Wolfmilk Nursing
Wolfmilk Nursing, 1992

Meinrad Craighead

Meinrad Craighead has spent her life exploring in art the human-divine relationship, particularly in images of God as the Great Mother. Her work portrays in vivid color both an active visual dialogue with God and a keen sense of the brooding, watching, beckoning power she finds in the land around her, in the sky above, the earth below, in the animals, in our dreams. One critic called her art "vast landscapes of interconnectedness." Another wrote: "Her detailed pieces teem with images and concepts from Catholic spirituality and ancient mythologies, blended in visceral lunges or relentless flows. All art for Meinrad is prayer, a continual supplication for vision."

Her Catholic upbringing, Craighead has said, nourished her imagination through its ritual and ceremonies, its candles, incense, psalms, and litanies. Yet her first real religious experience, at the age of 7, was not in the church but in nature, with her dog. She had retreated from the heat of a summer day to the shade of some hydrangea bushes. Under the flowers' blue dome, she found herself gazing into her dog's eyes. "They were as deep, as bewildering, as unattainable as a night sky," she said of the eyes, and as she stared she felt a rush of water coming from deep within her. "I listened to the sound of the water inside, saw a woman's face, and understood: This is God. Because she was a force living within me, she was more real, more powerful than the remote 'Father' I was educated to have faith in. We hid together inside the structures of institutional Catholicism. Through half a lifetime of Catholic liturgies, during school years, in my professional work as an educator, for 14 years in a monastery, she lived at my inmost center, the groundsill of my spirituality."

Sound of the Rio Grande
Sound of the Rio Grande, 1988

Subjects in Craighead's work range from the visions of the Catholic women mystics to images of the Rio Grande, scenes from the psalms and the "Song of Songs," figures from Greek and Norse mythology, Native American animal and divine spirits, wise grandmothers, angels clicking castanets, otherworldly beings. There are also women giving birth in a variety of ways, self-portraits, menstrual blood, icon-like scenes featuring dogs, crows, flickers, coyotes, magpies, turtles, and owls.

Religious art portrays in tangible form the awe, wonder, and mystery of our human encounter with the divine. In Craighead's work in the visual arts, nature, myth, and the Catholic spiritual tradition all mix in a body of work that is enigmatic, illuminating, and deeply nourishing.

From an article by Rich Heffern in the National Catholic Reporter.