Art of the Cross

St. James Episcopal Cathedral in Chicago will host former FVCC art professor’s work through April 12

By Maggie Dresser
Charcoal drawing by Marvin Messing. Courtesy image

As a kid, Pamela Hughes doesn’t remember a time that her father didn’t paint or sculpt during her childhood in Illinois.

Once Marvin Messing’s kids were asleep at 9 p.m., he would unleash his creativity until midnight, painting and sculpting in the house or the garage. “It was kind of an interesting home to grow up in,” Hughes said. “He never actually had his own studio … he’d do life-size statues of Christ in the garage.”

After a lifetime of painting and sculpting religious and political art, Messing’s work is now being recognized at The St. James Episcopal Cathedral in Chicago where his charcoal drawings exhibit, “Art of the Cross,” will be displayed throughout the 40 days of lent.

The set of 17 drawings depict Christ’s journey from Pilate’s judgment hall to Golgotha where he was crucified.

As a World War II veteran, Hughes says her father’s work was heavily inspired by the War Requiem, a composition of World War I poetry, which she says he regularly listened to while he worked.

“My dad continued to illustrate the lines of the poetry for the rest of his life,” Hughes said.

Born and raised in northern Illinois, Messing attended the Art Institute of Chicago before enlisting in the Navy during World War II. His artistic talents allowed him to work with the Naval Intelligence as a topographical map and model maker. As an intelligence officer, Hughes says he refused to divulge his war experience, but she says it heavily influenced his work.

Hughes describes her father’s art as “disturbing and brutal” work that’s more suited for museums and exhibits rather than living room decorations. She says his work often triggers discussions from people of all denominations.

“Some of it is uncomfortable and he felt that it was important to challenge the viewer, to make them think,” Hughes said.

While he often created religious art, Hughes says he painted some rather disturbing pieces of Native Americans and multiple war themes in his roughly 300 paintings and 150 statues.

After painting every night for as long as Hughes can remember, Messing retired from the sporting goods store that he owned and operated in Illinois and he and his wife moved to Whitefish in the 1980s where he was able to pursue his passions for art and skiing fulltime.

For 11 years, Messing was an associate professor at Flathead Valley Community College where he taught art in his retirement.

“He felt that teaching was an important part of being an artist,” Hughes said.

Messing felt that every person had an artistic voice, and teaching enabled him to challenge his students to find it.

Following his death in 2014, Hughes received several calls from people who were searching for his paintings.

“People could describe paintings to us that he did 40 years ago,” Hughes said. “They could describe them to the point where I immediately knew and I thought it was amazing that his stuff could stick that long in someone’s memory.”

After Hughes and her sister decided not to sell any of his work, they began showing his paintings in the churches across the Flathead Valley and the Midwest. Priests remembered Messing when he lived in Illinois and they became interested in showing his work following his death.

Hughes presented the idea to the St. James Episcopal Cathedral in Chicago and she was amazed how receptive they were and agreed to show Messing’s art.

Hughes hopes to show more of her father’s work in future exhibits and more churches.

Messing’s “Art of the Cross” exhibit will show during lent at the St. James Episcopal Cathedral in Chicago from Feb. 26 to April 12.

For more information, visit http://www.marvinmessing.com.


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