Renaissance on the
River BY BARB ERNSTER
In the Twin Cities, a Sacred Art Boomlet - June
17-23, 2007 Issue
Sanislo has been a professional portrait painter for more than 25
years, capturing the likenesses of CEOs, professional ballplayers and
family members in oils and pastels. His most rewarding
work, however, is painting sacred art.
Sanislo is one of a number of artists around the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St.
Paul who are feeling called to evangelize through
their work. Some say they were inspired by Pope John Paul II’s 1999 Letter
to Artists, which called for “a more constructive partnership
between art and the Church” and invited artists “to rediscover the
depth of the
spiritual and religious dimension which has been typical of art in its
noblest forms in every age.”
“If it were up to me, I’d be working exclusively for the Church, but I
have the reality of making a living doing that,” says Sanislo, a
father of six from Coon Rapids, Minn.
Sanislo has a gallery downtown Minneapolis and a website where his
portraits of Pope
John Paul II, Blessed
Mother Teresa, St.
Assisi and St.
Padre Pio are proudly displayed alongside his secular
works. (Go to marksanislo.com.)
But it’s a challenge to market Catholic
art and culture to the larger
“We’re all trying to make inroads into the
culture, but we’re all cutting our own path,” he says, noting the
recent developments in Catholic radio and television, movies, writers
and authors. He cites the successes of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the
Christ and calligrapher Donald Jackson’s illuminated St. John’s Bible
as “indicators that we can operate out in the secular world and be a
moving force. But if you don’t have a name and can’t afford to
underwrite a large project, where do you go?”
Sanislo hopes to do a project with the 20 mysteries of the Rosary that
could possibly be an exhibit for an art tour. He is also exploring the
idea of developing an annual Catholic arts and culture conference. In
the meantime, he continues to do commissioned paintings for individuals
as well as churches — where, he says, there is great potential.
“The days of fine sculptures and masterpiece paintings ornamenting
Catholic churches have gone by the wayside in recent decades, but I
believe there is a new opportunity to swing the pendulum the other
way,” he says.
Contact: Mark Sanislo Dowtown Minneapolis
Baker Center Suite 252 -
109 S 7th Street Ste.
252 Minneapolis, MN 55402
Gratitude and Purpose
Oil painter Eric Menzhuber feels fortunate to be doing more sacred
subjects lately. The 31-year-old Twin Cities artist has been
commissioned for paintings by the St. Paul Seminary, the Cathedral of
St. Paul, Franciscan Brothers of Peace, Sharing and Caring Hands and
several churches. Menzhuber agrees that there is a developing market
art in churches.
“I’m being commissioned for more pieces for a chapel renovation or a
church building; it’s become a priority for traditional style sacred
art,” he says. “There was a time 30 years ago when church statues and
decorations were removed and the churches built after that were very
plain. I think that’s changing now.”
Menzhuber (who’s online at ericmenzhuber.com) hopes his work will
eventually inspire a national audience. For an artist to make a living,
he says, there has to be secondary markets and wide distribution
through print reproductions.
“The biggest honor for me would be to have an original piece that can
be appreciated by a large number of people. Prints in homes would be a
nice secondary effort,” he says. “The funny thing is, 80% of my day in
the studio doing these sacred subjects feels very ordinary, like a job,
but there’s a sense of gratitude and purpose. There’s always hope and
that God is helping me do these and they will contribute toward some
Christopher Santer has utilized the Internet and personal contact with
galleries to market his work over the years, but selling is not his
strong suit. He worked as a professional artist exclusively for four
years, but now teaches full time at a private Catholic academy. Since
1993, he has done multiple projects for Catholic hospitals, churches
and schools. Several pieces became popular enough that he started an
online store where he can sell prints to a wider audience
“I think it is very difficult to make new works out of what might be
deemed traditional sacred art. The ancient practices and commitment
have mostly been lost, especially in the last century,” says Santer.
“Don’t get me wrong — many great artworks and movements have come along
in that time. [But,] with the Internet, all attempts at sacred art are
out there for all to see — the good, the bad and the ugly.”
Bob Balk, owner of St. George Books in Blaine, Minn., says there is
always a demand for something new and fresh, but art is subjective. A
lot of stores will carry five or six different Last Supper pictures and
only one will be the right fit.
“I normally tell artists do what you do best and let someone else do
the marketing,” he says. “I don’t know if Michelangelo was a rich man,
but he was consumed by what he was doing.”
Ann Tristani of Maplewood, Minn. (anntristani.com), is reaching a wider
market in 40 stores around the Midwest with a line of note cards
depicting her original oil paintings. Not all of her paintings have a
sacred theme. In fact, her note cards are mainly landscapes and
florals, and store owners have told her they would sell more if she
removed the Bible verses. But Tristani says they’re more than just
“I have found that people who are touched by my work are profoundly
touched by it. Those are the people I’m communicating with,” she says.
“There’s enough out there for the rest of the world.”
One image of a grieving angel, called “Blessed Are Those Who Mourn,”
has been used by the pro-life group Silent No More of Minnesota because
it speaks to women who have had abortions. It’s an example, says
Tristani, of Pope John Paul II’s vision for artists.
“I totally heard his call to respond to a New Evangelization and I
thought: That’s exactly what we as Catholics need to do with our gifts
that God gave us,” she says. “There’s a longing for God in this dark
Barb Ernster writes from