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Jul 11, 2018 | Carol E. Barnwell

Unique Stoles Hold Story, Creation Front and Center

The exhibit booth at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention was a visual symphony of colors on stoles and chasubles that spoke to the deep sense of their creator’s heart. Intricately cutout stoles depicted endangered species; butterflies, dragon flies and coral reefs that are fast disappearing. On others, vines weave between beloved pets, flowers or images from a favorite piece of scripture. Yet another stole carries the word “peace” boldly presented in multiple languages.

Colleen Hintz, a nurse by trade, began creating vestments when she volunteered to help at St. Margaret’s, then a new mission in Baton Rouge, LA in 1980. With a one- and six-year old, she had tried several local Episcopal churches until she found one where her children were gathered in and celebrated at worship during a time when children were normally expected to be in Sunday School in most churches.  

The first Sunday they attended, the vicar, David Powers, read children a book seated in front of the altar. Later in the service he asked for volunteers to help with an Easter frontal kit. “My son wanted to stay and I volunteered to help with [the frontal], and they let me,” Hintz said. “Fast forward three or four months later and I was an active member.”

When she suggested the new congregation could save money if they designed their own linens and vestments, the priest was more than supportive, and after many attempts at drawing an Easter theme, Hintz said she woke from a nap and sketched a contemporary Celtic knot of thorns that was eventually worked into the Irish linen to begin her new ministry.

Today, her work circles the Anglican Communion. Her cutwork stoles embody a response to the environmental degradation she sees around her and others hold very personal icons for the wearer.

“One of my favorite things to do is to create personal journey stoles and to hear the sacred stories of others in the process,” Hintz said.

“If you told me in 1980 I would be doing this, I would have said you were nuts. But [my work is] now literally all over the world in every denomination. I’ve even made Jewish prayer shawls. “A stole well done should have at least a couple of sermons in it,” she said. “It elevates the sacredness of the journey for me personally, and I hope for others, as they look at this art and say ‘I'm a part of that, too.’

Hintz said she recently heard from a priest for whom she had designed a stole 20 years ago. He told her he had never shared a story of one of the symbols in his stole that had profound meaning for him until a parishioner had a similar experience.

“I went to the person and wrapped us both in the stole and told them my story,” the priest shared with Hintz. “To know that those things happen is an amazing gift,” Hintz said. “So, yes, it’s changed me. I have lots of stole stories and they are all under my stole.”

Hintz designed the consecration vestments for the Rt. Rev. Prince Singh, Bishop of Rochester. The images are all from Indian art and represent him as an individual, Hintz explained. “That’s his story to tell, but it’s all there,” she said.

When doing a personal set of vestments, Hintz said she listens to a person’s story, asks which scriptures are especially important to them, what colors have meaning for them. “Most people don’t see their story visually so I sketch what I hear. Some are more metaphorical and some are more concrete,” Hintz said.

Recently, Hintz sought permission to use illustrations of children from Eric Carle’s book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?. The fabric is licensed but she received rights to make 100 stoles to support the Bishops Against Gun Violence. The day the fabric arrived, she set it out and was just about to cut the first pieces when news of the Parkland High School shootings came over the news.

“I put the fabric out on my table I was all excited. And then the news hits and here were all these children's faces on my cutting table and me with a cutter in my hand. And it was all I could do to begin the stoles. And yet I was driven to create them,” she said. In the aftermath of the Parkland shootings, her grandson’s school had a credible threat, which made this project have even more profound importance.

The stole designs of nature and endangered species were inspired by her father, who had a deep love of nature. “I have a whole series on and endangered dragonflies and butterflies from all over the world. Endangered coral reefs, endangered animals … because it's my hope that my grandchildren's grandchildren will be able to see them,” Hintz said. “To me, a priest wearing one of these stoles has phenomenal power because they can stand up there and say this matters. We are called to to honor Earth our fragile island.”

Hintz said a single strand of silk is stronger than the same size strand of steel. It would seem that the strength of her designs in fabric carry a much stronger message than one might first imagine.

“I live in about forty-eight metaphors at any given moment in case you hadn't noticed it,” Hintz said. “I did my whole series on ‘peace’ because I was so tired of the rhetoric in my nation,” she said. Hintz uses Syrian, Lakota, Korean and English—any language that is reflected in the community for these special stoles. “I invite people to name the languages that are important to them,” she said.

Hintz draws from a deep well of creativity mixed with an equally deep sense of spirituality, nurtured first in a new mission congregation. Her personal journey would make a lovely stole as well.

As with all things of the Holy Spirit, St. Margaret's current rector, the Rev. Tommy Dillon, had been asked to find a new chasuble and frontal for the parish by his Altar Guild Directress. "When [Colleen} asked where I was from, I said 'Baton Rouge' and she told me about having attended St. Margaret's. I lit up and said 'I'm the rector of St. Margaret's," Dillon said. "Now we are commissioning her to create a new altar set of vestments. The white chasuble will say 'Love is spoken here' using traditional Celtic knots. I love the Holy Spirit bringing us together."  

To see images of Hintz’s work, or to engage her fertile imagination to do a custom piece, visit www.fruitofthevine.us.

Barnwell is Communication Director in the Diocese of Texas

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