MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – An unusual art exhibition, titled Modern Pagans/Ancient Realms, came to a close at the Vine Arts Center in south Minneapolis Friday, July 29. The show was organized by the Minneapolis Collective of Pagan Artists (MCPA) and featured original works by a total of nine local Pagan artists.
The Minneapolis/St. Paul area may be known as the “Twin Cities” to the public at large, but to the Pagan community, it is often referred to as Paganistan, which is a nod to its uncommonly large, diverse and active Pagan community. If there is a place where a Pagan art show could be staged successfully, Paganistan is the place to do it.
The Minneapolis Collective of Pagan Artists (MCPA) is a group of creative individuals who work in a variety of media and styles with a shared spiritual philosophy. They see their work as a way of connecting to and honoring the Divine. Additionally, they use their art in interfaith outreach and to build connections within the Pagan community itself.
In this latest exhibition, the two founding members of the collective Helga Hedgewalker and Paul B. Rucker, were joined by core members Rmay Rivard and Bonita Blumenauer, and by founders emeritus Roger Williamson and Ali Beyer. Other participating artists included Jack Green, Ellie Bryan and Tony Koch.
The artwork on display included paintings, sculpture, mixed media, photography, ceramics as well as a video installation. In the curatorial statement, the exhibition was described as presenting, “multiple expressions in various media which explore Midwestern Pagans’ connections with this living spiritual culture, examining a spectrum of responses to the challenges of a polytheistic present, using insights from the realms of the pagan past”
The evocative title of the exhibit had deep significance to the artists, and was a carefully chosen theme. Rmay Rivard and Helga Hedgewalker explained it in recent correspondence with The Wild Hunt. Rivard said, “The title of our latest show Modern Pagans/ Ancient Realms conjures the feeling of being sandwiched between two mirrors where the image goes into infinity front and back and I am the fulcrum that connects the future to the past.”
“For me, ” explained Hedgewalker, “It was an acknowledgement of both how Paganism looks to the wisdoms of the past to help guide our future, and how the history of art itself is religious history. What we know of human-kind’s earliest culture is because of art, and that art was religious in nature. We pagan-artists draw inspiration from those “Ancient Realms” to bring into our modern world.”
Contributing artist and MCPA member Paul B.Rucker explained the rationale behind including this panel. He said, “Cultural appropriation is a very hot topic right now. It concerns Pagans directly because so many of our inspirations come from sources around the world, and we have a special responsibility to be mindful of the differences between inspirations and/or sharings, and outright appropriation. Although artistic expression is often considered a “protected” form of free speech, we as Pagan artists need to look at this issue mindfully if we want to be included in the larger conversation of the art world at large.”
Bonita Blumenauer, another contributing artist and MCPA member, described the benefit of the discussion: “To mutually explore this together that day was an enlivening experience. Though our individual experiences with the topic of cultural inspiration and appropriation may vary, in talking of them together we realized how much we each value where our journeys of discovery have led us, where the sources of our inspiration come from and the respect we have for who will come to see the work we give to the larger world.”The success of the show was apparent to the artists. It was important to everyone involved that the relevance of Pagan art be seen by the public, but also by fellow Pagans. Visual art usually falls into a void in Pagan communities. Festivals and conferences, the usual venues of gathering and networking, usually feature authors as featured speakers and presenters. Musicians are the typical entertainers of choice. Where are the painters, filmmakers and other visual creators? Some may find a corner in the vending area at a gathering, or online sales.
For these artists, being showcased in a gallery, and visited by Pagans and non-pagans was extremely gratifying. Blumenauer said, “The public response was amazing and more intimate than I could have imagined. Here were all these connections being made…person to person…story to story….inspirations pinging off shared stories….reactions to pieces and the whole effect of the gathered pieces/stories becoming a revelation for each of us for both the artists and those who came to the exhibit as well.”
Hedgewalker added, “I couldn’t possibly have been more gratified. I’ve waited a lifetime to feel like my work, and the work of my fellow pagan-artist-colleges, was respected and appreciated— and this show fulfilled many of those long-held hopes and dreams. I felt so much love, from the gallery members, to the pagan-community who attended (both the opening and closing events) to even random folks who strolled through on weekend afternoons! My heart has grown three sizes this month.”
The MCPA are already planning their next major art show, which will open December 17, 2016 at the Leaping Laughter OTO Lodge in NE Minneapolis. The show’s title is Mother Night: The Goddess in Winter and, it will run through February 18, 2017. Rucker said:
Because the closing date fell so close to Lammas, we as a group felt that creating a ritual to celebrate the Harvest was highly appropriate, both as a symbolic seal on the event itself, and as an offering to the general public of another aspect of the Pagan experience. In developing our ritual plan we emphasized a connection between the literal harvest of the land that feeds the body, and the harvest of creative labor that brings forth art, to feed the soul. In accordance with this idea, the first part of the rite involved a procession of celebrants who “activated” each work of art on display as a kind of shrine, with offerings of (in order); lit candles, incense, fresh flower petals, and danced ritual gestures. Helga as lead vocalist recited a speech, which connected her personal labor to bring forth her work with the labor of harvest in general (and quite well, she has many years experience in both priestess and theatre work).
The second part involved a “crowning” (“drawing down”) of Rmay as the priestess in the center of the circle of Ancestor Chairs, which made a natural “sanctum sanctorum” in this space. She blessed the “Platter of Plenty” already waiting on a shrine in the center with the aid of the women present, and from this platter two assistant priestess took up platters of bread and honey, and grapes, with which to make offerings to the crowd as the song, “Praise Be, Lady” (by Hollis Payer) was sung. The song continued as we segued into an ecstatic dance in which close to half of the (about 50) people present joined in. Two experienced drummers, Diane and Larry, led the rhythm. All of us were very impressed with the level of audience participation, because several non-Pagans joined the Pagans in the dance and the celebration in movement.
We concluded with a single recitation of “Walk with Wisdom” (by Sable) and a general blessing/farewell. Before and after the ritual many people came to look at artwork, to connect and even to visit our “museum shop” (an annex to the main gallery in which participating artists were selling reproductions and small works).
As you can see, it is a two-month show that extends over several Pagan winter holidays, from Yule/Longest Night to Imbolc and Lupercalia. Our show will highlight the connection between winter themes and the Divine Feminine, partly inspired by the active empowerment of women displayed in this particular OTO lodge, which has tripled its membership under the guidance of a female grandmaster. Hilary Clinton’s nomination acceptance speech recently brought home to me how timely this recognition of female empowerment is in the greater public imagination, so this feels very topical.
Looking further into the future, Rucker noted that MCPA is continuing to creating partnerships with venues and artists, and hopes to eventually extend their exhibit to other states. He said, “I personally feel that [what] we have started in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area should be happening in other large cities with a diverse Pagan/artist population: Pagan artists coming together to create space to show together with a shared sense of belonging to a true movement in history. I would like to see artists elsewhere joining this conversation.”
The Wild Hunt will follow up in December with news on the launch of Mother Night: The Goddess in Winter. Additionally, the MCPA members also plan to continue their annual tradition of direct involvement with the art show “Third Offering Gallery” hosted at Paganicon, a Minneapolis-based Pagan conference. That show will be held next year from March 17 to 19, at the Doubletree Hotel, St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
Update 8-4-2016: The original article included incorrect titles for members of the collective, and stated that MCPA hosted the art show at Paganicon. This has been corrected to reflect the proper titles, as well as noting that MCPA members are involved in the conference art show, but not explicitly the hosts.