The works of local Catholic artisans make meaning-filled Christmas gifts
During Advent, as we prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ, we’re also trying to find special gifts to help family and friends celebrate the Savior’s birth.
This year, Northwest Catholic has gathered the works of some local Catholics — saints’ images, notecards featuring God’s creation, lotions in Catholic-inspired scents — that make beautiful, fun or meaningful gifts for Christmas. Read on to learn what inspires a pair of local artisans in their creative pursuits.
Bringing the pope’s cat to life
Roy DeLeon has never had a cat. But that didn’t stop him from offering to illustrate Jon M. Sweeney’s book The Pope’s Cat and the newly released sequel, Margaret’s Night in St. Peter’s: A Christmas Story.
He laughs about making the offer so quickly, then wondering what he had gotten himself into. “Thank goodness for Google Images and all the pictures,” said DeLeon, a member of St. Brendan Parish in Bothell and a Benedictine oblate.
By telling the story of a stray cat adopted by a fictional pope, the “Margaret” books help educate young readers about the papacy and the Vatican. The latest book provides a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica through Margaret’s eyes, including Christmas Eve Mass. Besides researching cats, DeLeon gave his illustrations more authenticity by studying images of the Vatican and its events.
DeLeon has been sketching all his life, and was a technical graphic artist for an engineering firm. Now retired, DeLeon has come to view his sketching as his ministry, his visio divina — a way of seeing the divine in everyday life.
“God is everywhere and everywhere is sacred space,” he said. “You seek God wherever you are 24-7, and for me sketching and drawing is seeing.”
A native of the Philippines, DeLeon came to the U.S. when he was 22. A lifelong Catholic, he describes a spiritual awakening after a mini-stroke in 1997 and his father’s death a couple of years later. Spiritual direction helped him become a better husband and father; now he is an oblate and spiritual director at St. Placid Priory in Lacey.
DeLeon said he considered how to turn his gifts of visual observation and sketching into “something that gives gratitude to God and praise and everything that Paul said — pray, praise and give thanks,” DeLeon said.
He draws every day, wherever he happens to be (Starbucks, a park, his neighborhood), then posts the sketches on his Facebook page, along with short descriptions and reflections. He is toying with the idea of compiling a book of his sketches and reflections (he has already written one book, Praying with the Body.)
In the meantime, DeLeon has completed the artwork for the third installment (Margaret’s First Holy Week) and will begin working on the fourth book, which will take Margaret to Assisi with the pope. The series is available at paracletepress.com and Amazon.
Inspired by an altar
Renata Siegl doesn’t call herself an artist. But her husband, Walter, a retired architect, proudly describes the “broad spectrum” of Renata’s artwork — intricate paper cuts, watercolors, tapestry, “you name it” — displayed in their Shelton home.
“I enjoy doing it,” Renata said simply. “It’s a prayer.”
The couple, both 85, are members of St. Edward Parish in Shelton. Natives of Austria and lifelong Catholics, they immigrated to Canada in 1956, then to the U.S. in 1963.
Every year, Renata makes a new paper cut design for the couple’s Christmas cards. “She writes appropriate text in English and German,” Walter said, explaining that some of their family and friends don’t speak English.
But you don’t have to be on the Siegls’ Christmas-card list to own a reproduction of Renata’s paper cut art. The couple created a feast day/birthday calendar, featuring reproductions of Renata’s paper cut designs, and donated copies to be sold at St. Placid Priory in Lacey.
The designs for the calendar have special meaning for the couple: They are inspired by the 51 gold enameled tablets — depicting events from salvation history — on the Verdun Altar in the Abbey of Klosterneuburg, Austria.
Renata is from Klosterneuberg and “we got married there 62 years ago in front of that altar,” Walter explains.
When the Siegls moved to Western Washington, the first Catholic church they attended had acoustics that made it difficult for Renata to hear. So they checked the phone book, saw a listing for the priory and went to Mass. “We found a group of ladies there so inviting and so loving,” Renata said.
That community feeling has kept them coming back, even after moving to rural Shelton in 1999 and joining St. Edward Parish. They still attend Mass at the priory whenever Renata isn’t singing in the St. Edward’s choir.
All proceeds from the sale of the Siegls’ calendar benefit the sisters at the priory. The calendar is available from the priory bookstore; other items handcrafted by the sisters and volunteers are sold in the priory lobby during regular hours. Especially popular are the needle-felted sheep and shepherds made from 100 percent wool fleece, according to Benedictine Sister Monika Ellis. Visit stplacid.org.
Try these gift ideas
Give an aromatic reminder of the call to holiness. Catholic Balm Co sells beard balm, lotion bars, lip balm and more, handmade in Catholic-inspired aromas by Tony Vasinda, a pastoral associate at St. Luke Parish in Shoreline (see our July/August 2016 issue). Proceeds directly support work with Catholic youth ministers. Visit catholicbalm.co.
Share the beauty of creation with notecards featuring birds and botanicals by watercolor artist Betty Dorotik, a St. James Cathedral parishioner who lives on Camano Island. They’re available at the St. James Cathedral bookstore; for other locations in Western Washington, visit bettydorotik.com.
Inspire others with the lives and images of saints. Tracy L. Christianson’s images of saints are available as portraits, inspirational plaques, bookmarks, refrigerator magnets and more at portraitsofsaints.com. St. Luke Productions, based near Vancouver, Washington, offers DVDs and CDs of the live dramatic productions it tours around the archdiocese and the country, as well as Thérèse, a full-length film about St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Visit stlukeproductions.com.
Encourage a life of Christian discipleship by giving Archbishop J. Peter Sartain’s book of reflections and insightful counsel, A Journey to the Heart of Jesus: Guideposts Along the Way. “Every day, every trip, and every task can become a pilgrimage if we decide to live that way,” the archbishop writes. Purchase at osv.com or Amazon (Kindle version available).
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