I spent some time last weekend visiting the Marciano Art Foundation (and gallery) in Los Angeles. It is an amazing space with near limitless potential almost in the heart of the city of angels. What makes the space relevant to Freemasons is that the space that the Foundation Galley occupies was once the jewel of modern Freemasonry as the Los Angeles Scottish Rite Cathedral.
Building a Masonic Temple
Built in 1961, the Scottish Rite Temple was the design by Millard Owen Sheets, a prominent American artist in the early century known for his mosaics on the mid-century Home Savings of America banks that populated California. His work stretched well beyond the Golden states adorning buildings with his mosaic and collections of collaborative artists work. Sheets was not a Mason but in his discussions with the then temple board, his charge was to construct a temple of epic proportions. Sheets own words in describing the project, recalls the project this way:
…I was surprised by the tremendous number of things that had to be incorporated in this temple. First of all, the upper degrees of [Scottish Rite] Masonry are given in an auditorium, and they are given in the form of plays. They have incredible costumes and magnificent productions of the basic concepts that are ethical and have at heart a religious depth, and they draw from many religions, as far as I understand. I’m not a Mason, but I do feel that it’s a tremendous attempt toward the freedom of man as an individual, and the rights of man as an individual, and respect for various races and creeds. I won’t say this is always obtained, but certainly, that’s been the spirit. They felt that they wanted to depict this in every form.
He goes on to describe the huge mural on the eastern wall, describing it as:
The huge mosaic on the exterior east end of the temple at that time was the largest mosaic I’d ever made. It starts out with the builders of the temple from the days of Jerusalem, and King Solomon, who built the temple, and Babylon. Then it jumps up to the Persian emperor, Zerubbabel. When the Crusaders went to the Holy Land, they built a place called Acre, which is still a very important historical monument to the period of the crusaders. Of course, there were other temples and I showed Rheims cathedral in the process of building. I showed the importance of [Giuseppe] Garibaldi, the Mason who broke away from the Roman Catholic church because of what he felt was its limitations and dogmatism. Ever since then, there’s been a certain quarrel, I gather, between the Masons and the Catholics. Then there is King Edward VII in his Masonic regalia as one of the great grandmasters. We had the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, which is part of the King Edward section. I think the final part of that mosaic shows the first grand master of California in his full regalia being invested in Sacramento. It’s a kind of historical thing going way back to the ancient temple builders and coming right up through to actual California history, which the California sun at the top symbolizes.
The mural he surmises represents that law and concepts of religion were involved in the great temples. Certainly, the Gothic cathedrals were the book for the people who couldn’t read. Well, they didn’t think of the American people not being able to read, but they wanted to show graphically the intensity of feeling throughout history toward the Meaning of Masonry.
In like manner, Sheets worked with sculptor Albert Stewart to adorn the master builders of history along the edifice.
The work and consideration alone that went into the temple might well be enough to say it was a great asset and jewel in the crown of Freemasonry. But like all crowns, they tarnish with time and often fall from the heads of the kings they once adorned.
Heyday of Masonry
By 1994, the Scottish Rite Temple in Los Angeles was all but abandoned. The Los Angeles Conservancy says of the space that it was the result of “years of declining membership” that the temple was vacated.
By their own telling, the Los Angeles Scottish Rite says of the temple that, “Due to zoning changes in Los Angeles over the years, it was increasingly difficult — and finally impossible — for the Valley to generate the revenue from renting the Cathedral necessary to maintain the building. It eventually became unavoidable that the building should be sold, which was accomplished in 2013.”
Ironic when you consider by its own admission that the Valley of Los Angeles held a “…one day class of 330 candidates in November 1974, [bringing] the membership to over 11,000. In 1980, Los Angeles was the largest Valley in the second largest Orient in the Southern Jurisdiction, and the 14th largest Valley in the Jurisdiction.”
And yet, this modern imposing temple fell into ruin.
After abandoning the temple it sat nearly empty save for a few unremarkable semi-urban businesses in the ground floor foyer. I remember that time, passing the building in awe at its grandiose presence and bewildered at the neon atm sign unintelligently fixed to its entryway. By all accounts, it could have been a Roman ruin in a landscape that had moved on and forgotten it.
But that was Freemasonry then
In 2013, the temple was given a new lease on life in the hands of Maurice and Paul Marciano granting “the public access to the Marciano Art Collection (now closed) through presentations of rotating thematic exhibitions.”
Upon visiting, my first impression was that space is remarkable. Entering from the garage and walking through the foyer, it was impossible to not feel the energy of what it had been constructed for. Indeed, I had entered hallowed ground. It still felt like a once great Scottish Rite Hall. Standing at point, in the near pitch blackness of what was once the theater space, now the art installation of Olafur Eliasson’s Reality projector, I felt compelled to give the signs of the degrees — there, by my self, for the ghosts of the past to see that a brother had come to visit.
Perhaps it was at this point that a deep feeling of sadness began to stir. That feeling stayed with me while I looked at the art. But, that stirring became a tempest of emotion when on the last stop in the space, in a small red-carpeted room in the north-west corner of the building. There, in the small ‘room’ sat the “artifacts” left by the “Masons who abandoned the building.” I use quotes here as these were the words used by the docent stationed in the space to tell interested visitors what the strange aprons and funny hats were.
Relics of the Life Masonic
Unremarkable to anyone familiar with the fraternity, in the room was an odd collection of ritual ephemera, staging books, old New Age magazines, odds and ends of the life masonic, and a padded altar bench. To the lay observer, these things are oddities in a building full of modern art — trinkets of a bygone era “…left behind by the Masons before they abandoned the building.”
I can’t say for certain if it was the space, the items in the space or the words taken in the context of the aforementioned relics of what Freemasonry once was. Leaving the relic room, I was moved to tears — not for the casual housing of materials sacred to me, but tears for what those relics once represented to the people in the space. To the owners of the history that poured the foundation and raised the marble edifice. Perhaps more so, the thought that this was the future of Freemasonry. That an empty building full of abandoned “relics” was really what lay at the end of it all.
Yes, the building is just a building, but it effects the priest no less to see the church he loves dearly, laid low by a fire or an earthquake.
Masons are builders and buildings can be replaced. Walking through the bones of a structure built to show the “intensity of feeling throughout history toward the Meaning of Masonry” felt like a priest walking through the ashes of his fallen church.
I wanted to feel optimistic about the space. I wanted to appreciate it for what it once was.
Instead, I left haunted—feeling depressed and overwhelmed. Not at the space or the modern art within its walls.
I left feeling haunted by the ghosts of what it once was.
Sheets went on to design the San Francisco Scottish Rite Masonic Center building, a structure in perpetual use to this day. And, the Scottish Rite’s Valley of Los Angeles retains a presence meeting at the Santa Monica Masonic Center.
And yet, the bones of the cathedral remain in the heart of the city. A fitting fate for the Royal Art in the city of angels.
Lost Masonic Art
The following is some of the imagery and iconography that still adorns the exterior of the old Scottish Rite in Los Angeles.
You can read more on the theme of being a Priest for Freemasonry in the book, The Master Mason.
By now you’ve heard the sensational news of five Donald Trump statues, The Emperor Has No Balls, that were placed around the country. If you haven’t heard about it, you can read about it in Slate, the Daily Beast and in the The Washington Post – just to name a few. Even Chris Hodapp, over at Freemasons for Dummies, made a mention of it (taking no public sides in the political debate) on the day the statues appeared.
As strange as the appearance of this statue was, even stranger was the inclusion of a Masonic Ring on the nude presidential contender, rendering a strange message on an even stranger figure upon which to associate it. The inclusion reminded me of a certain car commercial that ran during a certain super football game in 2013 with a devilish Willem DaFoe (you can read about it here and here) sporting the square and compass on his finger which ended up garnering nearly 3000 signatures to have the image removed.
Masonic ring on Donald Trump Statue
And yet, here we have another example of the iconic square and compass stealthy sneaking its way back into the material culture*, now poised eloquently on one of the most in-eloquent of presidential candidates in an unflattering of pose. Alas, the Hans Christian Andersen appellation of the Emperor Has No Clothes is perhaps one allegorical tale to be told about the presidential contender. But, an emperor without balls, wearing a Masonic Ring? The only question I can imagine on the minds of most Freemasons (after the obvious statement of how ludicrous it is) is …why? Why a Masonic ring on a naked Donald Trump?
I wondered that too. So, I asked the artist behind the statue “Ginger” (aka Joshua Monroe), why. Why a naked Donald Trump wearing only a Masonic Ring?
I should probably say that replicas of the sculpture, which are now priced at $10,000 with multiple buyers lining up, was a commissioned piece by the activist collective Indecline. In a recent press release, Indecline says “Museums in Miami (Wynwood), Germany, Arizona and California have also contacted INDECLINE in attempts to secure Trump statues for gallery shows.” The statue (and by circumstance, the ring upon it) further seeps into the material culture.
This was my conversation with the artist Ginger about it.
GS: A masonic ring is a pretty unique thing to have on hand, even for an artist. After watching the making of video where you cast the model (at bottom), was the ring the models or something you had on hand in your studio?
Ginger: It was not very hard to acquire the ring. Then the model was not [a mason] as I believe most Mason’s would want nothing to do with a project like this. I meant absolutely no disrespect to the Masons but they are the world’s most recognizable secret society.
GS: It’s an interesting juxtaposition, the naked figure clad only in a Masonic square and compass ring. The Washington Post mentioned that it represented his (Trumps) access to secret or elitist power (attributing to the artist “emblematic of privilege, secret handshakes and cloistered groups of powerful people”). I’m curious, as an artist, is that a real part of the philosophy you see in [Trump] or just a design element meant to connect disparate elements into a new reality? Was the inclusion of the ring just a “secret society” prop, or did you mean to link the “naked emperor” with a Masonic ring as his only garment (which itself has a strangely symbolic reverse meaning within Freemasonry)?
Ginger: The reason that I myself chose to put the Masonic ring into the sculpture was to symbolize the fact that Donald Trump, who I know is not a mason, is most definitely involved in secret dealings and secret societies that the general public will never be aware of.
My grandfather was a high-ranking mason. I myself, being a legacy, have been asked to join several times by several members. As far as owning the Mason’s ring there’s actually artist and vendors that sell them on the street.
GS: Having a background in art, I think I understand how the ring is being used, but I know that a huge community of Freemasons are just dumbstruck (if not outright offended) at its use. Knowing that it’s the artist prerogative to choose what goes in or stays out of a piece is their own, I wonder what your thought is about how the community-at-large reads or interprets the association? Do you have any thought on how the community of Freemasons would interpret the inclusion? (Do you care or does it matter?)?
Ginger: I considered it a very tongue and cheek wink to the secret societies and their Quest To Rule The World. I have many friends who are masons and they joke about their meetings being held Pinky and the Brain style to try and take over the world. But it’s mostly crappy food that their wives have made. I myself have done lots of Charity and volunteer work and that’s why I’ve been approached by Masons I respect what you do and I hope you guys are not offended.
GS: I’m curious, do you see Trump as an emperor with no cloths because of what he’s done before the election or because he’s running now? Do you think it’s that secret access that makes him so naked?
Ginger: The title of the installment was actually set in stone long before the collective even found me as an artist.
The overall concept and look was their idea and their political statement. I am just the artist who brought it to life. However it was my idea to add the Mason ring not to insult Masons but [it] suggests his involvement in secret societies.
*Material culture is defined as: the physical evidence of a culture in the objects and architecture they make, or have made. The term tends to be relevant only in archaeological and anthropological studies, but it specifically means all material evidence which can be attributed to culture, past or present.
Phoenixmasonry is thrilled to have had the opportunity to interview the multi-talented artist, Ari Roussimoff. His Masonic themed paintings are phenomenal, as are his painted Masonic Aprons through which he hopes to revive an interest in the largely lost art form. It is our hope that Masons and non-Masons alike will take an interest in his work, if they haven’t done so already, as it is well worth the time!
Ari Roussimoff’s art has been shown in places such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Nicholas Roerich Museum, and the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library and Museum. Ari’s paintings are colorful, daring, culturally rich, spiritually rounded, geometrically stunning, and a clear reflection of a profound character.
Elena Llamas, Director of Public Relations for Phoenixmasonry (EL): Thank you, Ari, for this interview. Please tell us about your background.
Ari Roussimoff (AR): Thank you, Elena, for inviting me. I have been impressed for years with the Phoenixmasonry site and what it is doing to promote the culture and history of Freemasonry. As to my background, I am one of those people who cannot be pinned down to one specific place. My family and ancestors have lived in Russia, Ukraine, Poland and even Moldavia among other countries. Although I was born in Germany, the Russian and other East European cultures have always been close to my heart, as much of my artwork reflects this.
Literature, music and art were on the daily menu in my home. Over the years I have been privileged to live and work in both Europe and America.
EL: Where do you feel most at home?
AR: For the most part, I am at home inside my head and also in my heart. But certain places are quite special to me.
In Europe, Zürich, Switzerland where Mother Nature is at its finest, Amsterdam, Holland with its great collections of Old Master paintings. Any place Rembrandt lived is great.
In the United States, Miami Beach, Florida with its vivid, tropical color is fabulous. I painted its festive carnivals, cafes and crowds. Sometimes I’d even add a little nod to Freemasonry.
For example, in my panoramic Beach Café painting, I included a merry group of Shriners crossing the street while nearby stands a bearded lady holding her little son’s hand.
Another favorite place is Southern California. When based in San Diego, I’d visit Hollywood and fantasize about the great historic film world of days gone by.
A painting I did of Hollywood Boulevard features many of the classic movie stars congregating in front of the old Masonic Temple (now a television studio where they film the Jimmy Kimmel show).
Featured in the very front of my picture is silent movie legend Harold Lloyd wearing his Imperial Potentate’s Al Malaikah Shriner Fez. There are other masons in there as well: Harpo Marx, Clark Gable, John Wayne and Oliver Hardy.
EL: When and how did you first become interested in art?
AR: My father was a writer. So I grew up in a cultural European household. The first artist that spoke to me was Van Gogh. I discovered him at age seven when watching a television documentary devoted to his life and work. Van Gogh became an early passion.
Since then, I’ve collected many books on him and have hunted down his paintings in museums throughout the world.
At fourteen I discovered Rembrandt. My second passion in art. By the way, I started drawing at age three and did my first oil at seven.
[I] also started to exhibit as a child. Luckily, I had parents who supported my love of art.
EL: How wonderful! Did any current or artist in particular inspire or influence your work?
AR: As an artist, you become a sponge of sorts, soaking up influences from many sources. My breath is taken away by the Old Masters. Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci, Rubens, the list is endless. Leonardo was the ultimate artistic genius. Each of his paintings are hypnotic.
Some of my other loves include Byzantine art, Russian and other folk arts, Van Gogh and numerous of the moderns. Too many to mention.
“This photograph of me was taken around 1990. Salvador Dali once said that an artist should look like his work. Sounds fine to me. In this photo, I am holding a 19th century Italian Paper Mache Commedia dell’arte mask. The coat I am wearing was once worn by the great Russian Opera singer Feodor Chaliapin. He wore the coat while performing as Ivan the Terrible in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Opera, “The Maid of Pskov” in Paris. I cherish this coat with its unique theatrical history.” – Ari Roussimoff
EL: And as a teenager, you were invited to lunch with Salvador Dali and his wife Gala. What was that like?
AR: At the age of fourteen I was being managed by Theodore Karr, a representative of the Shorewood Art publishing company, a noted publisher of lithographs by some of the greatest artists in Europe.
A meeting was arranged for me to meet the great master Dail for lunch at a restaurant in the Hotel St. Regis in New York, where he lived for half the year. Our small group consisted of Dali, his wife Gala, Mr. Karr, my father and myself. Naturally I was very nervous when introduced to Dali. My knees were trembling. Surprisingly, Dali’s personality was completely different from the “crazed” image he promoted. Handsomely dressed in a three piece suit, holding a beautiful cane, Dali was polite, soft spoken and to me, he seemed a bit sad.
Then there was Gala. There was a quiet, but hostile dynamic going on between Dali and his wife. Dali’s command of English was far better than how he presented himself during filmed interviews. Oddly enough, he talked mostly about movies. He liked Hitchcock and John Wayne films. Early on Dali had collaborated with the Spanish surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel on two avant garde movies and in later years he worked for Alfred Hitchcock in designing a scene for “Spellbound.” Dali told us he hoped to yet do another film. Toward the conclusion of our lunch, Dali pulled out a portfolio from which he gifted me a signed artist’s proof lithograph. A man in the restaurant had recognized Dali and approached our table to ask for an autograph. Immediately, Dali turned into the eccentric madman he usually portrayed. He propped himself up, soldier like. His eyes bulged and his voice became amplified, with his language having changed into the familiar chaotic Dalinian jargon of English-French-Spanish. He graciously complied and gave the man an autograph. Upon the man’s retreat back to his table, Gala shot up off her chair and berated her husband loudly in French. Customers in the restaurant were glaring. Quite embarrassing! After we left the place, Mr. Karr attempted to explain that Gala’s rant, saying that she resented Dali drawing attention to himself, creating a spectacle. That pretty much describes my encounter with Salvador Dali.
EL: That’s an amazing story! Thank you for sharing it with us, tell us about your relationship with Masonry.
AR: I have always appreciated the great achievements of humanity while also being very much aware of the shortcomings. There isn’t a thing about the human condition that cannot be found in the Bible. Since much of my way of thinking is of biblical origin, I understood that humanity was given the ability by God to rise up to advance itself and achieve wonders to benefit one’s self and mankind.
Art played a significant role in leading me toward Freemasonry. I never felt Art was limited to esthetics. For me it became an expression of the soul. Art is a universal language. French, German, Spanish, Greek, Russian, Polish or African. Any genuine work of art transcends its ethnic origins, and translates into a universal language that speaks to all.
Walking through the streets of Los Angeles, New York and through Europe, my eye often fixated on old buildings that incorporated mystical looking designs. Often I wondered if these were Masonic decorations. My curiosity about Freemasonry started taking form.
I began to read up on the subject and absorb the philosophy and the rich culture accompanying it. What struck me early on is that some of the iconography I had known from early Christian art, such as the All Seeing Eye of God was an important essential component of Freemasonry, as is the Holy Bible. Then I was surprised to recognize similarities between Masonic symbolism and some of the mystical imagery that had been appearing in my own pictures for years.
Fascinated with the moral philosophies of Freemasonry, I was awed by the abundance of illustrious members, the great philosophers, leaders, authors, artists, musicians, philanthropists, scientists, inventors, poets, physicians. Mozart, Goethe, Voltaire, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Booker T. Washington, Kaiser Wilhelm I, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Pushkin, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain. In my triptych that currently hangs in the Livingston Library there is a tribute to quite a few illustrious individuals who have been Masons.
Just a matter of note, in comparison to music, literature and entertainment, there were relatively few artists who were Masons.
There were numerous fine engravers. The most important sculptors and painters included Bartholdi, Hogarth, Mucha, Grant Wood, the great German expressionist Lovis Corinth (who did illustrations of lodge ceremony) and the Cubist master Juan Gris (he served as Master of his Lodge in Paris).
My keen interest eventually led me to the point where I wanted to do a film on Freemasonry. With that project in mind, I visited the wonderful Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library & Museum of the Grand Lodge of New York in Manhattan. Their collection of materials is awesome. And everything was generously put at my disposal for study. This was in 2002. Although this particular film project has not as yet materialized, this was my road to joining. It has been an ever inspiring journey.
EL: Your work is a very skilled and inspiring contribution to the smaller body of Freemasonic art. Currently, you have art on display inside the Grand Lodge of New York building. Is there anything you would like to share about the exhibition?
AR: Yes, my paintings called Hiram’s Apron and King Solomon’s Vision, which have become widely known, were the first to be exhibited at the Livingston Masonic Library & Museum.
Currently, the museum is displaying my triptych titled Parable Of Light and Dark which consists of three paintings, which tell a symbolic story about Freemasonry through the past, present and an eye toward possibilities for the future. The first piece is called Foundations. It depicts the beginnings of Freemasonry, starting with Hiram and the building of the Holy Temple. The composition then moves upwards to Medieval times with Knighthoods and Cathedrals paving the way towards modern times.
At the very top in Foundations, I depict art and culture with portraits of Mozart, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Pushkin and Voltaire.
The middle painting is called Eclipse. The idea behind ‘Eclipse’ is that within any darkness, there is a light of inspiration that can, if recognized for the possibilities it offers, lead one to a positive path.
The last painting in this group is called Rebirth. Hiram and King Solomon appear at the bottom amidst the ruins of a city. The King, like Noah years before him, sends a dove out into the future. Inspired by Masonic fundamentals, the future is represented by builders constructing a new and improved civilization.
EL: Profound symbolism. It is nice that you always include your thoughts on each painting on your website and social media. Tell us about your painted Masonic Aprons. What inspired you to make them, what do you hope to accomplish through them?
AR: Painted aprons are a lost art within Freemasonry.
During the 18th and early 19th centuries, many Masonic aprons were beautifully hand painted and also embroidered. Some were folksy in style, others elaborate. Eventually came the standardization of aprons and the painted ones were relegated to the pages of history.
For my part, I wish to bring this lost Masonic tradition up into the here and now and also hopefully into the future.
My painted aprons are never imitations. They are highly symbolic, as I instill in them the classic ideals and virtues of Freemasonry. But I do this as a modern artist, with the voice coming from my soul.
Being signed artworks, it is not necessary for my aprons to be worn. They can be displayed on a wall. I am happy to say that my painted Masonic aprons are in fine collections throughout the world. And I very much love making them.
EL: Your aprons are incredible! You also do special Masonic portraits where you combine painting with photography. Tell us about that.
These are pictures I do on commission. I integrate portrait photography with my painting. Likenesses can sometimes be tricky and problematic. Even a great master like Rembrandt had occasional problems in this department.
The story goes that a man commissioned Rembrandt to do a portrait of his wife (or daughter). Upon seeing the final painting, the man was displeased because he did not see a likeness and demanded his money back. Ha. Ha. Can you imagine?!!
What I do can be called mixed-media portraits. No one will ever complain about a lack of likeness. The process consists of first, the client gives me a favorite photograph of themselves or whoever they wish me to create a portrait for.
Next, I have the photo enlarged and transferred onto a canvas of the desired measurements.
The last step is for me to paint a complete composition surrounding the photo, which I do not alter. The painted elements will reflect elements in that person’s life or imagination.
Voila! Never an issue regarding likenesses. A Lodge commissioned me to do one of the retiring Grand Master of California. It was gifted him during a special presentation ceremony. And I did one as my personal gift for the retiring Grand Secretary of New York, a wonderful man.
By the way, these pictures are also made for non-masons. I’ve created them for weddings, anniversaries, births, people’s parents. Anything someone might like to have.
EL: I read that, for you, art is a spiritual experience. Would you share with us something about the process of bringing forth such wonderful images? Spiritually speaking, what is it that you experience?
AR: For me the act of painting is like praying.
It originates in my heart and my soul.
Spirituality in art is not limited to the confines of one or another religion. It is at the very core of all life.
Painting, like prayer, is a spiritual experience. Magical in many ways. And I am certain that being a painter is what God intended for me to be.
Otherwise I’d be doing other things. Too many people depend only on the limitations of their eyesight. They’re not able to touch base with the soul. Hence the four eyes in some of my paintings.
EL: I love your four eyes theme!
AR: In this self-portrait, the two pairs of eyes have a mystical meaning.
It is my belief that one should try to develop two sets of eyes.
One set represents our innermost self: the heart, passions and spirituality. This is the soul. The other set are those of the mind: logic and intellect. All four eyes together can give one excellent vision.
In art, it isn’t required that an artwork depict a religious subject in order to be spiritual. That special spirit is very much embedded within any true work of art. Spirituality can be felt in florals, landscapes, portraits, figurative or abstract compositions and whatever. Same holds true for music, literature and all other arts.
EL: On your website, linked here at the end of this interview, in addition to Masonic subjects, your art is presented in three other categories: Old Russia, Jewish life, Phantasmagoria.
AR: These are among the subjects I have painted throughout my life.
Art has been my lifelong passion. It is easiest to categorize works by subjects. There is also a general section called “Newest Works” featuring a cross section of paintings and also an interview. We are preparing to update the site. There are lots of new additions and improvements coming!
EL: I can’t wait to see what you’ll do next! You are also an award-winning director of motion pictures and have created sets for Broadway shows. You have done costume design, performance art, and have hosted a three-part television music program on MTV.
AR: All the arts are related. Being primarily visually oriented and a lover of classic movies, it had long been a desire to also express myself in film.
My first feature was a surrealist horror film featuring a cast of underground stars, even several Andy Warhol superstars. Federico Fellini, the brilliant Italian filmmaker, saw a rough edit of some of the early footage of bikers, and his admiration brought us further funding.
My best movie was the documentary Freaks Uncensored: A Human Sideshow which took years of research and dealt with the history of physical human anomalies throughout the ages. My significant other of many years Vivian Forlander wrote the screenplay and I directed it. It opened at the Anthology Film Archives in New York, to standing room only crowds and has been released on both VHS and DVD.
As for MTV, I hosted a special three-episode Russian style spoof of the MTV hits countdown. It was called MTV-ski and I was the Russian V-J, all dressed up in fur hat and rubaschka, peasant blouse. My old performance group went under the name “The Trans-Siberian Cossacks”, We performed in theaters, discos and art galleries.
As for the stage, I was chosen by impresario Ralph Mercado to create sets and paint a mural for an Eastern European show he was importing from Argentina.
“LIVE APPEARANCE AT NYC’S LIMELIGHT DISCO (1991)
Here I am on stage in 1991 with my old performance troupe “The Trans-Siberian Cossacks”. We are doing a live multi-media show at the Limelight Club in New York City. While our group lovingly exhibited Russian style, the name cossack was used metaphorically for individualism and inspired rebelliousness against status-quo trends (the initial meaning of cossack was rebel). We performed our uniquely circus-like shows in theaters, art galleries and discos. Venues ranged from the Limelight to Howard Guttenplan’s Millennium Film Workshop. This was a great way to incorporate elements of theater, painting, music and film. Cast members would often be interchangeable (based on locations). Performers included: Big Bob Bear, Clayton Patterson, Valerie Caris, Taylor Mead, The Magnificent Lori “W”, Vivi-Vixen and Brooks Rogers. In this photo at the Limelight, Clayton Patterson is the man holding the flag and the Queen of house music herself, Screamin’ Rachel is doing her wild thing in the far right, under the big screen (where we presented excerpts from one of my films).
It has been quite a few years now since I have retired “The Trans-Siberian Cossacks” (although occasionally, I get an urge to resurrect them). Even nowadays when giving a talk on my paintings, I like incorporating various elements. It makes for a more stimulating and also fun presentation.”
EL: In a way, the group has been resurrected in your work. Ari, what else would you like to mention that I didn’t ask?
AR: Just this week, I completed a Masonic composition which I call Pyramid Of Light.
Currently I am putting finishing touches to a painted apron. There are a multitude of paintings stored inside me, each competing against the others to make its way out and onto canvas first. And I haven’t a clue which one it will be. Freemasonry, with its great teachings of morality and positive energy, provide me with tremendous inspiration. I hope to do many paintings in that direction.
EL: The readers and I are hoping too, Ari, I am sure.
EL: Let’s end this interview with some of your amazing paintings. Thank you very much for letting us pick your brain. We would love to check-in with you periodically to let our readers know what you are up to.
Elena Llamas, Director of Public Relations for The Phoenixmasonry Masonic Museum and Library. Portrait by Travis Simpkins.
If you have a lot of Mason friends and follow various Masonic and related personalities, like I do, you for sure have noticed how profile photos have been shifting to the signature style portrait drawings of artist Travis Simpkins. Phoenixmasonry is pleased to have had the opportunity to interview this prolific artist so we can all learn more about him and his art.
EL (Elena Llamas): Hello, Bro. Travis, thank you for agreeing to this interview. I am honored to have the chance to talk to you about your work, which I have been admiring for quite some time now.
TS (Travis Simpkins): Thank you. It is my pleasure.
EL: Tell us about your training as an artist. When did you know you had an interest and talent for art? Did you study art formally?
TS: I’m sure I must have possessed some innate talent as a child, but I didn’t really pursue many artistic interests until my teen years.
Artist Travis Simpkins
My art education was two-fold:
I earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) Degree from Anna Maria College [in Massachusetts] in 2002. At Anna Maria, the curriculum focused on traditional forms of art rendered through a diverse range of mediums, from painting to sculpture, but an emphasis was placed on working from life. Working from life means that you are looking at actual 3D models in front of you, be it people or objects.
I also undertook additional studies in Arizona with Photorealist artist James Frederick Mueller. Jim had some success in the 1970’s and 80’s, including a portrait commission of a former U.S. President. Along with the detailed logistics of the method, I learned a very valuable skill from Jim… the ability to create convincing portraits while working from photographs.
EL: Well, your portraits are definitely convincing!
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Freemason and Composer of Masonic Music, by Travis Simpkins
TS: In my work, I still utilize both disciplines on a regular basis. I work from life while sketching objects in museums. With portraits, however, I work from photographs. Using photos offers greater freedom. I’m not limited by proximity and the internet has allowed the whole world to become an accessible market. I can accept commissions and create portraits of people I’ve never met, many of whom live thousands of miles away.
EL: That is wonderful, yes
TS: In the realm of art, portraiture has always been one of the most difficult subjects to master. It offers both a challenge and a sense of accomplishment. If you can render a human face, and do it well, then you can draw just about anything else. There will always be a demand for well-crafted, quality portraits.
EL: I believe you! You have to be true to what you see. It must be quite difficult.
Albert Pike, 33° Scottish Rite Freemason and Author of “Morals & Dogma” by Travis Simpkins
EL: Many portrait artists switch the background or medium of their work. You have a very unique and consistent signature style which involves a, and please excuse my lack of technical knowledge here, to the untrained eye it seems to involve a discreet pink background with black and white strokes in either pencil or charcoal. How did you develop this style and why have you remained consistent using it?
TS: It’s a classic sketching technique, utilized for hundreds of years, reminiscent of Old Master drawings. I just take that historic sense and extend it to contemporary subjects. The end result has a timeless quality, connecting the past and present in a relatable way.
EL: How interesting.
Benjamin Franklin. Statesman, Printer and Freemason, by Travis Simpkins
TS: I keep making portraits in that particular style for a few reasons. Firstly, I work on commission and create artwork to order. The charcoal drawings are popular and I keep getting requests for that particular aesthetic. As long as the business demand is there, I’ll keep producing them. Secondly, it’s important for an artist to have a unique style; to have their works be instantly recognizable as being created by their hand. For me, these portraits border on that signature element.
TS: Lastly, I simply enjoy creating them. I work quickly and lack the patience for slow and tedious mediums. Drawing offers a sense of spontaneity, immediacy and expressiveness that other art forms don’t.
Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States. Freemason, by Travis Simpkins
EL: I noticed some of the Freemasons you have drawn portraits for have Masonic pins on their clothes, that is a very nice signature detail of yours.
TS: Good portraits display some attribute, prop or element to convey the subject’s personal interests and passions. Small visual details can help to tell a person’s unique story. Over the course of their Masonic journey, many Masons are deservedly honored for their achievements, and I’ve found that Masonic jewels make great portrait accessories.
EL: Besides drawing a lot of esoteric, personal, and Masonic portraits, you also have a series of archeological drawings, is this another interest of yours?
TS: I work with several museums and cultural institutions, and those sketches are based on works of art displayed in museum collections. I am usually assigned to draw certain objects, but others are chosen for my own enjoyment. Those sketches are interesting in that they offer an interpretive connection with history, with ancient works of art being filtered through my viewpoint as an artist in the present.
Worcester Art Museum: Pre-Columbian Seated Male Figure, 900-1200 AD, by Travis Simpkins
TS: In my work with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, I create artwork for an ongoing HR program. I am tasked with creating sketches of works in the museum’s collection, which the museum then frames and presents as gifts to noteworthy recipients.
EL: That is awesome!
TS: I greatly enjoy the job, but more than that, I’m truly honored that the Gardner Museum recognizes the quality of my work and has chosen my art to represent their world-renowned collection.
Worcester Art Museum: Ancient Greek Corinthian Helmets, 550-450 BC, by Travis Simpkins
TS: Earlier this year, I began working as an Art Advisor with the Massachusetts Senate. One of our State Senators wanted to have college student artwork from his constituency represented in his office at the State House in Boston, and I helped draft an initiative and offered logistical advice for the project. It is quite rewarding, personally, to see the proud expressions on the faces of the students and their parents as the artwork is put on display at the state capitol.
TS: Last year, I was hired by the Worcester Historical Museum to create portraits of three generations of the Salisbury Family (17th-18th Century benefactors of the city). My artwork was put on display in the circa 1772 Salisbury Mansion, placed alongside paintings by colonial-era portraitist Gilbert Stuart. Gilbert Stuart painted the famous portrait of George Washington (used on the dollar bill) and is one of my artistic heroes, so that was quite an honor.
EL: Wow! That is fantastic!
George Washington Masonic Memorial. Cornerstone. Alexandria, Virginia, by Travis Simpkins
TS: I also work at the Worcester Art Museum, having taken on various roles from assisting in art classes to monitoring the safety and security of the artwork on display. I have also referred collectors I know to the Worcester Art Museum, and my efforts and connections in that regard have culminated in the addition of more than 300 works of art to WAM’s permanent collection, including 97 woodblock prints by Japanese artist Yoshida Toshi.
Art Security is a major concern of mine as well, both personally and professionally. I hold a certification from the International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection. I am a contributor to various art security forums, conducting research into art theft, preservation and archaeological ethics.
EL: How interesting. Keeping art safe is a challenge! Your wife is also a talented artist.
TS: My wife, Janet, is an amazing artist. She has a wonderful eye for detail. Currently, she is working on a series of miniature paintings, which have been on display in three gallery shows so far this year. We share a mutual love and respect, and I credit all of my success (artistic and otherwise) to her encouragement and support.
EL: Wonderful! How sweet! She does have an eye for detail as can be seen in the miniature painting below.
Janet Simpkins, 2×3 inch mini-painting
EL: Can anyone contact you for a portrait? If so, how and where?
TS: Portrait commissions can be made through my website: http://www.artcrimeillustrated.com
I can be emailed directly at: email@example.com
Find my page on Facebook as “Travis Simpkins: Artist & Museum Professional”
Affordable prints of my portraits of historical Freemasons can be purchased through Cornerstone Book Publishers at: www.cornerstonepublishers.com
EL: Your work has rightfully earned a vibrant place in the hearts and minds of Freemasons. Is there anything I did not ask that you would like to talk about?
TS: I’m glad to hear others describe my Masonic portraits as a contribution to the fraternity, it’s meaningful to be able to play some part in my own way. It is a wonderful organization and being raised a Master Mason will always be a defining moment in my life. Since joining earlier this year, I feel that I’ve already made many lasting friendships and associations. I have experienced the start of an incredible journey and am open-minded to future opportunities in Freemasonry. All of the brethren at Morning Star Lodge in Worcester and the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in Boston have been very welcoming and helpful. I am looking forward to joining the Scottish Rite Valley of Worcester and the Boston Consistory later this year. I hope to do a lot of traveling over the coming years and experience the Masonic art, architecture and fellowship in other areas as well.
Mark Twain, Author and Freemason. Mark Twain House & Museum. Hartford, CT, by Travis Simpkins
EL: Your work is an outstanding contribution to Freemasonry and the Fraternity is most fortunate to have had you join. Thank you again, for this interview. Bro. Travis’ portraits cost about $200 (for an 8×10 inch drawing) if you would like to get your own or get one as a gift. Phoenixmasonry will certainty keep an eye on your work to let our friends and fans know what you are up to in the future. Thank you everyone for reading!
David Lettelier. Founder of Phoenixmasonry Masonic Museum and Library, by Travis Simpkins
John Hancock, Freemason. St. Andrew’s Lodge. Boston, MA, by Travis Simpkins
Charles Lindbergh. Aviator, Author and Explorer. 1st Solo Flight Across Atlantic, by Travis Simpkins
The topic of Masonic Music came up recently in a sub reddit forum with the posting of the Grand Leveler video from up and coming artist Apathy. The gist of the discussion came down to what was art, and more particularly, what elevated Masonry in its art.
In one of the exchanges, Mozart’s Magic Flute was used as an exemplary example of the ideas of Masonry elevated in an artistic endeavor.
The argument aside, it made me wonder “How many of today’s Masons have actively sought out the Masonic connections in Mozart’s Great Work, let alone sat down to watch the three hour epic?”
So, not that a Google search wouldn’t facilitate this, here’s your chance.
And, if you need some enticements, I’ve brought in some commentary from just a couple of sources on the opera to give it some context and flavor to induce interest. Interestingly, look for the Vernunft, Weisheit, and Natur over the doors.
And, if the German Aria throws you, here is a German to English translation on what they’re saying.
Both Mozart and the opera’s librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder, were devoted Freemasons, at a time when the Masonic order was frowned upon by the authorities and mistrusted by the public. Its meetings were mysterious to outsiders and the order was believed to be connected to the principles of the Enlightenment, so established political leaders were a little nervous about it. The emperor of Austria even restricted the number of Masonic lodges allowed to operate in the country.
So, while Mozart’s drama fell into the general category of “magic opera” — works based on folk tales, with plenty of stunts, scene changes and spectacular stage effects — it was also a political statement in disguise. Mozart and Schikaneder crammed all kinds of veiled Masonic symbolism into The Magic Flute, and people have been trying to figure the whole thing out for more than 200 years.
Given the story, the numerous symbols and Masonic references, and the musical treatments Mozart employs, it is hard to dispute that Freemasonry played a huge influence over the creation of The Magic Flute. However, it is important not to view the work simply as a Masonic treatise. Much more than that, Freemasonry is used as a foundation stone from which the truly great elements of the opera spring.
So, rather than try and reinvent the wheel and re-explain something so well researched and commented upon already, I suggest rather sitting back and enjoying the Magic Flute in its totality, from this UGA Opera Theater production of The Magic Flute.
In this installment of the Sojourners column we meet and talk to a ‘young’, but accomplished, artist and Freemason – Ryan Flynn. With his art, Flynn brings to the fraternity an unmatched graphic skill to match the patient and certificate makers of old in their typographic excellence and aesthetic composition. Equal parts artist, graphic designer and a true Freemason, Flynn captures the essence of what it means to BE a mason – translating those esoteric ideas into traditional drawings and paintings. No, this is not the print, cut, carve, hack, hew, etch, letter or engraving of the secrets of Freemasonry, rather, Flynn’s work takes a post-modern approach into the little trod corner of the Masonic landscape by capturing it’s ideas in the rendered image. I think you’ll enjoy this Sojourner’s visit as much as I did and will come away from it with a new take on art and Freemasonry and the synthesis between them.
Greg Stewart (GS) – Ryan, thanks for taking the time out of your schedule and sitting down to talk to me. I suppose, let’s start with the basics on how long you’ve been a part of the fraternity?
GS – What was your first introduction to the fraternity?
RF – I had a couple of friends from other states join in 2008 and 2009 and it peaked my interest.
After doing some research on the craft, I called my local lodge and visited for dinner. The next week I put in my application.
GS – Do you remember what ultimately induced you to join?
RF – I am a history buff, more particularly an art history buff, and the idea of symbols in art and architecture was always something I enjoyed learning about.
I also was never part of the armed forces or anything else that served “something bigger than myself,” so when something like Masonry presented itself to me, I was intrigued and wanted to learn more.
GS – Since you’ve joined, have you found your way into any of the other bodies or related groups?
Ryan Flynn with one of his Codex images
RF – As of right now, I am the Junior Warden of Ancient York Lodge no.89 in Nashua, NH. I am a 32º Scottish Rite mason and member of the Philalethes Society and this upcoming year I plan on joining the York Rite.
GS – One of the things that intrigue me most is the artwork you create, in particular the Masonic art, much of it you have up on your website. With that in mind, I’m curious what your biggest influences to making it are?
RF – I have always been artistic. While attending high school, Lexington Christian Academy, my teachers realized this and always pushed me to be more artistic, even those teachers that taught classes that didn’t directly involve the fine arts. I particularly remember the motivation I received in World Literature class after reading Dante’s Divine Comedy with its amazing abstract symbolism. The work taught me to take symbolism in my art to another level.
As for history, my teachers were so impassioned with the subject that I couldn’t help but get motivated. I especially was intrigued with the history of art and the renaissance.
I was very fortunate with my high school. I had hands on training in painting, drawing, graphic design, stained-glass mosaic work, set design and sculpture. And my professor always pushed me harder than the others.
GS – Did you ever have any formal training? How did it influence you in your work now?
RF – After high school, I attended the University of Massachusetts and studied graphic design, painting, drawing and art history. Yet again, I was fortunate to have a professor that motivated me to learn more, and I started diving into learning about symbolism, sacred numerology and mythology.
In 2006, I studied painting and art history in Florence, Italy. I had the privilege of studying the great renaissance masters in person, and I particularly loved learning about the history of art, especially the beginnings of the renaissance. My time in Italy highly motivated me to create, and to create with purpose. I truly believe that I left for Italy as a student, and returned as an artist.
GS – How so? What changed?
RF – While attending college in Massachusetts, I was taught color theory, methods of lighting, brush work and drawing techniques, but MEANING was never discussed. Studying in Italy, I would have these moments of complete harmony with the art, moments to contemplate on what you are looking at, it changes you, and motivates you.
When I came back from Italy, I wanted to paint ideas, not images, and with being initiated into the craft, I had direction.
In Italy, I began to truly understand that works of art were really the culmination of research, practice and years of work. Michelangelo’s “David” transformed from a large nude man, to a blatant political statement, warning the enemies of Florence to fear the repercussions of challenging them. The Sistine Chapel became a lesson book for deep religious and philosophical thought, and at the same time a motivation to stand up to oppression and to use your mind and talents to bring light to others.
It was simply motivating. I recently returned to Florence, and found myself again, sketching, and really looking at the art and architecture again, this time with Masonic eyes. When I returned home, I immediately started working again. To put it plainly, Florence is with out question my muse.
GS – So, from your background, where do you see art mingling with Masonry? Do you think the two have always been in close proximity to one another?
RF – Masonry is based on art, and highly symbolic art at that. Our ancient brethren were artists, and anyone who has put a chisel to a piece of Marble understands how gifted and dedicated they were. And, just as I try to do with my work, they used their talents to share concepts that simply cannot be done by speaking. Hence why we as Free and Accepted Masons use symbols as the base of our degrees and lessons. I firmly believe that a successful work of art can sum up more feeling and emotion than a 30 minute lecture.
CODEX I: THE PILLARS Ryan Flynn
And there are great examples of artists predating what we would now call Freemasonry hiding symbols of what became the basis of our craft into their works. Artists like Albrecht Dürer, Michelangelo and William Blake made it a point to reference Pythagoras, Kabbalah and sacred geometry in their works because they knew it was important knowledge to pass down.
Masonic artists should be no different.
GS – For those who might be unfamiliar with your artwork, how would you describe it to them stylistically?
RF – I’ve dabbled in a lot of styles, but I have been working as of late in a style that mimics the medieval Italian style.
I have a mechanical method of creating; I always need to know how something works before I paint it. So when I learn something, I become motivated to create something referencing it. If anyone ever sees me in lodge, I’m always carrying a sketchbook and notebook. When listening to the ritual, sometimes I get an idea and need to jot it down.
Once I had a good amount of ideas in there I realized I had my own Codex, which inspired me to create my first Masonic series, the Middle Chamber Codex series, in which I re-organized some of my notes to mimic the codices of DaVinci. This in turn led me to try making illuminated documents.
My future works will continue in this style until I am led into something else, it’s one of the things I love about being an artist, I set my own path.
GS – Of the work up on your site, which is your favorites?
Master Mason Patents Ryan Flynn
RF – Without question my authentic Master Mason Patents.
I love the fact that is the real deal, real gold, real calf skin parchment and all by drawn by hand. I take a lot of pride in them. I also like that it’s the only work that the client does not see until it’s finished. I never do one the same as the others; everyone gets their own unique patent.
As any artist will tell you, to know that something you create will be around a lot longer then you will be is a comforting thought. And because they are authentic, these patents potentially can last for hundreds of years.
A little scene that keeps popping in my head is of my daughter’s great-grandson finding my patent a hundred years from now and seeing how much Masonry meant to me.
GS – This may be out there a bit, but do you see juxtaposition between Masonic art and, say, more obscure, esoteric, or symbolic art?
RF – Absolutely, Masonry is about gaining light. And all forms of art can produce amazing “Eureka” moments in the viewers mind. I find that looking at abstract art can be a wonderful method of meditation and reflection.
GS – Your work, how do you create it? Is it hand made, mixed or digital media?
RF –Each project is a little different, but it all starts with pencil on paper.
Codex Series Prints Ryan Flynn
Pretty much with all my prints I will hand draw elements of the project on paper, then scan them in and position and color digitally. For my Limited Edition prints, I then Gicleé print them and complete them by hand, coloring them with metallic infused inks.
As for the authentic patents, they are 100% hand made. I order only the finest parchment from a small family owned company in upstate New York. And once they arrive I press them for a couple days under some large books to keep it flat. Then I sketch out my design on paper and using a small tracing table that I built, transfer it to the parchment. It’s a time consuming process with no room for error. If I mess up, I start over. After the sketch is completed, I ink it with high quality inks. Finally, when that is done, I Apply 23kt gold leaf and a wax seal that I designed.
As for my watercolors and paintings, they are all 100% from the brush. I sketch out my projects with light graphite and start applying the paint from light to dark.
GS – Have you had much response to your work from the Masonic world? What’s been the response?
RF – When I originally produced the window designs for my lodge, the images went viral, I think they were shared on Facebook over 1000 times, and they were featured on the covers of some magazines, I was in shock at how many people adored them.
My codex series was a big hit. I unveiled them at the Masonic Restoration Symposium in August and had many brothers not only purchase them, but have long conversations with me about why it was important to masonry for me to continue creating them.
I also have received some welcomed support by some fellow brothers. My good friend, Wor. Paul C. Smith, has helped me by pointing me towards information, by offering me council as well as recommending books and reading. His help has been immeasurable.
GS – Your patients look like illuminated manuscripts from the middle ages. How did you master that technique? Is there a subtext to styling them the way you styled them?
RF – Easy, I haven’t mastered it.
When I finished my first one, I looked back and said to myself “this is amazing.” Then I did my second one and it blew the first one away. As for training, having extensive knowledge in drawing, painting and design can lead you to learn anything you want.
Some things didn’t work out so well. I tried to create my own inks and failed miserably at it. I’ll try again soon.
As for gold leaf techniques, I learned by making mistakes. I bought some faux gold leaf and applied it to heavy paper and spare scraps of parchment. It took me 3 or 4 tries to get it to work the way I want.
GS – Given your proximity with Masonry and the arts, beyond the work you create are there any artists or artistic influences that come to mind that you think should (or do) have an influence on Masonry?
RF – As for the fine arts, I encourage every lodge to have someone take the time and learn about Filipo Brunelleschi, Michelangelo and William Blake.
Brunelleschi, for those who are not familiar with him, started the renaissance by stepping back, travelling and learning about geometry, science and the knowledge of the past. This to me sounds like the perfect example of what we as masons should strive to accomplish.
Michelangelo should be a patron saint of symbolism. He knew of Kabbalah, sacred geometry and numerology and he put in into all of his masterpieces. The Sistine chapel is a love letter to the Kabbalah, and learning about how he hid those messages into this work will open up your eyes on how to contemplate on a work art.
And Blake – Blake is the prime example of what a Masonic artists should strive to be. His tremendous works engulf the viewers with blatant Masonic symbolism, but upon further inspection, the real messages can be found within. Each of his paintings could be its own lecture in lodge.
GS – So what’s next, any new Masonic works on the horizon?
RF – I carry around with me a notebook of all my potential works. I don’t want to reveal most of them yet because I have not perfected them, and as any artist or writer will tell you, a first or second draft will rarely look like the final project.
However, I can say that I have detailed plans for a tracing board that will be like nothing else in Freemasonry. I’m also working on an illuminated manuscript of the Middle Chamber lecture and a series of prints that mimic the Egyptian style.
Unfortunately all my big projects require funds so it’s a slow and steady process, but God willing I have a lot of time to get working and make and hopefully make a small difference in Masonry.
My thanks to Ryan, to whom I appreciate the taking of his time. I very much appreciate his tremendous body of artwork and will definitely keep an eye out for your up coming projects. You can see more of Ryan Flynn’s artwork at his website, and, if you’re in the New Hampshire area, you can see Ryan’s lodge windows in person by visiting Ancient York Lodge.
So it was with great pleasure that I had the opportunity to interview Patrick Craddock of The Craftsman’s Apron.
In Colonial America Freemasons created their own aprons. Their wives or friends or a local shop would sew exactly what they wanted to display on their apron. Most Freemasons in our early history wore custom made aprons. As we became an industrialized nation the art of sewing was lost by many households and Masonic aprons were mass produced in factories just like shirts and pants. Standardized machine made Masonic aprons became the staple of most Masonic Lodges.
Craddock takes us back to the true art of hand crafted Masonic aprons.
Craddock believes that how a Mason presents himself is vitally important to his character, his development and how he sees himself and feels about himself as a person.
“Your own journey in Masonry should have proven that the apron is the most important symbol to the Craft as it is the physical representation of what the Craft is.”
“To a thoughtful Brother the apron should remain the focal point of his self examination and reflection – and should be the focus of continued reflection and self examination – year after year – as he grows and matures in life and in Masonry. He will consider what it means to be worn with dignity and honor. He will reflect on his actions and will consider the apron as a reminder, or standard, for his actions and deeds.”
“It is often said that dress is the first impression of identity that one person conveys to another. It is for this same reason your apron should be considered every time you enter the Lodge.”
“Have you ever attended a Lodge and worn a borrowed apron pulled from a drawer or box outside the door of the Lodge? Have you ever seen that one apron with coffee stains on it? If you grab one of those old worn out loaner aprons from the box and tie it around your waist as you hurry into the Lodge room, do you ‘wear it with pleasure to yourself and honor to the Fraternity?’”
“We suggest that the best way to start a period of introspection is by donning an apron of exceptional quality and beauty, an apron that YOU purchased for YOUR own use, an apron that you have a personal and intimate relationship with. It is YOUR “badge of a Mason” and the one piece of regalia that you should take the most pride in. It may be a plain lambskin of elegant proportion or it may be heavily decorated – but it should never be made of cheap material or shoddy construction. Your apron is the most identifiable way to express your commitment to Masonry.”
Brother Craddock is in the enviable position of having turned a hobby into a business.
It all started in 1991 when Craddock was performing in Civil War Reenactments. The one thing he felt he was lacking was a decent period Masonic apron. The more he looked for one the more he came up empty. Finally the only way left for him was to create his own.
That first apron brought rave reviews and requests from other Brothers for one of their own. For 20 years Craddock hand crafted aprons operating a hobby strictly by word of mouth. Two years ago he gave up his day job to devote full time to making aprons.
Craddock starts with a real Lambskin that is hand cut. He employs a seamstress who hand sews his aprons. Then he himself applies the design. The apron can be round or square.
Craddock’s first apron was a hand painted creation. Today he still does hand painted aprons. In fact a hand painted apron customized to the individual is called a Bespoke Apron. But hand painted aprons are time consuming and cannot be produced in great numbers by one artisan. So Craddock now also creates original designs digitally using a commercial grade museum art reproduction system. This is a lower cost option that is still an original Craddock design and can be customized with Lodge Name or other wording and other options. Stock aprons are another digitally painted apron available and these can also be personalized. Again they are original Craddock designs but the designs have already been produced and a template can print out the design without having to go through the process of first creation.
Bullion Embroidered Aprons
Not all aprons are painted aprons. Craddock also produces bullion embroidered aprons. On bullion aprons spun bullion wire is formed into individual decorative pieces and then applied to the apron.
There is yet a third type of apron Craddock makes, a combination apron both painted and bullion. York Rite and Scottish Rite aprons are also available. He will create wherever your vision takes you.
Some Masonic artisans are brilliant creators but they fail miserably at presenting and marketing themselves. Not Craddock. He has created a very professional website that can be converted into 15 different languages at the click of the mouse, an instant chat feature where questions can be immediately answered, a rotating main message that adds flair to the site and ample examples of his creations.
On this beautiful and functional website you will learn that Craddock also makes Lodge officers aprons sold by the set, officer’s collars, Masonic shirts and ties and a Masonic ring of his design. He has recently added some Masonic gifts of unique creation.
Craddock is sitting Worshipful Master of Conlegium Ritus Austeri No. 779, Nashville, TN a Traditional Observance Lodge chartered in 2009. He says about his Lodge:
“We have set high standards for ourselves and work hard to try and surpass those and keep raising the bar on those standards. We require each of our members to attend Lodge in white tie and tails. We do not require our visitors to wear tie and tails, but we do expect them to wear a dark business suit – at a minimum. Another interesting thing about our Lodge is that we have custom Lodge member’s aprons. All members of CRA wear the same apron. We do not wear officer aprons. The officers wear the jewel of their office on custom designed collars. CRA has only twenty members, we meet quarterly, and we average 90% attendance by our members. As a charter member I was one of 16 men, of like mind, who knew we wanted to experience Lodge with the standards we have set for ourselves. I was Raised in O.D.Smith Lodge No. 33, in Oxford, MS. I was a 21 year old undergraduate student when I approached the door of the Lodge.”
Craddock possesses superior historical credentials. His education includes a BA in American History (Univ. of Miss., 1989), MA in History with an Emphasis in Historic Preservation (Mid. Tenn. State Univ., 1992), and M.Phil in 19th Century Military History (Univ. College of Wales [Aberystwyth], 2001).
He is a York Rite and Scottish Rite member, a member of the Masonic Society and a Board member of the Masonic Restoration Foundation. He has been written up in the Northern Light Magazine, The Plumbline, The Masonic Art Exchange, The Scottish Rite Journal of Freemasonry, Southern Jurisdiction and one of which he is most proud a prominent part in a video (included here) that the Grand Lodge of California made for the Henry W Coil Library and Museum of Freemasonry.
You are apt to run into Patrick Craddock for not only is he a gifted Masonic artisan but also an articulate lecturer. He travels often and sets up a vending table for The Craftsman’s Apron at various Masonic conferences and symposiums across the nation. He offers two lectures.
“Admit Him if Properly Clothed: The Evolution of the Masonic Apron in America 1740 to Present” is a PowerPoint presentation with about 100 images that documents the changes and evolutions of the Masonic apron as well as the influences that created those changes. The other presentation is called “Worthy of Being Worn: The Importance of Masonic Regalia”. This presentation is more philosophical and encourages the viewer to think more about his apron and why it should be a more personal piece of regalia. Craddock has lectured in: TN, CA, AL, IN, NY, NH, PA, VA, & D.C.
Successful people are multi- talented and multi-faceted people. If you take a look at Brothers David Naughton-Shires and Ryan Flynn you will notice that they have interests and expertise in a wide range of different areas. What they do in one field is buttressed by what they know in another. When you combine a working knowledge of mathematics, science, history and religion with such sub headings of scholarship perhaps such as numerology, sacred geometry, historical preservation, symbology, ancient mystery schools, Gnosticism, computer science and other such studies, you become a well rounded person able to pull from other areas for your vision.
Patrick Craddock is another such person following in the mold of other successful multi talented Freemasons. He is a Craftsman, a Masonic artisan but he is also a historian, a lecturer and speaker, website designer, graphic artist and a very knowledgeable Freemason.
This background is vitally important for Craddock’s business. For when a prospective customer doesn’t quite know what he wants, Craddock can shape and define his vision. Quality, expertise, experience, education and knowledge all go into making The Craftsman’s Apron the best place to go to purchase a Masonic Apron.
“[The Lodge] is of such vast dimensions to show the universality of Masonry and that Masonic charity should be equally extensive.”
Throughout the Masonic degrees, symbols are used to show the universal nature of Freemasonry. The idea that Masonry is universal is a grand idea and there is no doubt that it captures the attention of any new Brother by way of Freemason beliefs. But many Freemasons have probably asked themselves “How is Freemasonry universal?”
When we examine the definition of ‘universal‘ in the dictionary, we find a plethora of definitions. Two of these seem particularly applicable to the universality of Freemasonry. The first of these definitions is “existent or operative everywhere or under all conditions.”
Masonry is existent or operative everywhere, it does not exist solely within a lodge. Freemasons are taught to use the symbolism of the square and compasses in their transactions with all mankind. The charges of our order are intended to give us guidance for our conduct not only in the lodge, but when abroad in the outside world. Freemasonry’s symbolism is the product of those philosophical, moral, and spiritual principles which are universally accepted by man. The ideals of living a virtuous life, acting upon the square and walking upright by the plumb, and providing to relief to our fellow man are universally accepted ideas. Freemasonry only takes these concepts and removes the divisive and argumentative dogma that man tends to attach to them in order to provide a moral code with which all men may agree.
Freemasonry also accepts all men without regard to race, creed, or class. It only asks that they be men of good moral character with a belief in a Supreme Being. It is perhaps the only fraternity in the world that requires no further distinctions in order to become a member. This is a crucial element of Freemasonry for if it ever did distinguish between men because of their beliefs or background, it would no longer be a universal order.
The second definition applies to the universality of Masonic charity: “including or covering all or a whole collectively or distributively without limit or exception.” Masonic charity has no limitations. Recently, this is a concept that has often been forgotten by our fraternity. Masonry is not intended to support one specific charitable cause like many other organizations. Instead, Masonic charity is intended to provide relief to all men and all Brothers for any reason when it is needed. The only limitations for Masonic charity is that those providing the relief should not cause material injury to themselves. Masonic charity can only be described as universal if we accept this all-encompassing approach to relief.
When we take a moment to consider the far-reaching effects of Masonry, it isn’t difficult to see that the fraternity is a universal institution. As Masons, we can use this knowledge to apply the lessons learned within the lodge universally and uphold the dignified reputation of our noble art.
If I were to tell you that there is a man raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason in 2007 who has in just a short period of time started a Masonic organization with a newsletter which has exploded with membership overnight beyond his wildest dreams, who is writing a novel, producing a graphic novel, working on a book for a college, writing several Masonic research articles for Masonic Journals, is an officer in his Craft Lodge, a member of a Research Society, producer of an upcoming Templar comic presentation, a Committee Chairman for The Masonic Society and an editor for The Global Fraternal Network (GFN) would you not want to know more about him? Who he is?
Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, —no it’s Brother David Naughton-Shires.
Until the last few years, 38 year old Naughton-Shires lived a rather quiet, modest life with his wife and three children in Sixmilebridge, Ireland just 9 km out of Shannon where he helped his wife run a small dance studio and scraped together a rather meager living in graphic design and illustration.
THEN HE JOINED FREEMASONRY…………….AND BANG AS IF SHOT FROM A CANNON, the life of David Naughton-Shires has not been the same since.
He was raised to the third degree in October of 2007 in Ormonde Lodge 201 in the Province of North Munster in the Irish Constitution where today he holds the office of Inner Guard. He hopes to go onto the Royal Arch in just a few months. But as you can see it will be October of 2009 before he has completed two years in the Craft which makes his Masonic accomplishments quite remarkable – as if shot from a cannon.
He tells us that right away, “I found the Craft had produced over the years a wealth of fantastic art, and I started to collect what I could find that fell within my meager budget. This consisted of items such as Ladies Festival Menu cards, lodge summonses, and certificates. From time to time I came across a beautifully illustrated book or two, and as I continued to collect I noticed there was a lack of current art for Freemasons available and what there was, well hidden within the Craft with the exception of the wonderful art of Brother Stephen McKim. Also the standard of publications being produced internally and externally was not always inspiring.”
“I asked myself the question why was this and how could this be resolved? I know that many Lodge newsletters and other similar publications were produced by very well meaning Brethren with only limited experience and knowledge of design who under increasing pressure produced the best they could, and I came to the conclusion they needed help not criticizing.”
So help them he would. He decided to start a group in Facebook with this idea in mind. He wanted to centralize in one place where Brethren with talent who were prepared to help could come together and share their work for the use of anybody who needed it. He called his new group THE MASONIC ART EXCHANGE. The concept hit the Internet like a sudden Texas thunder storm, exploding into over 500 members in just a few weeks. In his own words Naughton-Shires describes the mission of Masonic Art Exchange.
“In a nutshell the aims of the group is to provide a central ‘hub’ for the coming together of people who wish to improve the graphical look of the many newsletters, leaflets, circulars and the such presented within the craft by providing a forum and communication point for each other to offer advice and support on a design basis”
Naughton-Shires decided that a newsletter that the members could contribute to and pass onto the members of their Lodge would be a good illustration of what could be done with a little help. In a few more weeks, which is where we are as of this writing, the Masonic Art Exchange has grown into a membership of over 1100 and Naughton-Shires has decided to produce the newsletter bi-monthly and add a website and a forum for non Facebookers (http://masonic-ae.com). The first newsletter consisted of just six pages including the front and back covers. But the second and most recent has twenty two pages with some really super articles as well as illustrations. One of them is “Skull & Gold: Creating Knight Templar’s Aprons,” a brief outline of the story behind The Knight Templar’s Aprons along with the beautiful creations of Ginger Wood Smyrl. Also in this issue is “Et in Arcadia Ego,” by Brother Nathan M. Glover who shares with us the symbolism found in the Et in Arcadia Ego paintings. Those of you searching for some portraits of George Washington in Masonic regalia also will not be disappointed. Issue #3 is being worked on as of this writing but it already has some very interesting stories and illustrations, two of which will be “Art of the Templar Knights” & “Painted Aprons.”
To help in this enterprise which was growing by leaps and bounds Naughton-Shires added Vice-President Brother Martyn Greene who handles the Facebook group and put writer Brother Kevin Noel Olson in charge of articles for the newsletter.
The Masonic Art Exchange is open to everyone, Mason and non Mason alike. The rules are pretty simple and straight forward. If you are posting to the site the work must be yours and not somebody else’s and you must be prepared to share it with everybody. If you are using something from the site you must give credit to its author, inform the author of what publication it is being used in and use it only for nonprofit enterprises. In addition:
“THE ARTWORK CAN NEITHER BE USED FOR NOR DEPICT ANYTHING CONSIDERED TO BE DEFAMING TO FREEMASONRY OR SOCIETY IN GENERAL.”
For those who might denigrate Masonic activity on the Internet I ask them to come see what David Naughton-Shires is doing online. He is a man who has accomplished more in his two years in the Craft than many of us do in a lifetime. The secret to his success is the quality of his work. You only have to spend a few minutes on The Masonic Art Exchange to be impressed. It would seem that what he has started may expand and become a broader concept than it is now. Also success can breed more success in spin offs and related enterprises and that may well be a path for Brother David Naughton-Shires. All of us at Freemason Information wish him all the best and continued success. Above and beyond all this is the great service available to us all to improve the quality of all our publications whether big or small. Also up to now there has been no site dedicated to Masonic artists. We may find around the world many Freemasons who are artists and who have been operating in the shadows of ignominy. No more. They will shine in the light of The Masonic Art Exchange and we shall all be able to enjoy their works.