August 2012



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My First AL Field Trip to Cullman

Every year in Cullman there is a "Bloom Festival". Don't be fooled by the name as I was because it turns out there aren't a bunch of gardens and flowers. Instead there's a ton of generic crafts and a lot of over priced food to support a Catholic Prep school. It was very disappointing.

In an effort to see some flowers, I dropped some more cash (only $3 but on top of the $5 to get into the fair with only sale booths, the $8 for a meal +$1 for drink, this is an expensive event for no attraction) to go into the grotto. Instead of some beautifully landscaped shaded walk highlighted by some tastefully, arranged sculptures, I walked into one of the most creep and bizarre arrangement of Hodge-podged religious models of ever seen. "Brother Joe" (using his nick name was something done in the exhibit that made the experience more awkward as I’m not and don’t want to be on familiar terms with this guy) is a monk who apparently lived a dull cloistered life. To compensate, he built model replicas of religious sites across the world. So far, that sounds potentially interesting. It’s not my first choice to look at models of someone else’s faith, but I appreciate beauty and art regardless of the religion it’s connected to.

To make the model’s Brother Joe used a mixture of cement and odds and ends he found around the monastery. Still could be cool right? I mean there’s tons of pretty items we consider trash, glass, certain bits of plastic, aluminum, marbles, and sea shells. Pagan art consists of this stuff all the time and some of it is really nice.

As it turns out, Brother Joe had more than enough time to make dozens of large sculptures but not enough time to place marbles in a way that would be attractive or interesting. It looks like he just tossed marbles in and mixed it with the cement. However they mixed with the substance, is how they too shape, whether fully submerged, mostly covered, or on a major seem/corner of the structure.

This is odd because he takes the time to do some very pretty tile work. So I know he had the ability to do detail work. With all those marbles, he could have created a lovely mosaic or at least placed them on structures in a meaningful way, possibly with a color pattern.

The glass bits are cut in shiny incredibly sharp jagged pieces in top that make many buildings seem mean ominous and unfinished. Any of this would be fine for the castle of Hansel and Gettle, it’s less fine on the church of Hiroshima.

I asked myself if I’d be less creeped out if this was my religion depicted in poorly constructed trash. The answer is no, I’ve seen pagans to this often and think it’s tacky and sometimes creepy then too. There is a right way to used recycled materials and there is a wrong way. The right way involves just as much thought, precision, and attention a detail as the use of any professional material would. In some ways, it takes a deeper consideration because one is competing with professional grade and quality materials to get the same results.

One thing I’ll give the exhibit: from a distance the sheer volume of work is highly impressive. Then you get closer and see irregular details, shards of sharp glass, and broken shells it becomes creepy.


Wow, what a misleading name. Who wouldn't expect flowers there, really? And those sculptures sounds very creepy. Interesting, maybe, but creepy. It sucks that you were expecting something completely different.
Yeah, it was kind of odd. If you end up in the area and like kitch, then Brother Joe's exhibit might be interesting. It was kind of like passing a car wreck: from a distance you weren't sure what was going on, closer in you realized what it is and that you don't want to look, but as you pass by there's this need to absorb as much as possible. I wish I'd had my new phone when I went because I'd have taken and posted some pictures.

I went to the Botanical Gardens in Huntsville for their festival this past Sunday and it was wonderful. I plan to write up a little something about that later though.