey’s contemplative piece, “Sister Mariposa,” which features a small, bright-yellow butterfly fluttering high above the head of a behabited nun whose upper body appears at the bottom of the print. Her head seems bowed.
“What is she doing? What is the nun looking at? Is she reading? What if she’s walking with a child and the child is right here?” he asked, indicating the area just below the bottom of the picture. A handout is available to gallery-goers to serve as a guide to going into depth in observing the prints: “What emotions do you see in their faces?” Peck’s handout asks of the Muslim family depicted in Robert Hodgell’s “Crescent Moon,” in the “Journey” section. “Given the suggestion of a mosque in the background, are they someplace familiar? Does familiarity always mean a feeling of safety and security?”
“Although I’m a Christian pastor, this is not a Christian exhibition,” said Peck, whose show includes prints representing Christian, Jewish, Islamic and Native American beliefs. “Our church is very open and inclusive and respectful of many traditions, so what I chose had to reflect that, or it wouldn’t be honest about who I am.”
“Art is meant to be enjoyed,” he summed up. “It’s also meant to get us to think about our own lives, think about the world around us—to reflect.”