Palettes of Prayer

Creative pursuits of all types allow us to express thoughts and feelings that can sometimes be difficult to put into words. Color, form, texture or sound can take us to a place beyond language as we continually seek transcendent experiences that elevate, challenge and inspire.

Many Sisters of the Precious Blood make art and crafts, and while the forms of their creations vary widely — carving, painting, quilting, singing and many more — they share in common a means of communion with others, and a way to reflect the beauty of God.

Many artists call west central Ohio “home.” Some have left the area to work as art professors, while others remain in Mercer and Auglaize counties. Some pursue their art full-time, while others work in another field or began working on their art in retirement. For all of them, there is a place where they can share their work close to home, thanks to Sister Martha Bertke.

While Sister Martha doesn’t create art of her own, what she does — dream, organize, encourage and inspire — has provided numerous arts events and opportunities near her home in Coldwater. The largest, Artistry Under the Dome, is the area’s premier juried art fair, bringing a variety of artists to the St. Charles Center in Carthagena. The event will be held April 17-19 this year.

While working as residential manager at St. Charles Senior Living Center some years ago, “I was always thinking of all kinds of ways of getting people into the building,” Sister Martha said. She organized art exhibits, organ recitals, Advent programs and musical performances. In 2010, she coordinated an exhibit of The Saint John’s Bible, the first completely handwritten and illuminated Bible in over 500 years. St. Charles was the only site in Ohio to host the collection that year, and hundreds of people came to view the exhibit.

The experience planted a seed in Sister Martha’s mind — and since 2013, Artistry Under the Dome has provided a space for local artists to present and sell their work. About 30 artists participate in the art fair each year, along with students from local high schools. Some of the artists return year after year; each year, there are also new artists participating. “This helps to bring an added dimension, new talent and vibrancy to the event,” Sister Martha said.

The event begins with an opening reception on Friday evening, with wine, cheese and homemade cookies for all who attend. A team of about 50-60 volunteers — residents at the senior living community, CPPS priests and brothers, Companions of the Precious Blood Missionaries, and people of the local area — help before and during the event with whatever is needed. Over 1,000 people attend the fair each year.

“Each of us has responsibilities in life that vary. However, our purpose is the same — to share the love of Christ. Being involved with various artists and their works is a way to be together in harmony, and to serve with humility. Sharing life and love with others is being faithful to living the Gospels,” Sister Martha said. “In the book I use for morning prayer, I often pray this: ‘Spirit of God, joy is among your many gifts to us. Bless artists of every kind, all who lift up our hearts and fill the world with beauty and light.’”

Sister Martha’s own interest in art began decades ago, while serving in ministry as a director of religious education and pastoral associate. Any time she had the opportunity to travel, she made sure to visit a local art museum. Over the years, as her visits spanned from Detroit and Chicago to Boston and New Orleans, her knowledge of — and appreciation for — all kinds of art grew and deepened.

“Art touches people’s soul. It’s very spiritual. When you think of churches and temples and synagogues, they all have artwork in them,” she said. “Art connects to the spiritual part of our being.”

Artistry Under the Dome showcases a broad spectrum of artwork: painting, photography, sculpture, woodworking, jewelry, pottery and many more. “Many of the visitors are truly so appreciative of the number of artists in the local area and the tremendous talented people who are so creative and devoted to their particular type of art. The camaraderie and enthusiastic spirit for the weekend is wonderful,” Sister Martha said.

To keep up with updates about this year’s fair, and to see photos from years past, visit the event’s Facebook page, “Artistry Under the Dome.”

Story by Mary Knapke

Top, Sister Martha at Artistry Under the Dome in 2018. Bottom, Sister Martha at the 2016 Artistry Under the Dome at St. Charles with artist Doug Fiely. Over 30 artists participated and each one had an 8′ booth to display their items. Over 1,200 people were in attendance. Contributed photos.

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