The Verosko Center for the Arts at Saint Vincent is featuring historic and new images of monastic life from two artists in an exhibit, Worship + Work, which opens Thursday, June 16, 2022 (reception from 4-7 p.m.) and runs through August 19, 2022. Photos centered on Benedictine life were taken in 1955 by Gordon Parks (1912-2006) for Life magazine of Saint Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison, Kansas (founded from Saint Vincent Archabbey in 1857), for a photo essay entitled “A Cloistered Life of Devotion.” Paired with the Parks images are new photographs taken in 2022 at Saint Vincent Archabbey by Pittsburgh-based artist Dominick McDuffie (b. 1993).
Parks was a journalist, artist, film director, musician, author, composer and poet, who, through an exceptional deployment of words and images, challenged racist and classist attitudes within American society by entreating a deeper, empathetic response among audiences. Rarely shown, the thirty photos from the project have been loaned by the monks of Saint Benedict’s Abbey for the exhibit. The images capture a candid glimpse into American Benedictines at mid-century through depictions of a daily routine marked by periods of prayer, labor, study, recreation and rest.
“Current exhibitions of Parks’ work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh indicate that his images hold deep resonance with our wider contemporary moment,” noted Andrew Julo, director of the Verostko Center and curator of Worship + Work. “This collection of photos, while a lesser-known body of work within Parks’ career, is ripe for reconsideration particularly given the monastic context of Saint Vincent.”
Parks’ work invites viewers to consider what it means to be in communion with other people, how people become rooted in one place, and the rhythms of daily life.
Inspired by Parks’ work, the Verostko Center for the Arts, in coordination with Saint Vincent Archabbey, commissioned Pittsburgh-based photographer McDuffie to create a series documenting the Saint Vincent monastic community during spring 2022. McDuffie met with members of the monastery over the course of multiple visits and employed a 35-millimeter camera to visually narrate aspects of life for contemporary Benedictines.
McDuffie’s works draw attention to often overlooked scenes of monastic life, revealing America’s oldest Benedictine monastery 176 years after its founding—a community that persists in placing prayer, education, collaborative work and hospitality at the forefront of its practices.
McDuffie, like Parks, is a self-taught photographer specializing in documenting underrepresented communities. In addition to exhibiting his work locally, McDuffie leads photography workshops at the Carnegie Museum of Art in tandem with the Teenie Harris Archive.
The Verostko Center for the Arts is located within the Dale P. Latimer Library on the second floor.
Exhibit image credits: Image 1, 2: Dominick McDuffie, American (b. 1993). Untitled, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist; Image 3: Gordon Parks, American (1912 -2006). Untitled, Atchison, Kansas, 1955. Images courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation.