PSR alum reveals a spiritual artist in everyone

December 8, 2009

During one liturgical art workshop that Alice Helen Masek (MA 1995) leads in papercutting, an elderly participant explained that he hadn’t considered himself capable of creativity since a kindergarten teacher said he would never do art. Yet over the course of the weekend-long workshop, as Masek taught the silver-haired congregant to reveal an intricate pattern by slicing paper with a utility knife, that long-internalized identity as a non-artist fell away. When he held up a finished papercutting that he made, he broke into tears.

“For a lot of people who have been shut off from art, these workshops provide a chance to participate in an incarnational step that turns a flat piece of paper into art—a step anyone can do,” the Castro Valley, California resident explains. “It gives everyone a feeling they’ve accomplished something beautiful. What a marvelous gift!”

Masek maintains that the art form itself, not her instruction per se, provides that epiphany, but she strives to use this creative outlet to bring people closer to God. During her workshops, which she offers at churches across the country and world, she encourages participants to meditate on the spiritual meaning behind the images they cut, which Masek designs beforehand. The participants circle around the large sheet of paper—up to nine feet by twelve feet in size—and work on small sections at a time, often discussing how the theme of the scripture-inspired piece relates to their own lives. And when the piece is finished, the experience of seeing it lifted above the altar in church can be a revelation.

“When a design is raised, they’re awed by it. They say, 'I was just cutting a small part and had no idea of the fuller picture,'” Masek says. “Isn’t that like life—we’re focused on a little part and don’t see the larger picture until God raises it up for us to see. That transformation comes from prayerfulness, fellowship, and seeing the outcome of a group effort.”

The parallels between art and spiritual practice abound, Masek maintains. Indeed, the very act of “bringing paper to life,” as she describes papercutting, can provide startling spiritual insights—an outcome of creating art that few people realize before experiencing it themselves. When a group finishes a project, “there’s a feeling of, ‘We did that and it’s good!’” Masek says. “That draws them closer to a little comprehension of what our creator must feel like when the world we live in unfolds. It’s another door to experience God and the scriptures and the tradition of faith in a new way.”