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Ordinary Saints is a collaborative project featuring the work of Bruce Herman (painter), Malcolm Guite (poet), and J.A.C. (“JAC”) Redford (composer). They have turned their collective attention toward a series of ordinary faces —“people in our immediate circles who are often overlooked, and who are dear to our Lord”—and have responded through their respective mediums.

With JAC in California, Malcolm in Cambridge (U.K.), and Bruce in Massachusetts, perhaps it seems surprising that the first public manifestation of their project would emerge in a remote Canyon deep in the Hill Country of Texas. But a closer look reveals a startling synchronicity between the project, Ordinary Saints, and the place, Laity Lodge.

Laity Lodge was built upon a conviction of the high calling of the laity–the ordinary people of God, in all their common offices and occupations. And the experience of venturing here, of being here, offers a quiet and somewhat mysterious means of rediscovering a sense of the sacred all around us … not just here in the Frio River Canyon, but back in those ordinary places that define our day-to-day.

Wendell Berry has written, “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” Sacred spaces, sacred faces … maybe they’re both closer than we think. “Gaze on this painting, let it gaze on you,” Malcolm begins one of his poems … “what will you allow yourself to see?”

Ordinary Saints

The ordinary saints, the ones we know,
Our too-familiar family and friends,
When shall we see them? Who can truly show
Whilst still rough-hewn, the God who shapes our ends?
Who will unveil the presence, glimpse the gold
That is and always was our common ground,
Stretch out a finger, feel, along the fold
To find the flaw, to touch and search that wound
From which the light we never noticed fell
Into our lives? Remember how we turned
To look at them, and they looked back? That full-
eyed love unselved us, and we turned around,
Unready for the wrench and reach of grace.
But one day we will see them face to face.

A Portrait of Meg

All portraits carry something of the icon,
Some inkling of the light behind the sill
Of all our seeming, of the unquenched beacon
Whose radiance we never see, yet feel
Just under everything. But here that cross
Of light is made explicit, shines behind
A woman’s strength and beauty, all the wise
And humorous awareness in her eyes,
The sense you have of her quick-piercing mind,
Unflinching, yet compassionate. You trace
The lines of a long love, and a strong heart,
The to and fro of healing and of hurt.
You could not hold a falsehood to this face,
Or not for long, before that open gaze.

Among the Saints

This summer, we had the pleasure of talking with Bruce, JAC, and Malcolm about Ordinary Saints. They spoke about the origins and hopes for their project as well as their thoughts on collaboration and beauty.

How did the three of you meet?
And JAC?
Malcolm, what was the beginning of this collaboration like for you?
What kind of hopes do you have for this exhibition?
Bruce, I came across a quote of yours that struck me deeply: “The radical autonomy that we enjoy as artists can be a very real danger and the main danger is meaninglessness.” After considering it for a while I realized it was actually an indirect statement about collaboration.
Malcolm, what are your thoughts on this front?
JAC, what did it look like for you to engage in this collaboration? Are you responding to both Bruce and Malcolm in your musical scores?
Bruce, can you talk a little about the relationship between your paintings and icons?