One Pilgrim's Progress

by John A. Kohan

Sacred art has been a lifelong preoccupation, judging from the earliest sketch of mine my mother saved. It is a pencil illustration of Jesus’ parable of “The Sower and the Seed” (in a style not unlike that of Contemporary American Artist Cy Twombly!), drawn when I was a child of six or so, attending a Baptist Church Sunday School in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the 1950s.

Whatever my early artistic inclinations, my professional career centered on words, not images. After receiving degrees from the University of Virginia and Columbia University in literature (with a brief interlude at the University of Leningrad to study Russian), I worked for TIME Magazine for over twenty years, first, in the New York City editorial office and, later, as a foreign correspondent in Germany and the USSR (which became Russia, again, during my eight-year stint in Moscow.)

 Along with reporter notebooks, I often carried a sketch pad with me in my travels, drawing landscapes—usually full of churches. When I left fulltime work in journalism to settle on the island of Cyprus, I realized the study of sacred art was my real passion and set out on a pilgrimage, which has taken me to painted churches in Romania and the Modern Art Museum in New York City, the medieval cathedrals of France and the Coptic monasteries of the Egyptian desert, the concrete chapels of Le Corbusier and the adobe pilgrim shrines of the American Southwest.

A workshop in icon-writing in Jerusalem inspired me to make sacred art, and I began experimenting with different styles and media, finding ways to record what I had experienced on my pilgrimage in a visual way. Written reflections soon followed. (Once a journalist, always a journalist!) I hope my love of art history and passion for my subject matter make up for “technical” shortcomings in my art work and in the commentaries to be found on this website. They were not created with art historians or theologians in mind and express my personal opinions and beliefs.

One of the greatest joys of the journey has been encountering fellow travelers on similar artistic quests. Contrary to my expectations, there is sacred art worthy of attention from the modern era (which I date from the turn of the 19th century). It is being made, even as you read these words. The artistic “souvenirs” I gathered along the way have grown over time into the Sacred Art Pilgrim Collection, which now includes pieces by artists, known and unknown, from around the globe, working in Ethiopia and Japan, Russia and Panama, Romania and Australia. You can view them in the Sacred Artists and Schools of Art galleries. My own works are in The Journey in Art gallery.

I hope, one day, to merge my pilgrim art “gleanings” with works gathered by other lovers of contemporary religious art to form the core collection of a world-class museum of sacred art somewhere in the U.S., a cultural establishment, committed not only to keeping sacred works on permanent display but to sending out satellite shows to churches and educational institutions across the country. Much like the seed, scattered in my first childish drawing!