For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and hills before you shall burst into song… Isaiah 55:12, NRSV
Betsy Steele Halstead created a set of three liturgical banners titled Canyon Reflection for the 2016 Calvin Symposium on Worship. All are three feet wide. They are 11, 14 and 17 feet long. She made them using burlap, tulle, netting, yarn, twine, hot glue and glitter, beads, buttons, birch twigs and hibiscus seedpods. The book of Isaiah and a painting sparked her design.
“All symposium sermon texts came from the book of Isaiah,” she says. “I created Canyon Reflection in response to Isaiah’s mountain, desert and valley metaphors. The natural burlap denotes desolation, while the turquoise, purples and greens show abundance. We often think of a mountain’s height, but here we seem to stand in a cross section, experiencing their depth, while distant mountains beyond the plain are visible. I expressed life’s valleys and rough places in the naturally rough burlap and scattering of bare tree branches. The beads, buttons and glitter remind me of God’s gifts of joy and surprise, especially when those details catch the light.”
Steele Halstead is an artist who works most often in oils, acrylics and woodcuts. She is the program coordinator for grants and communications and the resource specialist for visual arts at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (CICW) in Grand Rapids, Mich.
She also created her work in response to Navaho Canyon by painter Don West, who lives in Tucson, Arizona.
“Once we chose Isaiah as the symposium theme,” Steele Halstead says, “I wanted to find a piece of art that reflected a motif running through the whole book rather than focusing on a specific text. I love abstract art but thought this was a perfect year to use a landscape because of the mountains and valleys in passages such as Isaiah 40. I enjoy discovering new artists so began searching the web.
“I decided to look for desert images in the American Southwest,” she remembers, “and came across Don West’s work. I immediately loved Navaho Canyon for its mixed media, more abstract aspects, unique view and paradoxes.” When Steele Halstead spotted it online, the painting was listed as already sold, but CICW purchased digital rights to use it as the theme image of the 2016 Calvin Symposium on Worship.
Next, Steele Halstead began designing banners to hang in the Covenant Fine Arts Center Auditorium and to “speak” to what would be projected on the screen. Though she usually commissions symposium banners and doesn’t usually work in textiles, she decided to create the 2016 banners herself. “Don’s work inspired me as an artist,” she explains. She began with the size of the screen (16 by 9 feet) and laid out a plan using loose burlap.
Shaping the mountain took the most time. Steele Halstead cut rough squares of burlap, bunched them and attached them with hot glue. She added tulle and ribbon to give the mountain more depth. “Finally, I scattered beads and buttons like a sower (I felt like Jackson Pollock!) and glued them where they fell. The branches were put on last. I didn’t finish the bottom hem until everything else was in place. This was a good thing, since they extended beyond my initial plan,” she says.
The liturgical banners hung in the Covenant Fine Arts Center, visible to people attending symposium worship services and plenary addresses. When CICW asked Calvin community members what they saw in Canyon Reflection, their responses included:
- desert, valley and mountain metaphors
- desolation (sand) and abundance (turquoise)
- distance, height and depth
- heaven and earth
- radiating light
- a view (map) of the world
Canyon Reflection now hangs at Brookside Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.