The Word Became Art

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As a conservative Protestant raised in a Rockwellesque New England farming community, Sandra Bowden is acutely aware of the Protestant preference for words over images. As an artist, it has caused her no small concern that her signature motif has always been fragments of words layered into every work of art she signs.

"At one point I had to deal with some very distressing questions. Here I had spent my whole life in a church focused on words," Bowden explains. "I used to think, 'What have I done? Isn't this art just compounding the whole problem?'—until I began to 'get' the theology properly. By the Word of the Lord the heavens were made; Jesus as the Word-made-flesh points far beyond the physical [emphasis hers]. So the Word must have a power beyond cognitive thought, beyond logic. That's the mystery I've spent a lifetime hunting for in my art—that veiled kind of expression which doesn't explain itself right away."

Choose any work from Bowden's prolific output and you uncover fragments of Hebrew calligraphy and segments of timeworn antique Bibles or commentaries, and in as many as 40 languages.

LAYER UPON LAYER Fascinated by the form and historical weight of Hebrew, Bowden began studying it in 1972 with an orthodox rabbi. In 1980 she made the first of four visits to Israel and immersed herself in ancient Israelite culture, archaeology, geology, and ritual—admitting she is "always the student, but never a scholar." What eventually emerged was her Israelite Tel Suite, cross-sectioned profiles of Canaanite cities conquered by Joshua in the thirteenth century b.c. Concealed archaeological features or important artifacts layered into the strata of Tels Megiddo, Hazor, Gezer, and Lachish relate directly to Old ...

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