Glencairn Museum, in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, was privileged to present twenty-five paintings by the British artist, Roland Smith, a series inspired by Johnís visions from the Book of Revelation, the Apocalypse. This very successful exhibition was enjoyed by hundreds of visitors last year, over a period of four months.
How did these paintings come to be? To answer this question, I will paraphrase from the introductory material in the exhibition catalogue. In the year 2000, in England, several ministers of The General Conference of the New Church organized an Apocalypse Study Group. For a decade, these ministers met twice a year for intensive workshops and were inspired to try a variety of approaches to help explain the Apocalypse and to develop various materials for use by people interested in the book. From the early days of the project, the visual impact of the images from the Book of Revelation was seen as a vital way of accessing the inner, spiritual meanings of the text. The ministers sought to understand the relevance of this book to our personal spiritual experiences as it has universal application to the challenges we all face in our inner life.
The gifted artist and graphic designer, Roland Smith, worked closely with the Study Group, whose members specified which verses to illustrate and why. They did not, however, attempt to dictate to him the manner of presentation. The verses were chosen with reference to the works of Swedenborg, particularly the Apocalypse Explained and the Apocalypse Revealed.
The next question to answer is, how did Glencairn Museum become interested in these paintings? In the late 1980s, soon after I became director of Glencairn, I visited friends and family in England. Helen Sutton took me to meet Roland and his wife, Marjory, in their home in Kent where I was very interested to see some of his art work.
Then, in 2001, I travelled to see Roland again, and he showed me several new, very attractive and compelling works, the first six of his Apocalypse paintings. In 2007, I visited him a third time and saw more wonderful works in the same series. It seemed to me that each painting was more vibrant and thought-provoking than the last. Rolandís delightful sense of humour began to emerge more often in these later works, too. We began to talk about the possibility of exhibiting these at Glencairn when the series was complete and he referred me to the coordinator of the Apocalypse Study Group, Rev Bruce Jarvis. In 2009, after the Museumís exhibition committee gave their approval to the concept, Bruce and I began talking about bringing the paintings here.
The exhibition was a very successful one. Each of our daily tour groups was invited to enjoy the paintings. A group of college students and their professor from nearby Arcadia University made a special trip to see this exhibit, as part of their study of the Apocalypse in history and art. They particularly appreciated comparing Rolandís work with Glencairnís medieval art illustrating some of the same visions from the Apocalypse. Several groups of students from Bryn Athynís schools also came to look. One of their favourite paintings was, ďThe Guiding AngelĒ, which depicts a young, caring woman showing an elderly John the Holy City, the river of life Ė clear as crystal Ė and the fruitful tree of life.