Epiphany Art Project: Revelation Under Our Feet

by Laura Tabbut

During the craziness of 2020, Justin and I served with a nonprofit organization that provides residents of declining neighborhoods with grants and 0% interest loans to assist community members in the restoration of their historic homes. Our current project focuses on restoring the sidewalks in our neighborhood. Many of our sidewalks have been destroyed due to leaky water mains. Twice this fall our city’s aging water main burst, flooded the downtown area, and left the 7,300 businesses and households in our community without potable water for three days. Needless to say, our relationship to water changed this past year. 

On a rainy Saturday in Advent, we were tasked with the responsibility of measuring and photographing all of the sidewalks on the North end of our town. As we walked around town, I photographed a range of cast-iron water main and manhole covers that date from the late-nineteenth century to the present. 

When I uploaded my catalog of sidewalks and cast-iron covers to my computer, I noticed that about half of the water main and manhole covers had distinctly Christian imagery. Specifically, they reminded me of motifs from Romanesque and Byzantine church architecture. As I worked on the artwork for Epiphany, I returned to these photographs and culled them for their symbolism. Each week of Epiphany is paired with a water main or manhole cover as a reminder that God’s transcendence is revealed to us as we move through our everyday lives. 

Week 1:  Stars – “’We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’” Matt. 2:2

Week 2: Water – “’I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’” Mark 1:8

Week 3: Net –  “’Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.” Mark 1:17-18

Week 4: Cross and Globe – “’For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.’” Luke 2:30-32

Week 5: Cross – “The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases.”  Mark 1:33-34

Week 6: Radiating Halo – “There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” Mark 9:2-3 

Epiphany is a distinctly missional season as God’s transcendence is fully revealed to all nations of the world. The focus of many of these passages shows us how Jesus enters into the Gentile or secular space to bring the light of gospel to everyone. As the wisemen search for Jesus and the whole town gathers at the door to witness his healing power,  Epiphany reminds us to look for the extraordinary. Epiphany also reminds us to use our lives, gifts, and talents to further the spread of the gospel. The wisemen bring Jesus extravagant gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Jesus calls humble fishermen to follow him and he brings his glory into the homes of the socially outcast. Throughout these Epiphany narratives, we see humanity transformed as Jesus calls us to follow him. 

Laura Tabbut is an artist based in central Ohio. Her artwork considers current ecological issues and questions the rituals and routines of the American landscape. She currently teaches at Mount Vernon Nazarene University and serves as the Gallery Administrator for the Schnormeier Gallery. Laura is married to Justin Sorensen, Assistant Professor of Art at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. They are expecting their first baby girl, Frances Margaret, during Epiphany 2021.

One Response to Epiphany Art Project: Revelation Under Our Feet

  1. Laura, I was pleased and heartened to see your creative approach to healing a neighborhood starting with their sidewalks. I am an artist (senior citizen) who has done many things with the arts during through the year…writer for The Artist Magazine, created the Blick Art Workshops funded by the Blick Art Company and other iniatives.

    Recently I have been praying and thinking about how churches can begin offering art opportunites to their communities. It seems a powerful avenue for healing and connection. As we know, many see churches at best ‘irrelevant or part of the problem’. I can imagine a group of churches creating a community fund to a director for a gospel choir, art lessons, community drumming, dancing, etc.

    As we know all these things bring down barriers and allow friendships to happen. I guess my question to you is: to you know any similiar iniatives taken by churches? Thank you for what you do and all the best to you and your husband for your new gift of life!