Captions: Clockwise from top left, 6th Station, Veronica Wipes The Face of Jesus; 7th Station, Jesus Falls A Second Time; 8th Station, Jesus Speaks To The Women Of Jerusalem; 10th Station, Jesus Is Stripped Of His Garments; 11th Station, Artist Aldo Parrotta pauses and ponders Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross; 12th Station, Jesus Dies On The Cross.
By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
Aldo Parrotta’s name came into local prominence the summer just gone by. He was the impetus behind the Bell Box Mural Project, which turned 17 Bell Canada utility boxes in Welland into “canvasses” for some very talented artists, providing opportunity to publicly showcase their work.
But Parrotta has left his mark on other art as well. One is Stations of the Cross at a Catholic shrine, Our Lady of the Rosary Shrine/Le Sanctuaire du Rosaire, a rustic property on Miller Road, Port Colborne.
After dropping in on the grounds Thanksgiving weekend and viewing two of the stations (there are 14), I later reached out to Parrotta hoping he would be interested in talking about them. We chose a date to visit the site, where he guided me on a tour.
The stations are not among his recent work as an artist. Truth be told, they were done in 2009. But now, all these years later, I felt it compelling to share his artistry in photos and some words, the latter both his and mine. Impressed by what he had accomplished, I wanted an interview now rather than Lent, when it would be more timely — that is when the stations become a popular form of public and personal devotion for the faithful.
Parrotta is soft spoken, at times his voice is barely louder than a whisper. I see that as complementing his gentle nature and persona. I also found he has deep-seated reverence for spirituality and religious art, I share both with him. He is comfortably at home with the sacred. His reverence came through as we walked the grounds, with the artist commenting on the Marian grotto, the shrine’s chapel, the serenity of the sacred space.
It was a free-wheeling conversation. Parotta talked about why he took on the work, what went into it, and how it impacted him. He told me he wanted something other than Renaissance-era painted figures for his stations. He recalled that a shrine in New York State had etched glass stations, and that appealed to him.
I later provided a few questions for him to ponder, assuring verbatim use of the answers. I guessed his responses would have an artistry of their own. I wasn’t wrong.
Why did you choose an art style so different from what can be considered typical for Stations of the Cross?
I chose a style of art that I felt could speak to a diverse group of people, a universal style that seemed iconic and classic yet transparent in a way that would move and speak to people doing the stations or just going to see outdoor art, so to speak.
I was hoping the visual representation of each station would speak to the viewer. I like to think of it as a bit Byzantine, two-dimensional but the etching would give some sense of how rough and brutal the way of the cross can be.
Do you think your stations challenge a viewer to look closer at what each represents?
I do think the art challenges a viewer to look deeper as they recite the stations. For myself when I look at the representation and recite the station it is difficult at times to see what is happening but that’s what I wanted, I wanted people to understand this is different, it’s not an easy path or journey – just like the art it may not come to you and soon with the negative space created by the glass and etching with the light shining through.…it may come to them then.
When you look at the images what jumps out at you, personally?
When I look at the images, I think back to how the project all started – from my wife coming home that night and telling me the story of how the stations need to be restored – and how I could help with my art background, to the hours of research and design work, to selecting the glass and delivering it to be etched and to the framework being built and then finally seeing them on the property.
And I thank God on how it all came together – it was fun to be creative in this way to share the art and make sure people had outdoor stations for our faith journey.
What do you hope they give to people?
I hope the stations give people a sense that they too are outside, just like Jesus, feeling the elements. You never know when the sun will shine through a station and give you light to see through it all and then, you may feel a bit chilly from the wind out there. I guess a connection to the stations and the art and elements and Jesus all in one – that’s what I get.
Postscript: Not long after our visit to the shrine, its annual fall clean-up was held and the stations were taken down and placed in storage for the winter. They will be put back before Good Friday, April 15, 2022. A return here next spring is merited, there is much more to be shared about this sacred space. Oh, but before then: it is essential to say Parrotta got his wish: his Stations do “speak” to viewers, I can attest to that.