“Never make a cross,” sculptor Ted Prescott used to tell his students. “It is an empty symbol, and it immediately tags you as a Christian.”

But for the past three years, Prescott, who is associate professor of art at Messiah College, has been making almost nothing else: A sinuous, blue neon line evokes a primitive cross and contemporary advertising dazzle. Life casts of friends and fellow faculty members join with an adjustable steel “one-size-fits-all crucifying machine” to form an impressive modern version of the traditional “Descent from the Cross” tableau. A cross of polished brass with slate and alabaster inlays is designed for liturgical use.

Prescott wants to create art for people, not just for other artists—thus his use of the cross and other religious subjects, mixing contemporary references with traditional themes. His Annunciation, for example, consists of a classically figurative sculpture of a young woman facing a red neon angel. Whereas traditional paintings of the Annunciation often show a beam of light falling on Mary’s abdomen, Prescott’s neon messenger casts a red glow on the woman’s slightly rounding belly. And the peasant girl is wearing sandals—Dr. Scholl’s Exercise Sandals.

How Shall We Then Paint?

Prescott’s past helps to explain his former disdain for, and his present fascination with, the cross. Involved in the chemical creativity of the sixties’ student culture at Colorado College (Colorado Springs), Prescott met and married his painter wife, Cathy. Together they moved to Manhattan’s avant-garde East Village where they involved themselves with the aggressively secular, antitraditional, proprogress dialog ...

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