4/18/2014 10:33:30 PM

A Saintly Portrait

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Siena College Assistant Professor of Creative Arts Scott Nelson Foster was outside his comfort zone when he was commissioned to create a portrait of St. Kateri Tekakwitha for a Schenectady, New York parish named in her honor.

Foster primarily paints landscapes, so it took some creativity and a whole lot of skill for him to produce the portrait of a Native American woman who lived in the 1600s. Without the luxury of photographs, Foster relied on his research to make an informed decision on what St. Kateri would have looked like. His goal was to create an image that portrayed the spirit of the first Native American saint.

“It has been written by her biographers that, to those who knew her, St. Kateri made tangible the grace and beauty of God. What does that look like? This painting is my answer to the question,” Foster said.

Foster is excited to be an original contributor to the still evolving iconography of St. Kateri. He devoted time to developing every detail of the oil painting, including the addition of indigenous plant life and detailed patterns on St. Kateri’s dress. Foster also agonized on getting her facial expression just right, which is why, even after hours of work, he repainted Kateri’s face.

The painting was unveiled at the St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish in Schenectady on Monday, October 21 in honor of the first anniversary of St. Kateri’s canonization.

Parish Pastor Rev. Bob Longobucco thought Foster’s hard work paid off. Longobucco said his painting is a fitting way to honor the saint. “The portrait, ‘St. Kateri in God's Creation’ captures her pride, kindness, determination and her love of the land we share with her,” Longobucco said. “This portrait will inspire generations to live with the simplicity and grace that marked Kateri's life.”

Retired Siena College Professor of Creative Arts Pat Coohill, Ph.D. was among the members of the Siena College community who attended the unveiling. Coohill was impressed by Foster’s attention to detail and his overall approach. “He leaves room for the imagination,” Coohill said.

While Foster’s research informed his approach to the portrait, Siena College senior management major Lauren Godas ’14 served as his model. “I’m honored that I was picked,” Godas said. Foster had her pose for several photos in his studio and at a local park. He then worked from the photos while painting the portrait.

Longobucco said that finding an artist who could capture the spirit of the parish in the painting was also important. The piece was commissioned thanks to the generous donation of parishioners John and Lucy Halstead. The painting is dedicated to the memory of John Halstead’s parents and his aunt.

“It was my aunt's vision to honor my parents for their devotion to family and dedication of service to others through the Church. My aunt recently passed, so now it honors her also,” said Halstead. “It is also meant to honor St. Kateri Tekakwitha who suffered with health and blindness issues. This hits close to home as both my mom and aunt struggled with sight problems throughout their lives.”

Foster has documented his progress on the portrait in a blog, giving followers unique access to his artistic process. He has been commissioned to create another painting of St. Kateri Tekakwitha for the Parish’s second church.  

Contact: Ken Jubie
Contact E-mail: communications@siena.edu

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