It's tempting to think, as we walk through laid-back, oh-so-chic galleries, and cold, hard, museums of modern art, that the ancient symbiotic relationship between art and religion has long ago become a thing of the past. I must admit that I've had that feeling, indeed, probably I have imparted it to others as an Arty-fact of life. And, while it's true, that few great Cathedrals are being built today (except for Mormon temples), and there has always been an overriding architectural link between great religious art and the great religions; there still remains today a vibrant link between the creative arts on one hand and spiritual movements on the other. Usually it doesn't make the news. Usually it's a modest, religious work donated by the artist to his or her church, or perhaps a traveling exhibit showcasing the best efforts of those of us who wish to serve their God through the gifts that God has so generously bestowed upon them. But there still are a few major artists handling major commissions for the creation of major works of art having religious themes. One of these is David J. Hetland.
He calls Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, his home; though his studio is in Fargo, North Dakota. The vast majority of his works are in the Northern Midwest with it's heavily Lutheran population. In viewing his work, we might tend to think of him in the same league with Michelangelo, but actually, he's much more like Peter Paul Rubens in that, unlike Michelangelo, who painted every stroke and chiseled every chip himself, Hetland is a designer. Like Rubens, he employs a sizable workshop, which he supervises meticulously, and no doubt picks up a brush or glass cutter himself from time to time. So in essence, he is a designer. He paints, he sculpts, he creates in glass mosaic, and stained glass. He even designs banners and furniture for churches. One of his most interesting works involves the use of painted wooden blocks to create pointillist religious images on brick church walls. The comparison with Rubens is most apt, for like the Flemish master, Hetland has become something of an institution. His gigantic, twenty-foot-tall by sixty-foot-wide murals for Concordia's annual Christmas Concerts have become a tradition going back eight years now.
Unlike Rubens, who limited his work (and for the most part, that of his atelier) to painting, Hetland is far more versatile. In fact, rather than painting, stained glass seems to be his medium of choice. His mosaics, his paintings, even his welded wrought iron sculptural works tend to reflect this. But if you're thinking in terms of traditional, holier-than-thou Gothic windows, think again. He is thoroughly an artist of the twentieth century. There is Cubism to be seen in his work, Symbolism, even an Abstract Expressionist flavor at times. His colors are striking, lively, dramatic, more closely Baroque than Gothic. And though mosaics have not played a major part in church art since the Byzantine era, Hetland employs this spectacular artform with the same sweeping strokes one might expect in painting. You won't find his work in elite art galleries, though at $250 to $400 per square foot, they're in that price range. His work is not for the worship of art, but for the worship of God, and it's in galleries dedicated to this purpose, where you'll find the work of David Hetland.