My Holy Orders

Collage and other artwork By Sandra Marcom Carlman

A Bit About Me

After obtaining a BS in Art Education and an MA in Art -- Drawing & Painting, I spent two years with my husband Terry in the Peace Corps in Nigeria.  Following two years in San Francisco as a secretary and then as an ESL teacher while Terry completed his MA, we went to Saudi Arabia for nine years.  Our two children, Eliot and Erin, were born during that time.  When we returned to the US to live, we moved to Austin, Texas, and I spent the next 21 years teaching art in public school.  Most of my creative energy was consumed in the classroom and I did very little of my own art work until 1998.


I had never entertained the idea of being a "Christian" artist, although I was both a Christian and an artist.  Then in March of 1998 our son Eliot died tragically of an overdose of alcohol and heroin at the age of 23.  My world was torn apart.  Art became my personal and private grief therapy.  Since it was my faith that sustained me, it was naturally an integral part of my art.  Without intending to, I become a Christian artist.


The work began very simply as I made the thank you cards to send to our friends who supported us through those dark and difficult days.  I tore paper in layers, making crosses to adorn each card.  Tearing the paper felt right since it seemed that my normal existence had been ripped away with Eliot's death.



Six weeks after Eliot died my friend Diana sent me a book by Henri J.M. Nouwen entitled, Can You Drink the Cup?  She must have been keeping a divine appointment in sending me this book, because it changed my life.  Images to compliment the truths of the text began to bombard me, and soon I was making collages, not cards.  The ideas flowed effortlessly.  Before one collage was finished I knew what I wanted to do on the next one.  Our house was quickly transformed into a gallery for my work.





















Friends were visiting us about six months later and saw the collages.  They asked me if I would allow them to put the collages in the gallery of their church, First Presbyterian of Austin for a month.  While my work was on display there, I received an invitation to show my work in my own parish, St. Luke's on the Lake Episcopal Church.  That led to an invitation to show my work and be the speaker for a meeting of the women of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Austin.  I didn't really know if I could talk about my work and Eliot's death in front of people I didn't know, but I accepted the invitation in faith that I would be able to do it.


I have laughed about the challenge and my apprehension of that first speaking engagement and concluded that the Lord knew I wasn't ready for that yet.  So, I got a reprive for one year ----  I was diagnosed with breast cancer!  The cancer was detected in the very early stages.  I had a mastectomy, but did not need radiation or chemotherapy.  And, I am grateful, so grateful, to say that I have been cancer-free for 10 years now!


The talk and show at St. Matthew's led to an invitation from Trinity Presbyterian Church in Denton, Texas.  The ante was raised once again.  The invitation was to speak to the church during their Sunday morning worship service.  By this time I had realized that I was following "holy orders" not only in creating the collages, but also in sharing them publicly and in speaking about my experience and Eliot's.  I was, however, totally unprepared to read in the local paper when I arrived in Denton on Saturday, that I was to "preach" at the worship service on Sunday.   I quickly wrote a new introduction to my talk:

         "Only yesterday when I saw the Order of Service did I realize that I was being billed as 'interpreting the Word of God' and 'explaining the meaning of the Bible reading.'  Indeed, there are many parallels between the readings and my artwork, but I will leave each of you to discover those for yourself, and I will deliver my prepared remarks."


I am grateful for the opportunities I've been given to show my work and to tell my story: how God used my talents as an artist to enable my healing and growth through the creation and sharing of the art work that sprang from the midst of my grief and pain over Eliot's death.


In 2004 I was able to retire from teaching and indulge my life-long fantasy of being a full-time artist.  Retirement has been the most joyful part of my life, and not surprisingly, I think my recent work reflects that.  When I found out I was going to be able to retire several years earlier than I had anticipated, my first thought was that retirement was God's latest gift to me, and that my retirement would be spent in praising him through my art work.  From this idea came the name for my business and now my website, My Holy Orders.  This work is my true vocation, and it is holy work.


                            "So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts

                              unto wisdom."                                            Psalm 90:12


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