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Published: Friday, 9/17/2004

Church tapestries to be dedicated tonight


The first part of creating the 10 tapestries that will be unveiled tonight was making oil paintings.

The figures - including Mary of Magdala and Pope John XXIII - were often painted from models and in parts: hands and heads were painted life-sized. But for expedience, the long, draped clothing on the bodies of these spiritual heroes were usually painted separately in much smaller scale, says artist John Nava, 57.

Next, the various images of each figure were scanned into a computer and "assembled," then encoded for 240 colors. The information was e-mailed to a loom in Belgium, which operated 18 hours a day for a week to weave the seven-by-five-foot hangings, says Nava, who oversaw the weaving.

Hung by Nava in the last few days, the tapestries will be dedicated at 7:30 tonight at Corpus Christi University Parish in West Toledo. Original music will be performed and lectures will be given by both Nava and the Rev. Richard Vosko of Albany, who designed Corpus Christi and has ignited debate for his unorthodox designs of worship places.

Indeed, the new tapestries may generate some controversy because two figures - Oscar Romero and Mahatma Ghandi - are not saints; moreover, Ghandi was not Catholic but a Hindu from India. Both men exemplify social justice ideals, says Nava, of Ojai, Calif. He painted halos on all the figures for aesthetic consistency, noting that crowns of light aren't reserved for saints.

The subjects for the hangings were voted on by parishioners, and include two saints from North Africa who Nava portrays as dark-skinned, but who have often been painted with light skin - Sts. Monica and Augustine.

Nava's first tapestry commission was for the vast Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, which opened in 2002. Its nave alone is 10 stories high and covers an acre.

Over three years, he created 37 wall hangings.After seeing people cry, smile, and pray when they look at the tapestries, he appreciates the value of applying one's skills to a sacred context.

"I felt like a cave painter or a medieval painter," he says. "It was very moving to me that I could do something that would have so much meaning for people."

Dedication of the tapestries is at 7:30 tonight at Corpus Christi University Parish, 2955 Dorr St, across from the south entrance to the University of Toledo. For information, call 419-531-4992.

Contact Tahree Lane at: tlane@theblade.com

or 419-724-6075.

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