Saturday, February 28, 2015


Our artist for this second week of Lent is  JOSE IGNACIO FLETES CRUZ who was born in 1952 in Managua, Nicaragua. He is a Primitivista artist, whose naif style of image-making is associated with a utopian Christian community, founded in the mid 1960s by the Catholic Poet-Priest, Ernesto Cardenal, in the remote Solentiname island chain at the southern end of Lake Nicaragua.

A disciple of Trappist Monk Thomas Merton, Ernesto was an ardent proponent of Liberation Theology and believed the Church should actively support the poor in their struggle for social and economic justice. Soon after he arrived on the main island of Mancarron, the parish church became a center where the fishermen and farmers of the archipelago could learn about art, poetry, and radical Christianity.  Thus the Solentiname community was born.

Ernesto noticed the islanders were skilled in decorating gourds, and invited Nicaraguan Figurative Painter Roger Perez de la Rocha to come to the community in 1968 to give art lessons. Many of the locals knew so little about art-making, they thought, at first, the metal tubes of oil paint were colored tooth paste, but they took up painting on canvas with enthusiasm. Soon whole families were creating landscapes, typical scenes from village life, and stories from the Bible in the naif folk art style, which has come to be known as Nicaraguan Primitivism. Fletes Cruz was an outsider who came to islands to take part in the unique social experiment. Born in Managua, he had taken art courses in Leon and shared the community’s Christian ideals and egalitarian politics.


He had studied for a year at the School of Fine Arts in Leon later joining the community of  Solentiname.  There he created works for the book, The Gospel in Art by the Peasants of Solentiname. During the war (1978-79)  he took refuge in Costa Rica, and contributed paintings to the movement against Somoza. He settled in Leon after the war, and joined the Sutiava group of artists.

He has had exhibitions all over the world. In 2007 fifteen paintings by Ignacio Fletes Cruz were selected for permanent display in the new US Embassy and the offices of the US Agency for International Development in Managua, Nicaragua

Fletes Cruz’s depiction of Jesus Christ Crucified (The Christ of the Poor) brings to mind the 1977 attack on the community by the Somoza National Guard, who appear beneath the Cross, wearing U.S. military-issue camouflage outfits.

Fletes Cruz describes his art as “a visual representation of the revolution of Christ, of what Christ is doing within us.”

Saturday, February 21, 2015


This week we present an artist who lived in, what I consider one of the most beautiful cities in the world, where I spent one month, ten years after the Velvet Revolution. Czech artist JAROSLAV VODRAZKA was born in 1894 during the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was the son of a miller who married a baker’s daughter. Their family ran a bakery in Prague. Jaroslav showed artistic promise at an early age, drawing on sidewalks and the margins of newspapers. He studied at The School for the Applied Arts, where he learned printmaking. Soon afterward he was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army in World War I, where he sketched and made watercolors, while serving on the Italian Alpine front. A Czechoslovak state was formed after the war and Jaroslav became a professor of printmaking and graphic arts. In 1923, he went to work with Svaty Martin in Slovakia, where he spent the next 16 years doing book design and typography in the previously suppressed Slovak language, which occurred during Hungarian rule.

Surviving the period of peace between the two World Wars was short-lived, once the Nazis invaded and occupied Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Their endurance of the Soviet forces which separated the eastern block countries from the west placed an enormous hardship upon countless artists and creative individuals.
The early part of the 20th C. saw numerous eastern European artists working under these terrible conditions. They were often called 'internal emigrees', and during the day while at their jobs, they did what they were told. They also fought an artistic 'war' of their own while they struggled to keep creative and produce artwork in virtual seclusion. The penalties for intelligence and enlightened minds was severe and swift. The Nazis were not known for their sympathies for visionary artists or any unrealistic imagery.

On the eve of World War II, Jaroslav left his position in Slovakia and returned with his family to Prague, even though it was a Nazi-run Protectorate. He settled into a life of teaching, book illustration, and print-making. He produced wood engravings, linocuts, etchings, engravings, and lithographs, and was always interested in exploring new printmaking techniques, using materials such as plastic and plexiglass.

From 1939 he and his wife, Ella, a writer-poet,and their son, Jaroslav, who became a noted  musician in classical organ and professor of music, lived quietly in a place of refuge on the West Bank of the Vltava River in Prague with a view of the spires of St. Vitus Cathedral, an image frequently seen in his etchings.

Unfortunately, Jaroslav did not live long enough to see the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. He died five years before the 1989 Velvet Revolution routed the Communists out of power in his beloved Czechoslovakia. The vitality and creative spirit of his work is still relevant for our world today.  His work has a beauty and depth of emotion, and his respect for religious subjects is evident.

 The artist kept a painting of St. Vaclav, the Czech national patron saint, in his own personal library with other examples of inspiration, like a collection of printmakers Rembrandt, Durer and Schongauer. His surviving sketchbooks are full of proposals for never-realized projects of stained glass windows and church sanctuaries. The Cross of his people's struggle is exemplified in His suffering Christ.

Friday, February 20, 2015


Our Holy Father Pope Francis has given us an easy way to pray- this Lent- and always. It is a prayer that keeps us mindful of all who need our prayers.

Just spread out your hand and use each finger which represents a special intention.

The thumb, which is “the finger nearest to us”, helps us think of and pray for those who are closest to us; “these are the people that come most easily to mind”; praying for our loved ones “is a pleasant duty”. The index finger reminds us to pray for those who instruct and guide others, so “those who teach and care for others”. “Teachers, professors, doctors and priests” fit into this category. The middle finger is the longest and reminds us of our “leaders”, the people “who hold the fate of our country in their hands and influence public opinion … They need God’s guidance.”

Paraclete Press

The fourth finger is the ring finger. “This is our weakest finger, as any piano teacher will tell you.” It is there to remind you to pray for the weak, for those who face trying situations and for the sick,” who need “our prayers day and night”. He also urged faithful to pray for married couples.

Finally, the small finger reminds us that “we must feel little before God and our neighbors” and that we should pray for ourselves: “Once you have prayed for everyone else, you will be able to better understand what your needs are, looking at them from the right perspective”.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Welsh artist John Petts - Detail

This Lent I would like to focus on the CRUCIFIXION of CHRIST and some modern artists who are  "fixated" on this most Sacred event.

The crucifixion of Jesus has been depicted in religious art since the 4th century. In the first three centuries of Early Christian art, the crucifixion was rarely depicted. Constantine I forbade crucifixion as a method of execution, and early church leaders regarded crucifixion with horror, and thus, as an unfit subject for artistic portrayal.

The discovery of the True Cross by Constantine's mother, St. Helena, and the development of Golgotha as a site for pilgrimage, together with the dispersal of fragments of the relic across the Christian world, led to a change of attitude. It was probably in Palestine that the image developed, and many of the earliest depictions are on the Monza ampullae, small metal flasks for holy oil, that were pilgrim's souvenirs from the Holy Land, as well as 5th century ivory reliefs from Italy. Prior to the Middle Ages, early Christians preferred to focus on the "triumphant" Christ, rather than a dying one, because the concept of the risen Christ was so central to their faith. The plain cross became depicted, often as a "glorified" symbol, as the crux gemmata, covered with jewels.

Early depictions showed a living Christ, and tended to minimize the appearance of suffering, so as to draw attention to the positive message of resurrection and faith, rather than to the physical realities of execution. In the Middle Ages, Jesus was more often seen as a human being, capable of suffering.

In our own day Crucifixion has appeared repeatedly as a theme in many forms of art. Each week in Lent we will study an artist whose life was "changed" or bettered by this theme.

One amazing example of the place of Crucifixion art in our own country, took place after a shocking incident that could have rent our nation apart.

Over fifty years ago on the 15th of September 1963, the Ku Klux Klan planted a bomb at the 16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama, that killed four black girls attending Sunday school. The Church was one of the primary institutions in the black community and became the organizing center for the local civil rights movement. The bombing marked a turning point in the American Civil Rights Movement, having the opposite effect of what was intended, ensuring the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

News of the tragedy stirred John Petts, a stained glass artist, at his home in Llansteffan, Wales: “the news on the radio … left me sick at heart … as a father … I was horrified by the death of the children; as an artist-craftsman, hearing that the stained-glass windows of the church had been destroyed, I was appalled … and I thought to myself … what can we do about this?”

He contacted David Cole, the Western Mail’s editor, who enthusiastically took up the idea and the next day the Western Mail launched a campaign with the headline: ‘Alabama: Chance for Wales to Show the Way”. It was agreed that individual donations would not exceed half a crown . “We don’t want some rich man … paying for the whole window. We want it to be given by the people of Wales.” Money flooded in, the £500 target reached within days and the fund closed at £900.

When a telegram was sent offering the window as "a gesture of comfort and support", a reply accepting the offer was received stating that ‘Wales was the only country to offer such direct and material assistance’.  John Petts stipulated that this window was his gift and the monies received were to pay for the shipment to Alabama.

The church has become an important historical landmark, yearly attracting thousands of visitors. The window is regarded as one of the key icons of the American Civil Rights Movement, a powerful protest against intolerance and injustice.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


OLR Monastery

This is the last Blog on the history of Shaw.

HENRY KLEIN the architect who build the home that is now our monastery, passed away in 2013, in Mt. Vernon, the age of 92. He was born in 1920 in Cham (Bavaria), Germany to Fred and Hedwig (Weiskopf) Klein. He left Cham with his family at the age of 15 and moved to Switzerland where he continued his education before moving to the US.  He attended Hobart and Williams College in NY and graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Architecture

His career was put on hold during the Second World War when he was stationed in India and the South Pacific with the Army Engineers. Following the war he returned to New York to start his career, but city life was not for him, so he moved to Portland, Oregon where he worked for Pietro Belluschi and also met his wife Phyllis Harvey.

In 1952 when Belluschi took the job to head the MIT School of Architecture, Henry and Phyllis packed up and moved to Mount Vernon, WA  where he opened his office and started his family.  At the time he was the first architect in Skagit County. He was fortunate enough to be welcomed by the early pioneer families in the valley and designed private residences for them before branching out to commercial buildings. Enter our future benefactor (another Henry) Ellis, who asked him to design a home for summer use for himself and guests. After the home was completed it was given to us but had to be "upgraded" to fit a monastery.

 The year the addition to our  now monastery was completed (1976) , Henry made two close associates, David Hall and Lowell Larsen, partners in the firm.

Home on Guemes Island
Henry did several local designs which still stand in our hearts and those of other islanders:  Museum of  Northwest Art in LaConnor, the Swinomish Tribal Community Hall, Orcas Island"s Library, and UW Marine Laboratory Commons building and dormitories on Friday Harbor,  the design of which was based on our new wing of monastery cells. In 1981 the firm was awarded the Louis Sullivan Award for Architecture, the first small firm to ever win the award as well as the only west coast firm at that time. Henry retired in 2004 after 52 years of practice. 

UW Labs at Friday Harbor

Henry was said to be a quiet, humble family man who loved the arts and nature, which is very evident in our home.  His work was his chosen expression of his citizenship. He and his wife had three sons.

In the past few years we have had several doctoral students from UW  (one from Germany) visit OLR to see Henry's first residential home in WA. We are proud that his legacy lives on in the studies of a new generation, especially from his native land.  The monastery Chapel, built in 1997, was based on a building of Henry's but burnt to the ground before we arrived on Shaw. We loved the Asian feel so decided to keep his plans.

OLR Chapel

A young Henry Klein

As we knew him

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


Our closest neighbors- just a pasture away- are two retired teachers, who, when they decided to build a new home, knew they wanted an energy-efficient, no-stress Passive House design. The 1,800-square-foot house is the first Certified Passive House in the San Juan Islands, and only the fourth in the state of Washington. The home was designed by the Olympia-based firm The Artisans Group.  It has a circular floor plan that centers around a prefabricated pod that contains the kitchen and two bathrooms.

The term passive house refers to a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency in a building, reducing its ecological footprint.It results in ultra-low energy buildings that require little energy for space heating or cooling. Passive design is not an attachment or supplement to architectural design, but a design process that is integrated with architectural design.

The Passivhaus standard originated in 1988 by a German builder and a Swedish Professor. Estimates of the number of Passivhaus buildings around the world in late 2008 ranged from 15,000 to 20,000 structures. As of August 2010, there were approximately 25,000 such certified structures of all types in Europe, while in the United States there were only 13, with a few dozen more under construction.The vast majority of passive structures have been built in Germany, Austria and Scandinavia. 

In order to achieve its Passive status, Ned and Elaine's home features an air-sealed exterior shell that provides insulation, efficient windows and doors, and a heat recovery ventilator to keep it warm in the winter. In the summer, careful window placement and shades ensure the space won't overheat.

Storage wall- which are everywhere
Radiating from the pod, cabinetry and a minimum of walls defines functions, with a series of sliding and concealable doors providing flexible privacy. The interior palette consists of wind-fallen light maple floors, locally made FSC certified cabinets, stainless steel hardware and neutral tiles in black, gray and white.

The exterior materials are painted concrete fiberboard lap siding, Ipe wood slats and galvanized metal. Ipe (pronounced “ee-pay”) is a large tropical hardwood tree that grows abundantly throughout Central and South America. Ipe wood is prized for its durability, strength (it is 368% harder then Teak wood), and its natural resistance to decay, wet conditions, and insect infestation.

The kitchen

The home, which sits on a sort of mesa has no formal landscaping. When one looks out the windows, it is as if all the art is nature herself! The doors and windows are on a tilt turn, so can open inward or outward, thus either bringing the weather in or keeping it out!

The home was built for $330 per square foot, while construction costs for residential projects in the San Juan market often exceed $600 per square foot. Passive House measures did not increase this projects’ cost of construction.

Elaine and Ned wanted a low-maintenance, cost-effective, energy-efficient house in which they could age in place and which would be a restful shelter from clutter, stress and over-stimulation.

Dining area- Nature comes in
This home is ten times more efficient than a regular built house. Which makes one wonder why there are not more being built, especially if  lower cost can be factored in!  For anyone considering building a new home in the near future I would recommend checking into this form of building. Elaine said all buildings being built within the European Union will be Passive- starting this year.  If only we could catch up!

While the home is certainly “minimalistic”, one can’t but help be envious of its simplicity and warmth, while saving the environment.  The owners say they do not miss anything about their past homes.  All Elaine needs now is a "red chair".

 For more information two lovely books :

Mary James
Features Ned & Elaine's home

Saturday, February 7, 2015


Reefnet Boats on Monastery Land- Ned Griffin

For over 30 years our local fisherman on Shaw stored their reef net boats on our beach- what I call "saluvial muck" (bay mud). It takes seconds at low tide to sink to your thighs. A few years ago we- having had approval dismantled the decaying boats so we could reclaim the site for our own use, especially bird watching with the local children.

Reefnetting could be the oldest form of net fishing in the world and is unique to the Pacific Northwest. In the San Juans, this ancient art was the primary salmon harvesting method for local tribes.The techniques employed date back hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Even today, most modern reefnets sit on traditional sites that have been "farmed" for the fish for hundreds of years.

Four local tribes that we know of worked reefnets in their territories including the Lummi on Shaw and northwest Lopez. Summer villages were established near the sites to support the fishers, and a great deal of ritual and ceremony accompanied the start of each season's fishing. As far as is known the natives never had permanent dwelling on Shaw Island.

The technique is basically simple with a pair of boats facing each other with nets suspended between them. It would take the fishermen several weeks to get their boats ready and into place, having no propulsion of their own they had to be towed in place.

(Amie Hood- Photo)
Standing on spotting ladders 16 feet up, they see the salmon headed for their reef net and the race is on. The fishermen have about 10 seconds to gather the fish before they get away.

The nets would be pulled up by manual winches catching the fish, which were then hauled into the boats. Fishing with the reefnets was  grueling work. The season ran four or five months as different salmon runs came through the islands, and openings often lasted five or six days a week. Keeping the gear clear of kelp, working the big winches, and rolling the fish into the boats was exhausting, but it was a good living for many islanders.

Ed Hopkins & Crew (Ed & Kathy Hopkins photo)
Fishing the reefnets required particular conditions, including daylight, calm water, and reasonable clear weather, since darkness, surface chop or heavy overcast made it impossible to see the salmon enter the net. Since all reefnets fish only on a given tide, they were manned only when the currents ran the proper direction. Different gears were also fished during different salmon runs. One set might work well for Chinook, but not for sockeye. Another might be particularly effective only on cohos, pinks, or chums.

This type of fishing is environmentally sound  as the catch arrives alive, not smushed as in a purse seine, or ripped and bleeding from a gill net. As the years went by the Natives were given more days to fish then the local men, so about 12 years ago they called a halt to the fishing. We missed this as the "rent" for using our beach was salmon from the catch. We lived on that salmon through the year.

By 2011 there were only 11 non-Indian commercial reef-fishing licenses left in the Washington state, with fishermen working off Lummi, Lopez, Shaw and Stuart islands.

Boat Demolition- Debra Maden, Orcas Is.

Abandoned Boat- A. Hood

Recently some Shaw men have "resurrected" this ancient art of fishing and once again park their boats on our land.  Maybe salmon coming?


Monday, February 2, 2015


We rejoice that yesterday February 1 our new Abbess, Reverend Mother Lucia Kuppens, was elected. She is the 3rd Abbess of the Abbey of Regina Laudis and will probably be the last Abbess who knew our Foundress, Mother Benedict Duss.  Most Reverend Leonard P. Blair, S.T.D., Archbishop of Hartford, celebrated Mass and presided over the election which took place in the Abbey Church Jesu Fili Mariae.

Mother Abbess Lucia (right) with Mother Abbess Emerita

Mother Abbess is originally from Boston, but having attended college in Conn. she lost her "accent". She was a freshman at Conn. College (then for women only) when she first visited Regina Laudis. She was particularly struck by the Abbey´s strong sense of community and 1,500 years of tradition. “Regina Laudis had something solid and deep,” she once said. “Its members radiated a joy that was increasingly hard to come by as the experiments of the ´60s began to fade, and idealism turned to cynicism.”

She has a PhD  in Literature from Yale University, writing her dissertation on the breakdown of male and female relationships in Shakespeare’s plays.  One of my fondest memories was a course she taught  to us on Flannery O'Conner.

Mother Abbess Lucia also served as the Abbey's Librarian and Econome (head of kitchen). She has been the Abbey Cellarer for over ten years and has been in charge of the Abbey's renovation and expansion project

The lovely writer, Harriet Scott Chessman (who was a graduate student with Mother), wrote of Mother Abbess: She is one of the kindest, wisest, and most compassionate people I have ever known, and also one of the most modest, private, and contemplative.

The joy she once saw in others is certainly radiated in her!