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placeholder February 17, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 4   •   Oakland, CA

Brother Martin Erspamer says the traditions and arts of the church are "a living language" that uses similar themes throughout the centuries.

Work of Benedictine monk-artist evolves
into stained glass works

Although the name Brother Martin Erspamer might be familiar to many Catholics, most have already met the Benedictine monk through his artwork.

Brother Erspamer is a liturgical artist who is known nationally for his illustrations of sacred themes. He works in a range of media, from wood to watercolor, and designs stained glass windows. His artwork has graced the covers of books and can be found in a number of Catholic publications, including missals and parish bulletins.

He visited the Diocese of Oakland for an exhibition of his artwork held Feb. 8 and 9 during the Lux Gloriosa (Glorious Light) Festival in the Cathedral Events Center.

Visitors to the Oakland exhibit saw, among other things, watercolor and gouache paintings that were produced as moquettes or studies for stained glass windows, said the monk. There were "also a number of ceramic pieces and a few lino and silkscreen prints."

Brother Erspamer hopes that those visitors also saw that the traditions and arts of the church are "a living language" that uses similar themes throughout the centuries. These themes evolve "to suit the needs of the times," he said. "Art and faith can be wonderful resources for each other."

Brother Erspamer discovered his calling to create art as a child. "I was always making things out of paper or scraps of wood or mud or old cardboard boxes."

When asked what came first — life as an artist or life as a religious — the monk said he experienced his calling as an artist and his calling to religious life at the same time. "After taking a few art classes in high school I decided to join the Marianists, the religious order who taught me in high school," he said.

He had been asked by one of his teachers if he thought about religious life and said yes. Brother Erspamer was one of several students that the teacher invited to spend the weekend in a program at the House of Formation in San Antonio, Texas.

During that visit Brother Erspamer came upon a building that spoke to his heart. This building had been furnished with the works of Marianist artists — who were all professional artists, added the monk, "not hobbyists." The artworks he saw there were "all first rate," he said. These works included tapestries, sculptures in metal and stone, fresco paintings, stained glass, serigraphy and more.

Taking it all in, the future priest-artist said that the visit was a "great experience of their community life and work. I knew that I had found a community that would be good for me and that I was willing to serve."

He joined the Marianists shortly after his 17th birthday. He was a member of a Marianist community in St. Louis, Missouri, for nearly 35 years. During that time he graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree at St. Mary's University/Art Institute of San Antonio and a master's degree of fine art from Boston University. He received a certification for liturgical consultancy at the Theological Union of Chicago.

Brother Erspamer has been a monk of St. Meinrad Archabbey, located in St. Meinrad, Indiana, since 2005. The archabbey, one of only two in the U.S., is home to about 95 Benedictine monks. The monks continue to live by the rules of St. Benedict as well as their motto of ora et labora (prayer and work), according to the community's website at www.saintmeinrad.org.

"As a monk," Brother Erspamer said, "there is a routine we follow every day: Wake up at 4 a.m., first office at 5:15 a.m., back again at 7:30 a.m. for Mass, at 8 a.m. work starts until 11:45 a.m., midday prayer at noon. After lunch, work resumes from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. At 5 p.m., Vespers followed by Lectio. 6 p.m. is dinner followed by community recreation, and at 7 p.m. Compline. After that the day is over and night silence begins until the next morning after Mass."

"Monastic life is a tremendous and continuous source of imagery to work from," he said.

Artwork created by Brother Erspamer ranges in price from $5 to $100,000, "depending on the material," he said. All payments for the monk's works go to the monastery.

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