While Trinidad and Tobago is both multiethnic and multireligious, at least 63 percent of its population — which is estimated at about 1.5 million — follows some iteration of Christianity.
As such, Easter time is a much-celebrated occasion, full of charming traditions that include the preparation of special foods. This year, however, celebrated jeweller Gillian Bishop shared a Facebook post that highlighted the crossover between her art and a key element of the Easter religious observance: the Stations of the Cross.
Making the story even more special is the church itself. All Saints is an Anglican church that sits along the western perimeter of Port of Spain's Queen's Park Savannah. Completed in 1844, it is a cultural heritage site protected under the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago Act for its architectural, aesthetic and historic interest.
Several years ago, Bishop met with members of the church's Sanctuary Guild (she had been a member of the Junior Sanctuary Guild as a child) to advise them about cleaning a brass lectern. While there, she couldn't help but notice that images of the 14 Stations of the Cross, a fixture at most Christian churches, had been printed on letter-size copy paper and stuck to the church walls. The effect was dissonant, wholly inadequate.
On her way out, she spoke to the Canon responsible for the parish, who explained that “the presence of those clearly unsuitable paper stations […] was intended to highlight the need to have a proper set of Stations for All Saints and to provoke a response from church members and visitors alike.”
The plan worked. Bishop volunteered to conceptualise some designs, but went a step further and produced a prototype, since she felt that “the vestry members and the powerful church ladies might have some difficulty in visualising the finished product from a mere sketch.”
Eventually, she was given the go-ahead with “very little modification” to her original design, and explained her very unique approach:
I was not confident of my ability to draw my own rendition of the crucifixion scenes and so I took some classic artwork in the public domain and manipulated it in the following way. I imprinted the pictures on a specially treated brass and isolated the figures of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary in copper and brass respectively, cut them out by hand using the ancient technique known as piercing, and then superimposed them upon the printed images. We deliberately left out the features so as to create rather more ethereal figures.
Each picture was mounted upon a square of hand finished teak wood, which was in turn mounted upon a larger square of brass-clad teak, then on a square of bronze glass. This was then mounted on a cross of teak whose finials were embellished with hand pierced brass and copper. The finial design consisted of a floral motif into which was incorporated the dove of peace.
These Stations of the Cross still feel very rooted in the Ken Morris copper tradition, a beloved local art form, but they also exude Bishop's signature flair. They were installed in the church just prior to the 2005 Lenten Season and remain timeless and perfectly suited to the space.
Bishop said of the experience:
I shall always be grateful for the opportunity to do this important work and it is my prayer that the practice of the Way of the Cross with these new Stations helps to propagate the lessons of the of the crucifixion story.