Religious Art Becomes Hot Retail Item: Americans Look for `Something Simple, Quiet'

By Roemhildt, Rachel A. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 12, 1998 | Go to article overview
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Religious Art Becomes Hot Retail Item: Americans Look for `Something Simple, Quiet'


Roemhildt, Rachel A., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Americans seeking hope in a troubled world are turning to soothing artwork as a balm for their jangled nerves.

The frayed and weary can snap up the painting "Journey" by Mary Crittenden of Yreka, Calif., which shows two children being led through a dark forest onto a path filled with light.

Or truth-seekers can try "Temple Gateway" by Seattle artist William Doran, which depicts an ancient Greek temple with a moon shining between its columns, overhung by a starry sky and a second moon.

Sales figures of these peaceful depictions of nature, family and religious themes show a growing consumer trend. It mirrors the current popularity of heavenly minded movies such as "What Dreams May Come" and "City of Angels" that offer accessible images of spirituality.

"Overwhelmed by job stress, economic and social pressures, the invasive beat of the media, and the pervasive presence of technology, many people are looking for something simple, quiet and comforting to hold on to," says Gerald Celente, director of the Trends Research Institute in Rhinebeck, N.Y.

What they're finding is "inspirational art," a melange of feel-good illustrations loaded with New Age or traditional religious themes. Because of society's increasing openness to the spiritual, artists are no longer afraid to claim religious adherence. A case in point is Santa Fe artist Sara M. Novenson's "contemporary Judaic art" gallery where high desert landscapes and verses from the book of Isaiah merge into single artworks.

Merchants in the religious retail business are discovering the same phenomenon. For the first time in its history, the annual Christian Booksellers Association trade fair this past summer devoted a separate section to bric-a-brac, art and clothing imprinted with spiritual mottoes.

"Our home decor sales are up 45 percent from last year because inspirational art is selling rapidly," says Michael Hupp, senior gift buyer for Family Christian Store, a retail chain based in Grand Rapids, Mich.

In the past, the typical customers for such art, which was mainly found in religious bookstores, were women ages 35 to 65. Now men ages 30 to 50 are buying it for offices and younger women are snapping it up, says Carrie Barnes, a product designer for Carpentry, an inspirational art producer based in Tulsa, Okla.

"People are looking for security and hope," she says. "As we draw nearer to the millennium, society is looking for peace and an anchor to hold onto. Inspirational art lifts the spirit and brings peace within through a beautiful means."

An apt example is "Homecoming," a popular rendition of heaven that shows a white-robed soul being welcomed into a sky-blue eternity with a hug from Jesus. Customers keep purchasing it, says Jo Ann Finch, owner of Crafty Corner in Ambridge, Pa.

"I think it reassures people that there is a life after this one," says the merchant, who has stocked the print in her store window for 12 years. Many customers, she recalls, have told her of the void they feel when a loved one has died. After looking at the picture, they are filled with peace. One man bought five prints of it after the death of a son.

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