An Artist’s Inspiration in the Holy Spirit

Mary Melikian

The Eastern Diocese honored a dear friend and prominent artist on the evening of December 13. Friends and dignitaries gathered in the formal reception room (tahlij) of New York’s Diocesan Center to pay tribute to Mary Melikyan.

Diocesan Primate Archbishop Khajag Barsamian presided over the evening, during which he bestowed Melikyan with the “St. Vartan Award.”

Master pianist and ethnomusicologist Sahan Arzruni was the master of ceremonies for the evening. In his gracious introduction, he recalled his early association with Mary Melikyan and her husband, Rev. Haynes, and how their mutual love of artistic beauty solidified their friendship.

“A few weeks ago, Mary celebrated her 90th birthday,” Arzruni said. “I spoke to the Primate and suggested that we mark her contribution to our community. He agreed with delight—and pointed out that there are many Melikian watercolors here at the Diocesan building.”

“Melikian studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and Columbia University,” Arzruni continued. “She exhibited widely, including shows at the National Arts Club. Mary was a director at the Grand Central Art Galleries. Her watercolors are in the permanent collections of the Worcester Museum of Art, Mint Museum of New York, Yerevan Museum in Armenia, Vassar College Art Museum, and elsewhere.”

A Rare Artist

The guest speaker for the evening was Robert Yahner, registrar for fine arts at the National Arts Club in Manhattan, who spoke warmly about the honoree’s art. “Mary is the rare artist who never ceases to challenge herself. Beyond aesthetic values, Mary is a humanist. She has concerned herself with a broad range of emotions from quiet contemplation to universal anxiety and tragedy.”

“Although Mary’s work has often been a strong vehicle for expressing concern, remembrance—and even protest,” he said. “She has always transcended agenda with pure feeling which translates into poetry where truth and beauty do exist together.”

In his remarks, Archbishop Barsamian reflected on the religious themes that imbue Melikyan’s paintings. “Her watercolors and pastels have graced the walls of this center, and they truly are at home here. For Mary’s religious inspiration—her quest to reveal God through art—lies at the heart of her life’s work,” he said.

“Her style shows us the world through the eyes of the spirit—not through physical eyes.  It recalls the statement of St. Paul that ‘for now, we see things through a glass, dimly; but one day we will see things face-to-face,’” he said. “Mary’s art makes us hope that for that day, when we too will see the world through eyes made new by God.”

Mary Melikyan had brought along two paintings—“Cloud of Witnesses” and “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego”—for display at the gathering, which she graciously donated to the Diocesan Center.

In remarks accepting the St. Vartan Award, Mary Melikyan spoke poetically about the way she views her work. “When I was very young, my mother used to repeat a phrase which has a beautiful resonance,” she said. “Whenever a breeze would blow through the trees, she would look up and say ‘I love your Source.’ Indeed the Source of all creation and any creative effort comes from God whose Spirit moves us in ways we do not always understand, but we feel the “breeze”  and can say, ‘I love your Source.’”

“As I approach the canvas with my marks and colors, I ask the Holy Spirit to lead the way. For me, the journey is from everlasting to everlasting and by the Grace of God, I look forward to continuing an art and faith walk and at my last breath say, ‘I love your Source.’”

Click here to view photos of the evening

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