The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 3, 2013

Err of grace: In Hosanna exhibit, Mankato woodcarver displays art with no ego

In Hosanna exhibit, Mankato woodcarver displays art with no ego

By Tanner Kent
tkent@mankatofreepress.com

---- — Sister Mary Ann Osborne's "The Embrace" is among the most powerful examples of the veteran woodcarver's 1,300 creations.

The large image of Christ on the cross contradicts more traditional and tortured interpretations by portraying the crucified figure with soft, rounded limbs and unpierced hands spread in invitation to the viewer. An almost childlike countenance is made all the more tranquil with a tilted posture that the artist believes is crucial to the overall representation of the work.

And to think: That tilted posture was borne from an apparent mistake.

"The head is slanted because I made a mistake with the chainsaw," said Osborne, a School Sister of Notre Dame for almost 40 years who is currently exhibiting a selection of her works, including "The Embrace," at the art gallery located within Hosanna Lutheran Church in Mankato. "I don't often use a chainsaw, but I was in a hurry to get the outline done."

Early in her career, Osborne might have struggled to fix her mistake, or abandoned the piece entirely. But in 1994, during a six-month residency with Franciscan sister and respected woodcarver Sister Sigmunda May, Osborne learned to let the characteristics of the wood guide her process. Osborne credits her mentor for unmooring her style from conventional ways of carving and "loosening my umbrella of rules."

So this time, noticing her errant swipe of the chainsaw, Osborne stepped back and reconsidered her approach. Soon, a new visage revealed itself to her and the artist never gave the mistake a second thought.

"The trick is to let go of yourself and get out of your own ego," Osborne said. "I've learned that if something breaks, that's good. It means you need to change."

The vast majority of Osborne's works (and all of those on display at Hosanna) are in the sacred tradition, derived largely from biblical scripture and New Testament theology.

Her pieces exude humility and serenity. The eyes of her subjects are almost always closed in prayerful reflection or holy gratitude, their palms upturned in the traditional gesture of grace and goodwill.

Furthermore, her carvings are ornately detailed, hewn with an attentive eye toward the treatment of light, shadow, depth and texture. In "Paths of Peace," Osborne embellishes her narrative about renewing the call of God in the world with inlaid glass and gold leaf accents. In "Wound Sanctifier," Osborne pressed nickel-sized bits of silver into the palms of her subjects to represent the healing of wounds.

All tallied, Osborne is displaying 19 pieces at Hosanna's gallery, which hosts a handful of exhibits each year and is open to the public during regular church hours.

"Art is a porthole for others to step into," Osborne said. "This is really how I pray, I think."

Osborne's work will remain on display through Nov. 6.

For more information about the artist, visit: sistermaryannosborne.com. For more information about Hosanna, visit: www.hosannamankato.com.

PLRAC Juried Art Exhibition ST. PETER -- The 21st annual Prairie Lakes Regional Juried Art Exhibition is on display at the Arts Center of St. Peter. Included among the 63 selected works that remain on display through Oct. 19 is Joellen Preston's first-ever, prize-winning piece of art. The lifelong artist and private instructor works in colored pencil, graphite and collage. Past works have included lively, subjective depictions of birds and more brooding, melancholic works of feminine forms. For the Prairie Lakes exhibit, however, she decided to submit a work she created almost by accident. "It came about during a demonstration for an art lesson," she said. "I was showing some techniques and I had this piece of paper with a rabbit on it." Around the miniature rabbit image, Preston drew the loose form of a much larger rabbit and bathed the margins in lively pastels. The result is an oddly harmonious work that the artist said recalls a sense of ambition and hopefulness -- as well as pleasant personal recollections. The work earned a $175 prize for second place. "My dad used to drive Rabbit Road," Preston said, referencing the colloquial name for Le Sueur County Road 45. "The alliteration is just so wonderful." Randy Wood, on the other hand, knew exactly what he was looking for in his submission. After scouting a location on the Kasota prairie that featured a bare tree ensconced in a field of tall grass, Wood asked his wife to pick out a dress with color. They drove out to the prairie and took a few pictures -- but Wood could tell from the overly bright sky that he'd need a return trip. "The first day, it just didn't look right," he said. On a second, more overcast day, Wood found what he was after. In the resulting image, the softly striding woman in Wood's photograph grows almost indistinct against a brooding, expansive background of grass and sky. "On the second day, there was more mood to the sky," he said of the photo that earned a $75 sixth-place prize. "It gives this lonely feeling." This marks the first in recent years that the Prairie Lakes exhibit has been held in St. Peter. Recent editions were held at the Carnegie Art Center in Mankato. Due to gallery dimensions, no three-dimension work was accepted this year. Other winning artists included: First Place ($200) -- Phillip Anderson, North Mankato, photography; Third Place ($150) -- José Garibay, St. Peter, acrylic painting; Fourth Place ($125) -- Jeremy Burger, Mankato, colored pencil drawing; and Fifth Place ($100) -- Liz Madsen, Mankato, image transfer monoprint. Merit Awards of $50 each were awarded to: Janice Carlson, Gaylord; Charles Eggert, St. Peter; Judith Forster-Monson, LeCenter; Mary Gitter-Zehnder, Mankato; Susan Hayes, Montgomery; Kay Herbst Helms, Mankato; Essie Mostaghimi, LeSueur; Joan Osborne, St. Peter; Nina Preheim, St. Peter; Megan Rolloff, New Ulm; and Whitey Thompson, Waseca.