BLESSED JOHN PAUL II, a poet, actor, and playwright, had a great appreciation for human artistry. In his 1999 Letter to Artists, he wrote: “The more conscious they are of their ‘gift,’ [artists] are led all the more to see themselves and the whole of creation with eyes able to contemplate and give thanks, and to raise to God a hymn of praise. This is the only way for them to come to a full understanding of themselves, their vocation, and their mission” (#1).
For Catholic visual artist and Franciscan associate Jo Myers-Walker, the late pope’s explanation of the difficult life of an artist has helped her understand the sorrows and joys of the only way of life she has ever known.
“When I was in the fifth grade,” Jo says, “my mother let me paint my bedroom, but little did we know that such a thing, fairly boring for most young girls, would forever change my life.” Paint opened for her the door to a world most of us only dream of, a life grounded in pursuing visual art.
“I began by painting trees that went around the room on two of the walls. I put flowers and vines along the floorboards. I felt I needed to have beauty around me. My parents realized right away that there was something inside me that needed to be expressed. I guess that was when I began to think of myself as an artist.”
Many years later, art and Franciscan spirituality are central for Jo. “For me, painting those walls was the beginning of finding beauty and a sense of peace,” Jo explains from her studio in Gilbert, Iowa, a town with fewer than 2,000 residents.
Using a great variety of media, she conducts classes there. From watercolor painting to woodworking, from “slumping” (molding plastic or clay) to bookmaking, from creating delicious meals to painting with food—yes, with food—Jo’s creative passions ignited as soon as she picked up that paintbrush many years ago.
“I loved to climb trees,” Jo remembers, “and I climbed them to get above the chaos. Because I needed to reflect, I could look at the world closely from up there. Artists are observers. They see the detail in everything. You can’t help it.”