Printmaking and Transcendence
The trappist monastery of Notre Dame de prairies, Our lady of the prairies, gutted by fire in 1983, was founded in 1892 by the Abbot of Bellefontaine, France. For 86 years, the monastery, located on the wooded banks of the Lasalle river near St. Norbert, provided the Trappist monks with the solitude they required to live a life of prayer, contemplation, study and simple manual labour. During this time the monks became popular figures in St. Norbert, and the monastery became an important feature in the village's economic life. Unfortunately, urban encroachment increasingly threatened the tranquillity of the monastery, and by 1978 the monks reluctantly moved to new quarters in southern Manitoba.
On November 7, 1983, flames engulfed the empty church and dormitory wing of the monastery. The dramatic ruins were subsequently stabilized and preserved by a joint project of the Canada-Manitoba agreement of recreation and conservation on the red River, and the city of Winnipeg.
The monastery is a place I often visit to recharge, to commune with the land and its inhabitants, and to bathe in the heavy tranquillity that still hangs over the land, making it an place entirely other.
Turning the corner on the gravel road that leads to the ruins, the monastery appears in view, half obscured by imposing yew trees, so old, they have stories of their own to tell. the sun is close to setting and the half light makes the place appear more mysterious then it already is. I usually start by circling the old ruins three times. The first time around I announce my presence. On the second pass I leave offerings in places that feel right. On the third I listen. Once I'm sure the offerings have been received I enter the monastery. At this point I'm usually half way between being awake and day dreaming. As I enter the main area of the monastery, the area they held mass and other services, the wind picks up and the place appears to shine brighter and differently then when I first approached. In my minds eye I perceive the chants, the candles burning, the colors and old prayer books scattered all over the place, the smells of old wood are all around me and everywhere I look are hooded figures praying and going about their business. From the corner of my eye I perceive a shadow moving into one of cells, once inhabited by a monk. I follow the shadow into the cell and see a simple bed and a desk with a few books stacked on the wooden shelve. Without words, although I know it doesn't come from me, I'm inspired to create something in honour of this deeply spiritual place.
The beauty of printmaking lies in the fact that you can create multiples. In this case I can create images I've perceived in this location and turn them into something that will outlast my own presence in this place, and perhaps outlast the way the place currently looks. As such I'm excited to offer this new print in our print shop. Not only as a memory but also as a window, an icon, a gateway into everyone's own power spot.
For me personally, I'll be taking one of these multiples, burn it, and scatter the ashes, in honour of the genius loci. Doesn't a gift ask for a gift in return?
— Thomas van der Krogt