An Interview with Wilma Griffioen Vanderleeuw
When asked about her life as an artist, Wilma Griffioen Vanderleeuw, 70, jokingly says she believes she was born with a pencil in her hand. Griffioen Vanderleeuw is a member of Waterloo Christian Reformed Church, Waterloo, Ontario, where she serves on the Worship Committee. While continuing to pursue her career in art, she also teaches classes and is completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Waterloo. Her artwork can be found in Canada, Belgium, The Netherlands, the United States and Malta.
Griffioen Vanderleeuw has an artist’s statement that reflects her love for God and his direction in her life: “Life’s journey takes many twists and turns, and so do my paintings, as they move with me along that journey. I paint for the pure joy of creating, and experiment continually, whether with Realism, Impressionism, or in a Contemporary style. I use each type of medium to articulate my feelings for my subject. I stand in awe of the beauty of creation and my Creator, and live to create.”
Recently, Christian Courier interviewed Griffioen Vanderleeuw to learn more about a series of seven paintings that she created based on the book of Revelation.
Christian Courier: Completing a project of the scope you’ve created usually involves a vision, and then a plan to bring it to fruition. Who came up with the idea to create a series of seven paintings based on Revelation to accompany a sermon series?
Wilma Griffioen Vanderleeuw: In the spring of 2010, the worship committee at my church invited me to collaborate with our pastor, Vicki Cok, to develop a series of paintings that would accompany her sermon series. I was asked to execute a painting for each sermon every week for eight weeks.
What was the main theme of the sermon series?
Here’s how Pastor Vicki explained the theme to our congregation: “Some people approach Revelation as a series of frightening visions about the future, but I thought it was important to keep the book in the context of the first century when these frightening things were already happening. The message to the original readers was a message of comfort and assurance that the persecutions they were enduring were temporary, God was still in control, Jesus was still on the throne, and, in the end, it would be obvious to all that God has already won and will continue to win the battle with evil because creation was being and will be restored, recreated, made new.
“We who are not currently persecuted (but may be again) need that same message of comfort when we worry about the future of the church in the world. Yes, painful and evil things happen. But God wins.
“Through the series of visions recorded in Revelation, the reader gets a peek behind the curtain of the physical world that we can see and touch, to the spiritual realm, to the bigger picture, to a reality that can’t be limited to or contained in words and material experiences. It seemed wrong, then, to take these visions and turn them back into words, into explanations and into theological propositions. Revelation demands the broader involvement of the eyes, the imagination, and the gut. Including art in the worship services helped the congregation to listen and to see and to experience John’s visions on both intellectual and emotional levels, as they were meant to be experienced.”
How did you prepare to paint this series? What role did prayer, Bible study and research play in your life as you undertook this project?
Through extensive research, prayer and study of the Book of Revelation, it was revealed to me which images would be appropriate to accompany each sermon. The objective was to give the congregation a visual representation of the message.
How long did it take you to complete?
It was difficult the first week. I had begun a very large painting, intending to build on it each week, but found it was not ready to hang. So, after a discussion with Pastor Vicki, I incorporated the overwhelming amount of information into one, and that became the first of seven paintings. It took a week to have this work ready for Saturday, but by then I was inspired, and completed the painting, Worship, to accompany Pastor Vicki’s sermon, “The Last Word on Worship.”
Successive paintings took me between 30 and 40 hours each to complete. From July to September, I completed a new painting each week by Saturday evening to be hung in the sanctuary for the following morning’s service.
To help us better understand how the theme of the sermon series is represented in your art, could you explain how it is revealed in your paintings entitled Worship and Heaven?
The first painting in the series, Worship, is a representation of the first five chapters of the Book of Revelation. It references the letters to the seven churches, the throne in heaven, the seven seals of the scroll and the Lamb, the rainbow and the lightning, and the four living creatures.
The last painting in the series, Heaven, depicts the river of life flowing from under the throne. God is seated, holding a small child. The tree of life is on each side of the stream, and the heavenly city is being lowered in the background. The two roads on either side illustrate the straight way and the crooked way. The light of God illuminates the entire scene.
Some of the imagery in your paintings might be frightening for a child. If a child responded fearfully to your paintings entitled Evil and Judgement, how would you answer them?
Pastor Vicki addressed the context of each painting during the sermon itself. It was very interesting to see the children, as well as the parents, respond with rapt attention. The children weren’t fearful, because likely the toys they currently possess are more frightening than the symbolism in the paintings!
What did you learn about God, his Word and yourself through this project?
I found a deeper appreciation for God’s Word, and his leading in my life and in my art.
Do you plan to invite other churches to borrow the paintings so they can also benefit from them?
We would be delighted to share the paintings with any churches, though they do take up a large amount of space, and not everyone will be able to accommodate them. Please let it be known that they can be shared, or even bought individually or as a series. Interested persons may contact me at 519-746-7761 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Revelation 6-8: Evil
Revelation 10-11: Witness
Revelation 12-14: Politics
Revelation 15-18: Judgement
Revelation 19-20: Salvation
Revelation 22: Heaven
Wilma Griffioen Vanderleeuw, married to Jim, is a member of Waterloo CRC, Waterloo, Ontario. She is an artist and educator affiliated with The Waterloo Community Arts Centre, Kitchener Waterloo Society of Artists, Central Ontario Art Association and the University of Waterloo.
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