Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Legacy of Hope

In August 2007 our 25-year artist-in-residence, Brother Thomas Bezanson, passed away. Last week the Boston Globe reported on the recipients of the first Brother Thomas Foundation grants. Here's an excerpt from that story. I know you'll be as inspired as all of us were when we read it.

"A monk-turned-potter’s bequest lightens the load for eight local artists."

One of the most overworked cliches about the creative world is the notion of “the struggling artist,’’ with its connotations of unheated garrets, paint-spattered clothing, crumpled paper littering the floor.

But to Brother Thomas Bezanson, the struggle was very real. Long before the Benedictine monk-turned-potter was celebrated for his fine ceramics, which are now in the collections of more than 80 museums around the world and have fetched as much as $100,000, there was a time when he couldn’t afford the propane gas to fire his pots. He knew small amounts of money could make a critical difference to an artist, and he never forgot the kindness bestowed on him by the friend who gave him $500 to buy propane, or the couple who helped support him so he could dedicate himself to his art.

That is why, a few months before he died in 2007, he ensured that funds from future sales of his work would be used “to help other artists as I was helped," as Brother Thomas wrote to Bernie Pucker, co-owner of the Pucker Gallery on Newbury Street, the agent for selling his art.

Last October, the Boston Foundation announced that eight Boston-area artists—poets, filmmakers, a playwright, jeweler, composer, and new media artist—received the first $15,000 Brother Thomas Fellowships. It’s a small sum compared to say, a $500,000 MacArthur “genius’’ fellowship. But to the first group of Brother Thomas fellows, it’s been a breathtaking gift.

What have they done with the $15,000? The fellows speak of health insurance paid, teaching responsibilities lightened, confidence and spirits boosted. More than anything, the money has afforded them something intangible, but critical: the gift of time to be creative.

Barbara Helfgott Hyett, 65, Poet, teacher: “In order to live, I teach. . . . I also work as a poet-in-the-school, artist-in-residence, a public lecturer. My royalties reach, yearly, nearly $200. In whatever time is spare, I write: late at night after class, early Sunday mornings. There are days I teach 12 hours a day, in the name of economic survival. . . . The grant is a miracle. I immediately paid for flood repairs, then put aside the remainder to rent a cottage on a beach in late August when I take my one week off! In that paradise, I shall imagine a new book. . . . The fellowship is the first award of significant substance — enough funding to buy me walks on the sea and a kitchen table in the rented kitchen, to attend to my own soul, my poem-work."

Heather White, 41, Jeweler, associate professor of art, Massachusetts College of Art and Design. “This award will provide me with the opportunity to study abroad, cultivating and creating bridges with studio jewelers throughout Europe. . . . Since I am wholly committed to a field that is by nature an underdog, the recognition helps fuel my belief in the power of craft as an artistic expression. . . . This grant will also allow me to hire a studio assistant to help with the labor-intensive cutting, filing, sanding, and resurfacing of the metal components of the work."

John Oluwole Adekoje, 39, Filmmaker and playwright, teacher at Boston Arts Academy. “I truly believe creating art is a way of life. However, our money-driven society makes it very difficult to focus on your art and pay the bills. . . . To be good, great at one’s craft, it takes thousands of hours of working day and night. Studying, practicing, and experimenting. . . . I am using my money to begin producing my screenplay, “Knock Around Kids,’’ about three young kids under the age of 16 living in a group home. . . . I have been working on this project for five years [but] didn’t have the cash to truly start."

Brian Knep, 41, New media artist, artist-in-residence at Harvard Medical School. “The amount of money I make is very little compared to most people. I have enough to live on but not enough to save. The more money you have, the more you can work on getting better exposure, and the more exposure you have, the better it is for getting money. . . . This $15,000 is wonderful. I’ll use it for rent, health insurance, the basic necessities of life. It will go to my living expenses and my studio. . . . Health insurance is a huge part of my budget, like over $400 a month. . . . To me, it’s important that when I make art, it doesn’t just speak to the art world. It’s very lonely, and to be recognized, it puts a little wind in your sail."

Part of our collection of Brother Thomas's works.

P.S. Today marks the end of three years of "Light Through Stained-Glass Windows." It's hard to believe that means over 300 entries! It's also hard not to be repetitious week by week--after all, repetition is one of the characteristics of most of life--and especially in monastic life with our regular prayer schedule, feasts, and even ordinary days. For those of you who are still faithfully hanging in there reading this site, here's a consideration for you: If there is anything you'd like me to specifically write about or share about our "ordinary life" as Benedictine Sisters of Erie, let me know and I'll do what I can. And thanks to all of you for being LTSGW readers through these many weeks and months--that have now somehow miraculously turned into three years!