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Prairie du Sac woman displays 'Scratchings' at Portage Center for the Arts
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Prairie du Sac woman displays 'Scratchings' at Portage Center for the Arts

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Rhonda Nass employs pictures and words in her pursuit of spiritual intimacy.

Her work — on display in Drury Gallery at Portage Center for the Arts through November — defines religious terms and phrases via personal experiences.

She hopes others might do the same.

“I noticed that people who had faith had a lot of difficulty talking about their faith,” the Prairie du Sac artist said of “Scratchings of a Madwoman.” Her exhibit takes viewers inside a book she published of the same name in 2015, a project that took her 15 years to complete.

Her definition of, “in Christ,” for example, relates to an improvised song she witnessed, years ago, during a family picnic, she said. Nass and her husband, Rick Nass, were getting their food ready when a friend started playing the guitar.

Strangers soon gathered around them for the song and someone picked up an empty beer can to provide percussion.

“I think a relationship to Christ is so innate, you don’t have to think about it,” she said of her picture of the man who tapped the can with a spoon. “You don’t think about being a Christ follower, you just are.”

Her book is available for $35 at PCA and River Arts on Water Gallery in Prairie du Sac, where she’s a curator and will teach a colored-pencil drawing class from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. She’s a freelance artist whose realistic depictions of plants and birds can be found, going back 50 years, in numerous university textbooks and museums.

Her textbook style is applied, accordingly, in the colored-pencil drawings of “Scratchings” — the work intended to encourage others to tell their own stories, she said. “Everyone loves to hear another person’s story,” Nass said and pointed out that she, herself, is not religious but nevertheless has a “priority relationship with God.”

Too many people seemingly assume they need to be educated in theology to define religious words and phrases, Nass said. They perhaps fear their faith will be rejected by others and thus place restrictions on expressing themselves.

“Everyone defines ‘love’ differently,” Nass used for an example and held her drawing that shows steam rising from a frying pan. Nass said she thinks of the word “love” in terms of reduction in cooking. “For me it all boils down to how there’s no life goal more Christ-like appealing, more potent, satisfying and impactful than love in God and others.

“It’s intentional, authentic, sacrificial and unconditional.”

Another picture details a quilt a woman once gave to Nass for free, when Nass had only wanted to borrow it for an illustration.

“These quilts she made took hundreds of hours and cost thousands of dollars,” Nass said of the surprise gift. “Never before had I understood the real definition of ‘grace,’ but I understood then that it had nothing to do with the worthiness or the earning of grace and had everything to do with the giver and their loving character.”

“We’ve all been loved when we didn’t deserve it and your stories will be different from mine,” Nass concluded, “but you’ll have one.”

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau or contact him at 608-695-4956.

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