A Shrine for All Seasons - 'Mr. Shrine' creates Our Lady of the Springs, and an ode to mothers

Thursday, May 8, 2014
Ralph Wilson, a.k.a. "Mr. Shrine," has built a new community shrine dubbed "Our Lady of the Springs," and viistors will find a Mother's Day theme there this month; they are encouraged to leave items honoring their mothers.

Sometimes inspiration comes out of the blue. At other times, it's tucked away in the shadows.

Both, in a way, are what happened when Ralph Wilson walked into John Stalling's workshop and saw a large foam shape in the corner.

"I said, 'That's a cumulus cloud,'" Wilson said. "I've always wanted to do a cloud shrine for Eureka."

So Wilson, with a team of helpers, built a shrine in Stalling's workshop at Miracle Mansions. Called "Our Lady of the Springs," it was installed last Thursday next to Elmwood House on Spring Street. Created in conjunction with a multimedia exhibit at the Space, it will stay up during the month of May. And it's not just for Mother's Day.

"It will change with each season," Wilson said.

Stalling provided use of his workshop for the project, which took four or five weeks, and also did all the work on the cloud, made of spray foam adhesive, Wilson said. Dirk Petter built the frame for the hut-sized structure and erected it on the site. David and Virginia Nissenson, owners of Elmwood House, donated use of the piece of land next to their inn for the shrine's first site. The mirrors on two outside walls were found objects, Wilson said. The white objects that make up the border are highway reflectors.

"We've been recycling since the get-go," Wilson said of his art projects.

Inside, the shrine's centerpiece is a Madonna donated by artist John Rankine. Wilson placed found objects and small shrines he has built over the years inside, along with a bowl of water symbolizing the springs.

"I've wanted to do a community shrine for Eureka for a long time," he said.

On Saturday, May 10, Barbarba Harmony, head of the Parks' Springs Committee, will dedicate the shrine, and there will be an opening reception for the exhibit, "Artists' Impressions of the Mother," in the Space. More than 30 local artists have been invited to exhibit in the show, including Zeek Taylor, whose entry is a shadowbox titled "Our Lady of Congolupe, Patron Saint of Chimps." Crochet artist Gina Gallina is doing a table setting, all in crochet, and fashion designer Rosie Rose is creating an outfit that incorporates clothing from four generations of women.

Janet Alexander, co-organizer of the show with John Rankine, is doing a performance piece. Rankine is exhibiting photographs and found-art sculpture that honors Mother Mary, and plans to incorporate pieces of poetry into his work. Wilson will have a box piece, "La Visions de La Madre" and a cross in the show. The Cloud Shrine will be lit at night, Wilson said, and people are invited to place offerings in it in memory of their mothers.

"It's about honoring something you love," Wilson said. "A shrine is a place you go to meditate, to plan, to hope and dream."

Originally from San Diego, Wilson was an altar boy at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Escondido and attended St. Augustine High School. He started building shrines as art objects 30 years ago, inspired by a roadside shrine in Bisbee, Arizona, where he would stop and light a candle in whenever he went out of town. Known as Mr. Shrine, he developed shrine kits that he sells to museums. Wilson moved to Eureka Springs in 2006 to help put on festivals and events. He also promoted art in schools, parks, private residences and moving vehicles (art cars). He also leads the Underground Eureka tours.

"I get to see the town through the eyes of other people," he said.

Wilson said he originally planned to make a community shrine for Christmas, but the winter weather intervened, as it did for Valentine's Day. Then May Festival of the Arts prompted the idea of putting it up for Mother's Day and organizing a mother-themed art exhibit.

The shrine will also be decorated for Memorial Day, the Day of the Dead, Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day, Wilson said. He hopes people will come from all over Carroll County, not just Eureka, to see the shrine, and would like to organize a Posada, or procession, next Christmas. For more information about Wilson, click here.

"Artist Impressions of the Mother" opens Saturday, May 10, with a reception at 5 p.m. during Gallery Walk and continuing until 9 p.m., and on Sunday, May 11, noon to 7 p.m. The Space is located upstairs at 2 Pine St. at Spring, across from the Eureka Springs Post Office. (Note: The Space is not handicapped accessible.)

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