It can be argued that the first images ever created by man were used in the service of religion and ritual. In the quest to capture the spirits of animals as an aid in hunting, people painted images on cave walls as early as 64,000 BCE. The dynamic images of bison, deer and other animals scattered on the walls of the Lascaux and Altamira caves attest to man’s observation of the natural world and also to the sacred aspects imbued in it. Small hand-held carvings of women made from bone, stone and antler were used in rituals associated with fertility and childbirth. Objects such as the Woman of Willendorf, the Cycladic figures of Greece and Tlatilco “Pretty Lady” statuettes from Mexico are excellent examples of this practice.
Religious objects are made from any number of materials: wood, precious metals, fabric, even feather and stone, and the materials often have symbolic significance. Many of these materials have high cultural, material and intrinsic value, but most importantly, the material from which a religious object is created has spiritual value.
The process of producing something for, or expressing, the sacred or spiritual is in itself a religious experience for the maker. Creating the image of a deity or putting their words to paper is seen in many traditions to be a way to connect with the spiritual realm. The maker often must have special status or function as a priest to create religious art, such is the level of knowledge they must possess, in order to imbue an object with spirit.
People created architecture to protect religious objects, to entomb the deceased and to articulate sacred concepts. The Great Pyramids of ancient Egypt, Hopi kivas, Gothic Cathedrals and Hindu stupas all reflect concepts unique to their particular religions. These structures not only house sacred objects, provide a place of community, or are the resting places of deceased kings and priests. They also illustrate the way the universe is organized, according to the faith for which they were constructed.
Earlham College, as an institution affiliated with the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), is influenced by Quaker principles. The principles of Simplicity and Community are clearly evident in the architecture and design of the campus. While
the College is informed by the Quaker faith, it embraces diversity in all forms, and seeks to promote a global community of understanding through education. To this end, the Earlham College Art Collection is proud to maintain objects from many of the world’s religious traditions – both mainstream and indigenous.
As an educational community, we are a changing group of diverse persons, bringing to
this institution a variety of identities, as well as a great range of personal and cultural values, experiences, and perspectives. We are a community that deliberately welcomes persons of all religious faiths, all spiritual convictions, and those who have no religious affiliation or faith. We welcome this diversity, and the strength and transformations it makes possible. -Earlham College Principles and Practices, read more here
Special thanks to Gordon Thompson and Mark Pearson for their contributions to this exhibition.