By Michael K. Thompson, Director of Communications
“So what’s your plan for Vantage themes this year?” asked Julie Bailey, our Director of Alumni and Church Relations.
After scouring the institutional language of Columbia Theological Seminary to deliver a fresh set of themes for Vantage magazine over seven years, I knew we needed to do something different for year eight. In Adult Sunday School, I was teaching a series centered on the Incarnation and suggested a similar line of thinking for this.
“That sound great! Maybe you could use some of the key prepositions used to describe the Incarnation for each edition,” she followed up.
It was easy to outline the themes in Trinitarian fashion: “God with Us,” “in Christ,” and “through the Spirit.” But how do you create images for prepositions? (Spoiler alert: you don’t…at least not without context.)
We were already creating a Christmas card with Chrismons, so I started to think about ancient symbols for Christ. I immediately saw that a number of animals were used as images in the early church, and these could have the fluid energy representing the Incarnation in much the way prepositions do in our use of language. The fish, the pelican, and the lamb were chosen. However, I wanted them to be represented a little differently than some might expect in the context of the Incarnation, and this meant finding the right artist.
Jerome Walford is a friend from college. By day, he is a mild-mannered corporate graphic designer for his own company called The Blue Griffin in Brooklyn, NY. But what has captured my imagination is what he does in his “off” time.
Jerome’s alter ego as a graphic artist is represented by Forward Comix which produced The Gwan Anthology. This award-winning collection of graphic art and short stories centers around themes of foreign lands, the immigrant experience, and cultural fusion. This anthology brings together over 30 writers and artists representing more than 15 countries from around the world. The Gwan Anthology has won a gold medal from the Independent Publisher Book awards and nominated for two Glyph Comics Awards. (And now there is a Volume Two!)
In Jerome’s own artwork for the anthology, it’s clear that he is creating heroines for his daughters. He knows how to contextualize his work in meaningful ways. More importantly for Vantage, I knew Jerome would work from the genuine faith in Jesus we shared in college. Here are some of his thoughts about the project:
We took three common Christian symbols and attempted to re-imagine them in new ways to help bring out something often overlooked.
Fish (God with Us)—We decided to use a koi, with fairly dynamic movement in a pond with lily pads. The color pattern on its back is a human figure descending head-first toward the viewer. We also tried to connect that symbol with some aspect of God’s presence. We were conscious to use this as an opportunity to use versions of these symbols that show a range of cultural contextualization. Still, much of the interpretation is left open, hoping each image will spark inquiry and conversation.
Pelican (in Christ)—While popular images of pelicans are often white, that would not have been as interesting on Vantage’s white background. We went with a brown pelican in a very dominant, yet protective pose guarding an unhatched egg. The Church in medieval Europe believed the pelican provided her own blood for her young by wounding her own breast when no other food was available. So the pelican became a symbol of the Passion of Jesus and of the Eucharist around the 12th century.
Lamb (Through the Spirit)—This is perhaps the most conceptually layered image of the series. The lamb has golden brown wool and a flowing mane with a lion-like triumphal stance. Wind-swept leaves in the foreground and a dove overhead were added to represent the often subtle, yet important work of the Spirit.
Jerome and I hope these images and the stories in Vantage magazine will stir your own imagination as to how God is at work in daily life. We encourage you to reach out into your own networks and communities, as we have, to seek out the Incarnate Christ in fresh ways. And let us know your story in the comments.
Grace and peace to you!
Jerome Walford is an experienced illustrator, who has spent years developing a graphical style influenced by comics and animation. His award-winning work typically centers around capturing sublime moments in the everyday, and occasionally, fantastical images that communicate something about the human experience. His recently recognized works include “Ascent of the Beloved,” Bronze Award winner from The Society of Illustrators – Los Angeles; and “Mother Daughter,” which was featured in the annual collection, “American Illustration”.
Michael K. Thompson is the Director of Communications for Columbia Theological Seminary. After graduating from Cornell University with a degree in Physics, he served for 12 years with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Troy, NY. Before coming to Columbia, Michael was a senior manager for the Association Development Group where he managed state and national trade associations for transportation, philanthropy, and business continuity. He has been a board member for multiple local organizations including the Rensselaer Land Trust, the Cornell Alumni Association of Atlanta, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) for Rockdale and Newton Counties, and the First Presbyterian Church of Covington, GA.