'Theology incarnate'

SAVANNAH—You wouldn’t know it at first glance, but within the walls of the rather nondescript building on East 39th Street known as Red Fern Studio, watercolor paints, mosaic tiles and stained glass are equipped with the power to transform one’s perception of both this world and the next.

A close-up of the rose window to be installed at Saint Joseph/Candler Hospital in Savannah. Photograph by Jessica L. Marsala.

Founded approximately 7 years ago by Texas-born Carl G. Fougerousse, Red Fern Fine Arts Studio primarily specializes in the creation of art and architecture for churches.

According to Fougerousse, “It’s the art that reveals the theology.” 

Carl G. Fougerousse, founder of Red Fern Fine Arts Studio in Savannah, talks to diocesan videographer Tim Williams about his craft December 15. Photograph by Tim Williams. See the video at bit.ly/RedFernSC

“We don’t necessarily worship the image. We use the image as an aid,” Fougerousse says of Catholics like himself, acknowledging the common misunderstanding that artwork of any kind should be left out of a church because it distracts worshipers. Fougerousse is a parishioner of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Savannah. “It sort of is, again, theology incarnate, in a sense represented in stone and glass and mosaic tile and pigment on canvas and so on. These are very physical things that we are using to represent spiritual ideas.”

Such spiritual ideas—for example the heavenly component of the Mass and the resurrection of the body in heaven, both as depicted in the biblical book of Revelation, among other works—Fougerousse portrays in his characteristic “realist but still idealized” figurative style, reminiscent of the Renaissance, Classical and Romanesque periods, an appreciation for which he gained by living in Europe as a youth and by studying both art and philosophy.

“There’s something very spiritual about that,” Fougerousse says of those periodic styles, “because it doesn’t represent physical reality in a sense: It’s representing something beyond that is somehow more pure. It’s more rational, more regimented; more organized and orderly.”

Though the Red Fern team never leaves out room for spontaneity in its creative process, each piece proceeds through a thorough and detailed planning process, which calls to mind a different time and/or culture when compositions—as well as the tools used to make them—had “lasting value.”

For example, while discussing the intricacies of creating works of stained glass like the new rose window to be installed at Saint Joseph/Candler Hospital in Savannah, Fougerousse says he starts out with a series of colored sketches and drawings, which are shown to clients for approval and fundraising.

Next, line drawings are made to indicate exactly where the glass, when laid on top of the drawings, needs to be cut.

A member of the Red Fern team paints a piece of stained glass on top of a light box. Photograph by Tim Williams.

Later, all is laid on top of a light box for painting. The pigments, which are comprised of ground-up lead and glass, won’t be set—fused to the glass—until heated to approximately, 1250 degrees Fahrenheit in a kiln.

“The sheer fact that it can last a long time is also important in and of itself because it seems like there’s a tendency in our culture to have a lot of things made not to last, disposable things,” Fougerousse said.

Perhaps even more important, the quiet, long hours he and his team spend working creatively in the studio provide ample opportunities for spiritual growth and contemplation.

“Art and architecture have a formative quality: They actually shape us in a sense. I’m fortunate enough to be constantly surrounded by and reminded of things that go beyond the mundane,” Fougerousse said, recognizing how easy it is in our busy world to “lose sight” of the sacred. “The art is in a sense most meaningful in that it expresses truths of the Catholic faith. The depth of Catholic theology is such that there’s no bottom to it, no end to it, and so you can keep digging and keep digging and keep digging.”

Jessica L. Marsala is the assistant to the editor at the Southern Cross.

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