When, in 2010, I completed a textile wall hanging for the dining room in the Enniskillen Convent, inspired by the Mercy Charism and the then resident Sisters, I thought it was a “one off” project. I couldn’t have predicted that, a couple of years later, I would still be creating Mercy themed artwork!
Spirit of Mercy came out of a unexpected shared journey with Catherine Gibbons rsm. We happened to be on the same bus home one evening, and got chatting about the stained glass windows of Mother Catherine. She mentioned, amongst others, the window at Avila Nursing Home, which I was luckily able to visit soon afterwards. I had already been considering the metaphor of a growing tree for an image of Mercy spreading over the world – and when I saw the Avila window from the inside, and the trees outside echoing the line of Mother Catherine’s neck and chin, I was inspired to combine these two ideas – but in silk and linen, rather than glass!
Spirit of Mercy
I worked on three layers of material – felt as a base stabiliser, linen on which to draw Catherine’s portrait, and silk on which to paint a colourful suggestion of the world map. These were then layered and joined together by the stitching of the tree. It was important to design exactly how Catherine’s portrait would sit within the tree. Too large and she would overshadow it – too small and she would be overlooked. In terms of size, a diameter of two feet (for the circle) seemed to work, making Catherine’s face almost life size. Keeping a copy of Clare Augustine Moore’s written description of Catherine by the side of the linen, I drew Catherine as I see her, which is slightly different to any of the well known existing portraits!
Following that, I painted the silk, and then was able to start on the sewing process. I use a sewing machine with a darning, or freestyle ‘foot’ – this means I have greater flexibility in how I shape stitches, than one would with a normal ‘foot’. So, having established the circular outline, I was able to ‘draw’ on, in stitch, the tree – echoing the lines of Catherine’s neck, chin and forehead. I then created the branches and roots out of ‘machine lace’ – lace made by sewing on to a fabric that disappears under heat, leaving only the stitches. My idea was that the branches and roots outside of the circle would represent the growth of Mercy after Catherine’s lifetime. When I explained this to a lady in my class, she exclaimed, in shock “oh, I didn’t realise Catherine was dead! The way you talk about her, I thought she was a friend of yours!”
Close up of the Spirit of Mercy art work
Spirit of Mercy was attached to the gallery wall with Velcro and over a hundred small tacks – creating, as one visitor said, “a suggestion of organic, natural growth”, and because it wasn’t framed or behind glass, “a sense of being part of the world, not removed from it”. This was firmly intended, because I wanted to celebrate the spirit of Catherine in the growth of Mercy, and the fact that Mercy reaches out to all in the world. The branches of Mercy never stop seeking to help, they never say ‘it is enough’; the roots of Mercy reach down to a heart of compassionate love that was a key feature of Catherine’s character.
Spirit of Mercy contains about three km (two miles) worth of silk, cotton and rayon thread, and took easily fifty hours to complete, and over five hours to display.
Wall Hanging created by Danielle at present in Convent of Mercy, Enniskillen
The Suscipe is reflected in this picture, created by Danielle and was included in the art display